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THE COMMERCIAL RUIN OF IRELAND “To prohibit a great nation from making all that they can of their own product, or from employing their stock and industry in the way that they judge most advantageous to themselves, is a manifest violation of the most sacred rights of mankind.”—ADAM SMITH: Wealth of Nations.
British policy applied to Ireland has been influenced by economic as well as by political considerations. The history of the relations of the two countries shows that England deliberately set herself to repress Irish industry and to annihilate Irish commerce. In this policy the Government of England was supported by the manufacturers and merchants of that country. The inevitable disastrous results of the application of this immoral policy are tragically visible in the political and economic life of present-day Ireland.
It was the wealth and commerce of Ireland that, first, attracted the Danes, and, later, the Normans, and occasioned invasions of Ireland, at different periods, by both these peoples. The Danish attempt to subdue the country was utterly defeated at Clontarf (Dublin) in 1014; the Norman (Anglo-Saxon) attempt (1172) has proceeded with varying fortunes down to the present day. The industry and trade of Ireland suffered in the general devastation consequent on these invasions.
SIXTEENTH CENTURY “Along the track of Elizabeth's soldiers, houses, cornfields, orchards, fences, every token of a people's industry, were laid 'handsmooth.'"-(Mrs. Green: Making of Ireland and Its Undoing.)
“The (English) Lord President of Munster burnt all the houses and corn, taking great preys
and harassing the country, not leaving behind him man or beast, corn or cattel.”—(Pacata Hibernia, pp. 189-90.)
“The land itself which before these wars was populous, well inhabited, and rich in all the good blessing of God-being plenteous of corn, full of cattle, well stored with fish and other good commodities-is now become so barren both of man and beast that, whoever did travel from one end of all Munster, even from Waterford to the Head of Smerwick, would not meet any man, woman or child, save in towns or cities; nor yet see any beasts but the very wolves, foxes, and the other like ravening beasts."-(Holinshead, vol. VI., p. 459.)
“From the Dingle to the Rock of Cashel,” wrote the Four Masters, “not the lowing of a cow nor the voice of the ploughman was that year (1582) to be heard."
SEVENTEENTH CENTURY The aim of the English statesmen in the 17th century was to put a stop to Irish industry and prosperity and to transfer the markets and commerce of the country to English merchants. In this century the Parliament of England waged a bitter and protracted war against the economic activities of the Irish people. Writing in 1634, the (English) Lord Lieutenant Strafford said:
“To serve your majesty completely well in Ireland, we must
make sure still to hold them (the Irish people) dependent upon the crown, and not able to subsist without us, which will be effected by wholly laying aside the manufacture of wolls into cloth stuff there, and by furnishing them from this kingdom (England), and then making your majesty sole merchant of all salts on that side (Ireland), for thus shall they not only have their clothing, the improvement of all their native commodities (which are principally preserved by salt) and their victual itself from hence; (strong ties and enforcements upon their allegiance and obedience to your majesty.)”
“Besides, in reason of state, so long as they did not indrape their own wools, they must of necessity fetch their clothing from us, and consequently in a sort depend upon us for their livelihood, and thereby become so dependent upon this crown, as they would not depart from us without nakedness to themselves and children."-(Strafford's Letters, Dublin, 1740).
Under the “Navigation Acts" (1637-60-63-96) the English Parliament forbade, under severe penalties, all trade between Ireland and the Continent of Europe and the British colonies. These enactments stopped the external trade of Ireland, left Irish products without a market, other than that of England, and removed from the Irish people the means to purchase even the necessaries of life.
Cromwell prohibited the shipping of Irish cattle to England in 1680, and from that year to 1757, not only live stock but meats of all kind, butter and cheese, of Irish production were rigorously excluded from the English markets. At the same period, the export of Irish-tanned leather was forbidden by English statute.
In 1670 England forbade, through parliamentary enactment, the exportation to Ireland of sugar, tobacco, cotton-wool, indigo, ginger, fustic or other dyeing wood, the produce of English over-sea plantations.
