DES KEENAN'S BOOKS ON IRISH HISTORY online version

Pre-Famine Ireland LINKS TO INDIVIDUAL CHAPTERS

CLICK PRE-FAMINE TO RETURN TO BOOK LIST; CLICK HOME PAGE TO RETURN TO HOME PAGE

Home Page

Pre-FamineContentsIntroductionChapter1Chapter2Chapter3

Chapter4Chapter5Chapter6Chapter7Chapter8Chapter9

Chapter10Chapter11Chapter12Chapter13Chapter14Chapter15

Chapter16Chapter17Chapter18Chapter19Chapter20Chapter21

Chapter22Chapter23Chapter24Chapter25Chapter26Chapter27

Chapter28Chapter29Chapter30ChronologyBiographyBibliography

Pre-Famine Ireland: Social Structure Copyright 2000 by Desmond Keenan Hard copy of book available from Xlibris.com and Amazon.com

Chapter Eleven

                             Secondary Sector: Processing and Manufacturing

Summary of chapter. Industry in Ireland, as in most other countries at the time was concerned with the processing of the products of agriculture, the milling, brewing, and distilling of cereals, the spinning and weaving of natural fibres, the preservation of meat and the use of leather. Mining and the extractive industries were not of major importance. Manufacturing of objects in wood and metal was quite important, but some heavy engineering works were undertaken.               

 (i) Milling, Brewing and Distilling

(ii) The Textile Industry: Organisation

(iii) The Textile Industry: Branches

(iv) The Provisions Industry

(v) Mining and Minerals

(vi) Manufacturing

**********************************************************************************************************

(i) Milling, Brewing, and Distilling 

In many parts of Ireland away from the east coast there were no cornmarkets at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Any grain traded was purchased by the local miller or brewer. 

Towards the end of the eighteenth century there was a great increase in the production of cereals in areas with access to water transport. This meant having a waterway with no obstructions and a depth of two or three feet. Already in 1781 there were mills on the river Barrow with a capacity of milling 20,000 barrels a year. Exports of cereals grew, but not until the 1830's was there a great expansion in the products of milling. In 1828 475,000 quarters of wheat were exported compared with 620,000 quarters of wheaten flour. Similarly, 1,800,000 quarters of oats were exported compared with 425,000 quarters of oatmeal. By 1839 the figures were 90,000 quarters of wheat and 520,000 quarters of wheaten flour, 1,300,000 quarters of oats and 890,000 quarters of oatmeal (The Pilot 29 April 1842). All grain was kiln-dried so the mills tended to be near the east coast. Before the repeal of the Corn Laws Clonmel on the Suir in Co. Tipperary was the most important centre of milling. 

Brewing and distilling are processes for making alcoholic beverages from cereals. In Ireland only barley was used for both processes. The barley grain was first malted. The grain was allowed to sprout and then was kiln-dried. Next it was soaked in water with a yeast added to ferment and produce alcohol. In distilling, the alcohol was concentrated by boiling it off in a retort, and cooling it in a condensing chamber. The retort and chamber are together called a still. In Ireland at the beginning of the century for distilling mostly unmalted barley was used, but the proportion of malt gradually increased. It was distilled three times, and was always spelt as whiskey. It was done in batches in a pot-still, though attempts were being made to effect continuous distillation. The Coffey patent still that allowed continuous distillation was invented in Ireland about 1850. It was normally used in Scotland to distil that virtually tasteless alcohol from unmalted grain for blending with the malt whiskys from the potstills. The preferred fuel for distillation was coal so distilleries were situated on the coast. Larger stills were more profitable than smaller ones. Illicitly distilled whiskey was normally only profitable because there was no excise paid on it. 

The heavy excises on spirits during the War made illicit distillation profitable. This produced a problem for the Government. It needed the money from the taxes to finance the war, but this was leading to a widespread breaking of the law leading to general lawlessness.  

From 1812 onwards several measures were tried to promote small legal stills. It was also hoped that they would stimulate the economy of the mountainous areas of the country. Barley and peat for fuel were available locally, while the distilled spirits, though cheap, were sufficiently profitable to be transported by packpony. Similar measures had greater success in Scotland than in Ireland. 

