County Antrim Industry

The cotton trade, which has become of so great importance in the North of Ireland, was introduced in 1777, merely as a source of employment for the children in the poor-house at Belfast, by Mr. Robt. Joy and Thos. McCabe, who, unable to secure individual co-operation, offered the machinery, which was then of the most improved description, to the managers of the charitable institution at prime cost. But the latter refusing to embark in a speculation altogether novel in Ireland, Messrs. Joy, McCabe, and McCracken formed themselves into a company, erected buildings, introduced new machinery, and generously opened their works to the public, at a time when it was endeavoured in England to keep the nature of the improved machinery a secret. In 1779 they commenced the manufacture of calico, dimities, and Marseilles quilting; and introduced the use of the fly shuttle. This branch of the trade soon acquiring considerable celebrity, many persons were induced to embark in it: the first mill for spinning twist by water was erected at Whitehouse, near Belfast, in 1784, from which period may be dated the fixed establishment of the cotton manufacture; and so rapid was thenceforward its progress that, in 1800, in Belfast and the surrounding country within a circuit of ten miles, it furnished employment to upwards of 13,000 individuals, or, including those indirectly connected with it, to 27,000.

In 1811, the number of bags of cotton wool imported into Belfast was 14,320, and the number exported, 3007; leaving for home consumption 11,313, worth £226,260, and, when manufactured, worth about one million sterling. The number of spinners in the mills, at the same period, was estimated at 22,000; of weavers, including attendants on looms, 25,000; and engaged in bleaching, embroidery, making looms, reels, &c., about 5000 more. The manufacture has been since still further extended, and every description of cotton fabric is now produced. In addition to the two above-named important branches of manufacture, there are, in this county, at Belfast, canvas and rope manufactories, and extensive paper-mills in various places. Woollen stockings are woven in several of the towns; soap and candles are made for exportation and home consumption; the manufacture of chloride of lime and vitriol, for which there is a great demand in the bleach-greens, has long been carried on at Lisburn and Belfast; and the manufacture of leather, though not so extensive as formerly, is still considerable throughout the county.

At Belfast are several large iron-foundries and glass-manufactories; and at Lisburn are works for turning and fluting iron. Hence the commerce of this county is very extensive: the exports are linens, linen yarn, cotton goods, all kinds of grain, pork, bacon, hams, beef, butter, eggs, lard, potatoes, soap, and candles; and the imports consist of the raw materials for the cotton manufacture, also coal and the various foreign articles of consumption required by the numerous population. There is an extensive salmon fishery along the coast at Carrickarede, between Ballintoy and Kenbane Head, and this fish is also caught at different places along the entire coast north of Glenarm, and also in the rivers Bann and Bush: all the other rivers, except the Lagan, are likewise frequented by salmon; and all abound with eels, which are taken at weirs in the Bann. There is a great variety of other valuable fish off the coast; of testaceous fish this shore affords the lobster and the crab, and oysters of superior size and flavour are found in Carrickfergus bay; the seal is common.

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