At the same period, England placed restrictions on the glass trade, on silk, on hops, beer and malt, and on other branches of Irish industry. English historians of the period have recorded the disastrous results of this interference by the English Parliament on the economic activities of the Irish people. Arthur Young says:
“Of all the restrictions which England has at different times most implicitly laid upon the trade of Ireland, there is none more obnoxious than the embargoes on their provision trade. The prohibitions of the export of woollens, and various other articles, have this pretence at least in their favor, that they are advantageous to similar manufactures in England; and Ireland has long been trained to the sacrifice of her national advantage as a dependent country; but in respect to enbargoes even this shallow pretence is wanting; a whole kingdom is sacrified and plundered, not to enrich England, but three or four London contractors !”
The historian Carte, in his Life of Ormond, writes:
“The people had no money to pay the subsidies granted by Parliament, and their cattle was grown such a drug that horses that used to be sold for thirty shillings were now sold for dogs' meat at twelvepence apiece, and beeves that brought before fifty shillings were now sold for ten,
In 1673 the English Viceroy in Ireland publicly proposed that the woollen industry should be abandoned in that country as it interfered prejudicially with that of England. In 1698 the English House of Lords, acting conjointly with the House of Commons, addressed the English King William on the subject of the Irish woollen industry. The Lords represented that:
“The growing manufacture of cloth in Ireland, both by the cheapness of all sorts of necessaries of life, and the goodness of material for making all manner of cloth,” having made the King's loyal subjects in England very apprehensive that the further growth of it would greatly prejudice the said manufacture here (in England), and lessen the value of lands; they, the Lords, besought his most sacred majesty to be pleased in the most public and effectual way that may be to declare to all his subjects of Ireland, that the growth and increase of the woollen manufacture there (in Ireland) hath long been and will ever be looked upon with great jealousy by all his subjects of the kingdom of Eng
The Commons of England resolved :
“Being very sensible that the wealth and power of this kingdom do, in a great measure, depend on the preservation of the woollen manufacture as much as possible entire to this realm,” conceived them that it became them to be jealous of the establishment and increase of the industry elsewhere. "They cannot without trouble observe that Ireland should of late apply itself to the woollen manufacture to the great prejudice of the trade of England
Parliament will be necessitated to interfere to prevent the mischief that threatens. His majesty's protection and favor in this matter is most humbly implored
To these addresses the English monarch replied briefly to the effect that the wish of Parliament should be carried out. Accordingly it was enacted, under penalty of the forfeiture of both goods and ship, and a penalty of five hundred pounds ( £500) "for every such offence," that the ex. portation of either the raw material or the manufactured woollen stuffs, from Ireland, was prohibited. Thus was Ireland's (at that time) greatest industry sacrified to appease the commercial jealousy of England. Edmund Burke, in 1778, asked:
“Do they forget that the whole woollen manufacture of Ireland, the most extensive and profitable of any, and the natural staple of that kingdom, has been in a manner so destroyed by restrictive laws that in a few years it is probable the Irish will not be able to wear a coat of their own fabric? Is this equality ?”
Luke Gardiner, speaking in the Irish Parliament, on these restraints of commerce and industry, said: “When King William came to the throne
he laid several unjust and pernicious restrictions on the trade of Ireland, in order to gratify England, which began to grow jealous of our prosperity
Let us mark the consequences. The manufacturers, no longer able to find subsistence at home, emigrated, where they were received with open arms. The French, notwithstanding every exertion, had been unable to establish the woollen manufactures, until they procured Irish wool to mix with their own, and Irish men to weave it. They then, conscious of the advantages of protecting their trade, laid additional duties on the importation of English cloths. The event soon confirmed with what propriety they adopted these protective duties; they in a short time manufactured enough for the home market, and
are enabled not only to rival Great Britain, but to under sell her in every market in Europe."