The brewing and distilling industry was severely hit by Fr Mathew's Temperance Crusade in the 1830's. Recorded whiskey production reached 11,894,000 gallons in 1836 but this figure had fallen to 5,738,000 by 1847. The first figure was not re-attained until 1860. By 1907, about 12,000,000 gallons a year were being produced. In the second half of the century the number of distilleries declined as their size increased. There were 94 in 1840, 49 in 1847 and 22 in 1914. Much of the Irish whiskey before 1850 was exported as overproof (concentrated) whiskey to the English gin manufacturers. 

Brewing produces a relatively bulky and heavy beverage unsuitable for transport. Breweries therefore tended to be small and scattered. Access to water-transport was essential for large-scale production. By the mid-eighteenth century high quality beer was being imported from England so efforts were made to improve the mediocre Irish product. In 1811 there were nine major breweries in Dublin with a total output of 280,000 36-gallon barrels. Arthur Guinness (founded in 1759) produced 70,000 barrels, Connolly and Co. 50,000, Grange and Co. 27,000 and Trevor and Keogh likewise 27,000. Guinness's output did not reach 100,000 until the Famine but the firm was later to supply two thirds of the Irish market with its distinctive black brew. Beamish and Crawford, founded in Cork in 1792 had an express policy of stimulating the growing of barley by offering the best possible prices. They had to change their policy of buying by weight to buying by the bushel when they found people putting stones in the bags. Such petty cheating was a feature of Irish agriculture. [Top] 

(ii) The Textile Industry: Processes and Organisation 

Textile manufacture consists of two main processes, spinning and weaving, and several subsidiary processes like fulling, finishing and dyeing. Fulling, which involves washing great quantities of cloth was a very arduous task and was one of the first processes to be mechanised by means of wind and water mills. Fulling mills existed in Ireland at least from the beginning of the eighteenth century. Finishing includes bleaching, felting, etc. Preparatory work in the form of combing or carding is done on the fibres. 

Spinning is done by taking the relatively short fibres of wool, cotton, flax, etc. and forming a long continuous thread by twisting the fibres together. (An exception is silk where the fibres themselves are long and continuous but are twisted together for strength. Silk-spinning was the first process to be accomplished by machinery invented in Italy about 1700. The machinery was introduced to England in 1718). 

The process of spinning by hand dates back thousands of years. The twisting is accomplished by means of a small weight called a spindle spinning around as it is suspended from the thread held in one hand. The loose bundle of carded fibre was held by the other hand on a stick called a distaff, from which bundle the fibres were drawn out to be twisted together by the spinning spindle in the other hand. When the thread reached a certain length, the spinner (or more usually the spinster, for it was women's work) stopped spinning and wound the thread onto the spindle before resuming. 

In the later Middle Ages a device called a spinning wheel was invented which drove the spindle faster. The spindle was turned by a wheel that was itself revolved by hand or by a treadle. The system proved relatively easy to mechanise by linking together many spindles and attaching them to a source of power like a water wheel. The first multiple spinning machine was Hargreave's Spinning Jenny powered by a treadle. It produced thread suitable only for the weft or crosswise threads. Arkwright's waterframe was powered by water and produced thread fit for the warp or vertical threads also. There was much resistance to new machinery in the eighteenth century especially in the woollen branch. In the cotton industry waterframes were introduced from the start. 

In the eighteenth century the organisers of the textile trade preferred to put out work into country areas to avoid restrictions imposed by the trade guilds in the towns. The introduction of machinery was avoided so as not to interfere with established hand-spinning. It was therefore first used in the newly-established cotton industry in Belfast between 1770 and 1780. By contrast, the Government-supported Linen Board was still distributing spinning wheels fifty years later. Machine-driven spindles for linen thread were introduced into Belfast in 1828. 

At the beginning of the century in Ireland most spinning (of wool and linen) was done on spinning wheels on the 'putting out' system. In this system the capitalist supplied the raw material and the worker the machinery. (When stocking-frames for knitting were used the worker hired them.) A commercial organiser called an undertaker purchased large quantities of raw fibre and carried it around to the spinsters in their cottages. These were to return an equal weight of spun thread, but some parts of Ireland had a reputation both for poor-quality work and pilfering. The spun thread was then taken to the cottages of the weavers, who were usually men. From them the organiser took the cloth to the nearest market or seaport. 

Weaving is a more complicated craft. It requires a frame called a loom on which threads can be hung vertically, and a device for shifting alternate threads backwards and forwards. The weaver passes another thread attached to a shuttle horizontally between the alternate rows of threads, reverses the positions of the vertical threads and passes the shuttle again. This produces woven or interwoven cloth. By varying the pattern of the weave different kinds of cloth could be produced.

Weavers were usually concentrated in particular regions or areas like the Dublin Liberties (wool) and in parts of Antrim and Down (linen). They were noted for drunkenness, radical views, and a propensity to form combinations. Though technically called journeymen they seem to have worked largely on their own, and were often unemployed. Though similar skills were involved the weaving of woollens, cottons, linens, and silks, were regarded as different crafts.  

The first improvement in the loom was Kay's Flying Shuttle that allowed a single weaver to weave even a broadcloth seventy two inches wide. This was in use for linen and cotton from 1800, and a variant called the spring shuttle for wool. 

Weaving, even by the most skilled weaver using the best thread produced a very unfinished cloth, and much of the value of the cloth came from skilled finishers. The fairly loose weave must be tightened by soaking the cloth and trampling it underfoot to compact the weave. This is called fulling. When fulling woollens fuller's earth was used to remove the natural grease of the wool. The wet cloth was then dried stretched on hooks called tenterhooks so that it would retain its shape. Even in towns a good supply of water for washing was of the first consequence. Weaving proved difficult to mechanise, and not until about 1820 was machine woven cloth considered equal to hand woven. Power-driven looms were rare in Ireland before 1850. 

In the production of cloth it was estimated that about 15 people, 5 or 6 of them carders and spinners, were employed for each weaver. For the more complex or better-finished cloths up to 40 people, sorters, pickers, combers, scribblers, spinners, sheermen, dyers, etc., could be employed for each weaver. So even before the introduction of machinery cloth manufacture tended to be concentrated in factories. But waterpower was very useful for the fulling process and by the end of the eighteenth century textile factories were being built in country towns. 

It is fashionable nowadays to paint a black picture of conditions in factories, but that is not necessarily how the workers themselves saw them. Conditions for workers in factories were better than those of farmworkers, fishermen, seafarers, and in many cases than those of weavers and spinners working at home. Earnings over the year were likely to be higher, leading to a higher standard of living. The working day in the factory was long, not being reduced to ten hours until 1847. But machinery was unreliable and often broken down, and the organisation of work by twentieth century standards primitive, leading to much wasted time. Time-and-motion studies are an American invention of the twentieth century. [Top] 

(iii) The Textile Industry: Branches 

In the opening years of the nineteenth century over 40 million yards of linen were being exported. In 1844 60,000 machine-driven spindles were being operated. About 1850 21,000 people were employed in factories connected with the manufacture of linen, a figure which rose to 60,000 by the end of the century when a total of 828,000 spindles were in use. Power-driven looms were introduced about 1850. 

During the Famine it was estimated that the whole industry employed about 60,000 people with a quarter of a million dependants, but it is not clear who precisely were included in this figure. It probably includes people like seed-merchants, and the manufacturers of bleaches.

Much of the linen woven in Ireland in the eighteenth century was of the cheaper kind. This was especially true of Connaught where pilfering was also rife. As early as 1737 the Dublin Society encouraged the production of fine cambrics, and damasks and linens from Lisburn in Co. Antrim and Coleraine in Co. Londonderry were regarded as equal to any in the world. The availability of cheaper cottons, and an American tariff in 1824 reduced the demand for coarse linens and production ceased in Connaught and north Leinster. The introduction of the Jacquard loom that allowed elaborate repetitive patterns to be woven allowed the producers of quality linens to expand production. The texture of undyed linen cloth admirably displayed the woven patterns, and Irish damasks became world-famous. Linen was also dyed and printed. 

Frequent attempts, some backed by the Government, were made to develop the cotton industry. The most famous of these failed attempts was made at Prosperous, Co. Kildare, where there was a large Protestant population. Jennies at first and then waterframes were used. A judge, Baron George Hamilton, succeeded in establishing the cotton industry at Balbriggan, Co. Dublin. By 1790 Irish muslins and calicoes were equal to the best Indian ware.  