Barlow states :
“Deprived of the means of subsistence at home, thousands of Irish manufacturers emigrated to France and other countries, where they assisted the inhabitants in the augmentation of the quantity and improvements of the quality of their woollen cloths and established correspondents by which vast quantities of Irish wool, whose exportation, except to England, was prohibited, were carried clandestinely to other countries."
The industry of ship-building was likewise assailed and destroyed. Legislation was passed prohibiting Irish merchants from using any ships but those built in England for the carrying of their external trade. And the better to secure this, it was also enacted that Ireland could not carry on direct commerce with the English colonies, save only through English ports, and employing English shipping for the transportation of such commerce.
In 1698 deep-sea fishing off the Irish coast was prohibited, except carried on in English-built boats. Irish fishermen were, also, forbidden to fish on the Newfoundland banks, to prevent competition with English fisher
Thus one by one Ireland industries were strangled by restrictive legislation enacted by England with the deliberate purpose of keeping the Irish Nation in subjection. The English historian, Froude, writing of this period, said:
"The English deliberately determined to keep Ireland poor and miserable, as the readiest means to prevent it being troublesome. They destroyed Irish trade and shipping by navigation laws. They extinguished Irish manufactures by preferential duties. They laid disabilities even on its wretched agriculture, for fear that Irish importations might injure the English farmer."
“With their shipping destroyed by the Navigation Act, their woollen manufactures taken from them, their trade in all its branches crippled and confined, the single resource left to those of the Irish who
still nourished dreams of improving their unfortunate country was agriculture. The soil was at least their own.
Here was employment for a population three times more numerous than as yet existed. Here was a prospect, if not of commercial wealth, yet of substantial comfort and material abundance.
The tenants were forbidden in their leases to break or plough the soil. The people no longer employed were driven away into holes and corners, and eked out a wretched subsistence by potato gardens, or by keeping starving cattle of their own on the neglected bogs.
the (Irish) House of Commons in 1776, resolved unanimously to make an effort for a general change of system.
They passed a vote that covenants which prohibited the breaking of soil with the plough were impolitic and should have no binding force.
They passed heads of a Bill, which they recommended
to the English Council, enjoining
that a trifling bounty should be granted by the Government on corn grown for exportation. “And what did England answer?
The Privy Council (of England) rejected a Bill which they ought rather have thrust of their own accord on Irish acceptance. The real motive was probably the same—the detestable opinion that to govern Ireland conveniently, Ireland must be kept weak.
“The Irish were not to be blamed if they looked to Spain, to France, to any friend on earth, or in heaven, to deliver them from a power which discharged no single duty that rulers owe to subjects.
The Marquis of Dufferin and Ava, Governor-General of India, in 1867, summarized the commercial restraints imposed by England upon Ireland, as follows:
"From Queen Elizabeth's reign until the Union the various commercial confraternities of Great Britain never for a moment relaxed their relentless grip on the trades of Ireland. One by one, each of our nascent industries was either strangled in its birth, or handed over, gagged and bound, to the jealous custody of the rival interest in England, until at last every fountain of wealth was hermetically sealed, and even the traditions of commercial enterprise have perished through disuetude. The owners of England's pastures had the honour of opening the campaign. As early as the commencement of the sixteenth century the beeves of Roscommon, Tipperary, and Queen's County undersold the produce of the English grass counties in their own market. By an Act [of Parliament] Irish cattle were declared 'a nuisance,' and their importation prohibited. Forbidden to send our beasts alive across the Channel, we killed them at home, and began to supply the sister country with cured provisions. A second Act of Parliament imposed prohibitory duties on salted meats. The hides of the animals still remained; but the same influence put a stop to the importation of leather. Our cattle trade abolished, we tried sheep-farming. The sheep-breeders of England immediately took alarm, and Irish wool was declared contraband [by Parliament]. Headed in this direction, we tried to work up the raw material at home; but this created the greatest outcry of all. Every maker of fustian, flannel, and broadcloth in the country rose up in arms, and by an Act of William III. the woollen