The cotton industry was the first to be mechanised. By the year 1800 there were 13,500 people employed in the industry and by 1830 about 30,000. After that date competition from Lancashire became too strong. But in 1854 cotton spindles still numbered 111,000 compared with 500,000 in the linen industry. An advertisement in 1813 for the sale of a cotton factory paints a picture of the development of the industry at that date. Listed for sale were various factory buildings housing 14 mule jennies with a total of 2640 spindles, 18 throstles (improved machines) with a total of 1464 spindles, and 14 carding machines. In 1790 the average number of spindles per machine was fewer than twenty five. The centre of the cotton industry was around Dublin that accounted for about half of all production. 

As the linen industry contracted towards Belfast many weavers turned to weaving cotton yarn. In 1824 Leslie Foster noted that there were four or five hundred cotton weavers around Collon in Co. Louth. As competition became fiercer from Lancashire Irish manufacturers turned to producing the finer muslins. Cotton cloth took dye readily and could be easily printed upon to produce brightly coloured cotton prints. This enabled poorer people, especially women and children, to dress well. Men remained faithful to wool. Denim was not common among the working class, corduroy being preferred if cotton was worn. 

Woollen fabrics were used universally for clothing except for underwear and for ladies summer dresses. The frieze overcoat or jacket, either in its natural grey colour or dyed a light blue, slightly cutaway at the tails, was the almost invariable uniform of men especially in the rural areas. The upper classes preferred the finer-woven imported broadcloths. Colours faded easily before the discovery of the fast aniline dyes in the nineteenth century. As living standards improved there was a move away from the coarser friezes and ratteens produced from clothing wool to the finer serges and stuffs produced from combing wool. Worsted yarn was used in stuffs, tabinets, bombazines, merino crepe, albion net, gauzes, etc. The sheepfarmers failed to keep up with the demand for the combing wool for the manufacture of worsteds, as there was a greater demand for clothing wool that was also used in rugs and blankets. Imports of wool increased. Standards of weaving improved and by mid-century Ireland was producing some very fine woollen cloth. 

The woollen industry was spread all over Ireland so far as basic spinning and weaving were concerned. The perennial problem in the eighteenth century of unemployment and starvation among the woollen weavers seems to have disappeared. Part of the reason may have been a fall in the number of weavers, and part the dispersion of the industry into rural towns. But it was stronger in southern Ireland. At first, it was largely organised on the putting out basis, but at the beginning of the nineteenth century factories were being built around Cork city and factory manufacture became the norm. By 1856 there were thirty three factories for woollens and by the end of the century about a hundred. Even at the end of the century the total number employed scarcely exceeded 5,000. 

One problem especially associated with the woollen industry was the fact that for drying the fabric after weaving and washing it had to be hung up to dry on tenterhooks. As these were in the open air they could not be used in wet weather. The remedy was to construct a 'tenterhouse' or 'stove tenterhouse' heated with stoves. A philanthropic gentleman named Mr Pleasants built such a house for the impoverished weavers in the Dublin Liberties about 1815. Builders of factories naturally built such houses for themselves. 

Another problem connected with the woollen industry was the medieval character of the markets for raw wool. When raw wool was being bought ancient deductions for 'trett', 'caste', and other dues were exacted. These were abolished by a leading wool auctioneer about the middle of the nineteenth century. 

In the woollen industry especially there were many ancient vested interests that prevented rapid change. Until the Municipal Corporations Reform Act (1840) removed their controlling powers the development of the industry within cities and towns was subject to the interests of the masters of the guilds. The combinations of journeymen were also more prevalent in towns.  

The Huguenots also brought the manufacture of silk to Ireland, but it never prospered like the linen industry. It was racked by combinations and trade disputes and the regulation of the industry was handed over to the Dublin Society. It was for the manufacture of silk cloth that the Jacquard loom was first introduced into Ireland around 1820. Much more successful was the manufacture of poplin, a blend of wool and silk, and the Irish product has been internationally famous since the eighteenth century. 

The hosiery industry finally accepted the stocking frame in 1762 and so can claim to be the first of the textile manufacturers to adopt machinery. The hosiers in the guilds were faced with competition from better-quality English stockings and also from the cheap poor-quality rough stockings knitted in rural areas especially Connemara. 

The use of machinery led to the manufacture of machinery, and this in turn led to the development of an iron and steel industry. Up until 1800 the machinery-manufacturers pirated (and improved) the latest British inventions, but after that date were bound by British patents. Only around Belfast was this developed fully in the second half of the century. The uses of soaps, bleaches, and dyes led to the development of a chemical industry. The introduction of a five-and-a-half day week in the textile industry in the second half of the century led to the codification of football, and soccer leagues accompanied the spread of factories. [Top] 

(iv) The Provisions Industry 

In some ways it can be said that the modernisation and development of Ireland came through its provisions industry rather than its textile industries. The milling of flour and the slaughtering of livestock date from the beginnings of agriculture. But their exploitation on a commercial scale required large-scale organisations to purchase and collect the raw materials, to process them, and to market them overseas. Whereas the textile industry retained the putting out system for a long time the first factories in Ireland were built for the production of flour. Similarly, large contracts for salted provisions brought large production units into existence. Canals and water transport were developed chiefly for the transport of grain and grain products. 

In the eighteenth century there were considerable exports of beef, butter, and pork. Cork became the great centre for the salt-provisions industry. Even before the War over 100,000 cows and oxen were slaughtered annually around Cork city. Salting was done by soaking the meat in a solution of rocksalt in seawater, not the most palatable of products resulting. Nobody minded the tastes of soldiers and sailors, and when war came in 1793 few firms in the British Isles could compete with the merchants in Cork on price, quality, and quantity. Not all contracts were placed in Cork, for firms elsewhere, for example in Dundalk, also tendered successfully. Slaughtering was still a seasonal occupation, being concentrated between August and January. From the meat-packing trade developed industries like the production of hides and leather, of wool and woollens, of leather work like horse harness, and the manufacture of fats, greases, tallow, soap, candles, and glue. 

The ending of the War forced many changes on the provisions industry. Few people would eat the highly salted beef and pork, so other forms of curing were introduced and developed. Hams and bacon rather than salt pork were what the public now demanded. Waterford had been pre-eminent in the bacon trade, but it was now joined by Cork and Limerick, and also by Londonderry in the North. 

Two developments also drastically affected the Irish provisions industry. The first was the invention of the sealed tin or can around 1815 which led to the cattle-rearing and meat-packing industries around Chicago and in Argentina. The other was the introduction of the steamship which facilitated the supply of fresh meat 'on the hoof' to the great cities in England. This benefited the farmers, but meant the transfer of the associated industries to the neighbourhood of those cities. 

In a cattle-rearing society milk and milk-products like butter, cheese, buttermilk, whey, and curds, are as important at least as meat. Ireland was traditionally a cattle-rearing country, and the widespread use of the potato did not date until about 1770. 

Milk goes sour very easily, and so, even in subsistence economies, needs some processing to preserve it for some time. Pasteurisation and refrigeration were either unknown or unavailable, and fresh milk was a bulky item of no great commercial value. Fresh milk was therefore only sold locally, and cows were kept within cities for this purpose. 

But milk contains 87% water, and 13% solids, and if a large part of the water is removed, products are obtained which keep better or can be preserved, have a higher value, and are more easily transportable. By curdling the milk with rennet, straining off the solids, and squeezing them dry, various kinds of cheeses can be produced. Or, by allowing the creamy part of the milk to rise to the surface, skimming it off, and violently agitating it, butter can be produced. Salting preserves butter. Ireland was not noted for its cheeses, though some was made around Waterford, but butter was made in most places. 

The making of butter was women's work, and it was made at home. It was a seasonal occupation. This meant great variability in quality, as butter easily picks up bad tastes. For export the butter was collected and packed in firkins, small wooden barrels bound with iron hoops. Early in the century Cork was the great centre for the commercial production of butter. Carlow had the reputation of making the best butter and there they used fresh water, not seawater to dissolve the rocksalt. The Irish Government, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, had several Acts passed to regulate and promote the trade. 

As the century advanced tastes in butter changed, and a much more lightly salted 'fresh butter' was developed for the markets. Fresh butter could be collected along with eggs for export by steamship to England. The industrial production of butter with mechanically-driven separators and churns had to await the end of the century and Sir Horace Plunkett's co-operative societies. Butter exports reached a peak about 1850 and then remained on a plateau, as Denmark moved in to capture a major part of the ever-increasing British market. 

Cork was also an important centre for salted herrings, and this was an industry the Government particularly wished to see spreading all around the coast. But by mid-century Scottish curers and salters were in control of the British market for cured fish. Later still railways were built to the fishing ports like Grimsby and Hull allowing direct supply of fresh fish to the cities. [Top]

(v) Mining and Minerals 

Apart from limestone, Ireland was not rich in minerals, but no effort was spared to try to locate such pockets as existed. Because small pockets were widely found it was thought that minerals were more abundant than they actually were. As it was put at the time: Ireland was sitting on a vast seam of coal if they could only find it! Already by 1740 coalmines were deep enough to require pumping by steam. After 1750 efforts to avoid dependence on Cumberland coals led to searches for coal seams and the development of waterways. Coal was discovered in several parts of Ireland, and the mine was usually developed by the local landowner if he could raise sufficient capital. 

In the nineteenth century located coalfields, though widely spread, were small, distant from markets, and needing constant pumping. The miners too were noted for violent combinations. The miners in Ireland's 'colliery district' in Queen's County' formed the most troublesome part of Dr. James Doyle's flock. The principal mines were at Coalisland, in Tyrone the terminus of the Newry Canal. 

Ireland' first two canals, the Newry Canal and the Grand Canal were cut towards coalmining areas to give easier access to markets. Nevertheless it cost more to carry coal to Dublin from Castlecomer in Co Kilkenny about sixty miles from Dublin than from Whitehaven in Cumberland. Still, in 1802, the Countess of Ormonde's mine in Castlecomer was producing 2,000 tons of coal a week at a weekly cost of 500. As in England, the nobility were among those with sufficient money to invest in capitalistic enterprises. Tolls on the Grand Canal amounted to three pence per ton per mile, exclusive of the costs of men, horses, and barges. Tolls thus added five shillings to the price of a ton of coal hauled twenty miles on the canal. In 1806 the Canal Company was induced to lower its tolls and the mines in Queen's County began to show a profit. 

The Grand Canal Company found a seam three feet four inches thick (large by Irish standards) and extending over 200 acres at Doonane in Queen's County. It installed a steam pump and constructed coal depots at the closest points on its main and spur canals. Another mine in Tipperary was producing coal valued at 100,000 per annum in 1844. The miners there lay on their sides in wet clothes with water dripping over them, and worked by candlelight (The Pilot 10 May 1844). 

In 1808 the Dublin Society commissioned a survey of Irish coal measures, and Mr Richard Griffith began work in 1809. In 1814 he reported to the Society on the coalmeasures in Leinster, and subsequently in the other provinces. In Leinster he found eight separate seams of which the largest was 500 acres in extent. By 1824 he had located seams in Antrim, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Monaghan, Leitrim, South Leinster, North Munster, and West Munster. These often produced considerable quantities of coal in the nineteenth century, but only the mines at Arigna, Co. Leitrim survive. 

Mining for metals was carried on in several places and the remains of old lead and silver mines of the period can still be seen. Gold and silver mines belonged to the crown, but mixed mines did not. There was a considerable find of alluvial gold in Wicklow in 1795 but the lode was never found. Silver was mined especially in Tipperary, and a total of 11,412 ounces was produced in 1852. A mine at Luganure produced 674 tons of lead. Copper ore proved to be the most abundant, but was never found in sufficient quantity to warrant building a smelter. The ore was therefore exported to Cardiff in Wales. Output reached a peak in 1836 when 21,000 tons of ore valued at 163,000 were shipped. Iron occurs in small quantities all over Ireland. The cottage industry of iron-smelting reached its peak in the seventeenth century when English woodlands need for smelting were nearly exhausted while Ireland still had abundant timber. The discovery by Abraham Darby of a way to smelt with coke came too late to save the Irish forests. Only at Arigna and Castlecomer was iron mined commercially in the nineteenth century. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the steam pump enabled old flooded mines to be re-opened.

A few Irish mining companies were established. One was floated in 1830 with a view to working coal measures, a coppermine at Knockmahon, leadmines at Glendalough and Kildrum, and slate quarries at Killaloe and Glenpatrick. Though the mines were small great enthusiasm was shown in developing them. 

Quarrying and lime-burning were carried on all over the country, and the remains of the small local kilns are easily located. They were built on steeply sloping ground, were loaded from the top and emptied from the bottom. [Top] 

(vi) Manufacturing 

One of the great objectives in the eighteenth century was to develop the Irish iron industry from mining and refining the ore to the finished product. So successful was this effort that when iron began to be used on a large scale about the middle of the nineteenth century the Irish ironmasters were capable of producing a wide range of products especially for domestic use.

Drogheda emerged as a centre for heavy ironworks especially bridges connected with railways. The building of railway carriages and wagons began along with the first building of the railways, followed soon by the building of locomotives at Drogheda. Very shortly the railway companies began constructing their own engines. The Dublin and Kingstown opened their Canal Street works in 1841 and built 2-2-2 tank engines. The Great Southern and Western began producing its own engines at Inchicore in 1852. The Irish iron industry (except around Belfast) did not continue developing in the second half of the century. When the great works connected with the construction of the railways ended the industry failed to develop exports and virtually collapsed (DNB Mallet). 

Ship and boat building was carried on in many Irish ports, and even if the hull were not built locally, rigging and fitting-out could be carried out. Cork, Waterford, Belfast, Londonderry were the most important centres while small cargo and fishing vessels were built at Dundalk, Drogheda, Wicklow, Arklow, Wexford, Dungarvan, and Kinsale. A local shipbuilder might employ only five or six men. Early in the century ships trading with North America and the West Indies did not exceed 200 or 300 tons so this was the kind of ship built. For example a brig of 172 tons was built in Dublin in 1791. By mid-century ships of 1,000 tons were being built in Belfast, and Dublin and Londonderry followed suit shortly afterwards.

Waterford had been perhaps the most important shipbuilding centre in the eighteenth century, but around 1800 Cork overtook it. The rise of Belfast as the greatest centre followed the deepening of the Lagan and the cut through the sandbanks from the mud of which Dargan's Island, later called Queen's Island, was formed. Shipbuilding in Belfast was to culminate with the mighty Titanic just before the First World War. One of the earliest successful steamboats was built in Cork in 1815 that is just three years after the launch of the Comet on the Clyde that marked the beginning of marine steam propulsion in Europe. The steam marine engine too was designed and built in Cork (E. Anderson). By 1820 a Belfast shipyard had also produced a steamship but regular construction of steamships did not begin in Ireland until the Thirties. In the Forties Irish shipbuilders followed current trends by building iron hulls. 

Combinations plagued the shipbuilding industry especially in Dublin. Already, ominously, in the 1830's shipbuilders in Dublin considered that their rivals on the Tyne in north-east England had a 50% advantage over Dublin with regard to cost. 

The leather industry regarded itself as one of the great staples of the Irish trade. Large numbers of people were employed in tanning hides as well as in the manufacture of leather goods. The industry nearly destroyed itself during the War by using chemicals to hasten the tanning process. In the traditional process the raw hides were exposed to the tannin which was found in the bark of oaktrees. The tanning was done in pits, and the war tax on leather goods was collected by taxing the tanning pits according to size. It was easy to collect and so attracted crippling tax-rates. After the War the industry suffered from the increasing export of live animals to England and also from the import of better-quality English goods. Nevertheless, up to mid-century it was giving considerable employment in the manufacture of boots, shoes, harness, saddles, portmanteaus, etc. 

Furniture and cabinet-making always existed in the subsistence sector, and around 1800 Irish craftsmen were supplying the cheaper end of the market. By 1850 standards had risen to equal the best in Britain. The same was true of coach-making. Around 1800 all the better-quality coaches were imported; by 1850 Irish coachwork equalled the best in the world. Tailoring too was an industry where standards rose from the mediocre to the very best. As readymade clothing was not available each article of clothing was made locally by tailors, dressmakers, hosiers, milliners, and glove-makers 

Minor industries which around 1850 were producing goods of the very highest quality were the lace, hosiery, gloves, haberdashery, paper-making, printing, engraving, book-binding and instrument-making industries. The firm of Thomas Grubb co-operated with the earl of Rosse in building the largest telescope in the world. 

In 1847 the Dublin Society offered prizes for the design and manufacture in Ireland of products in different categories. These give a good illustration of the nature and width of Irish manufacturing industry. They were:
fine woven textiles;
coarser textiles like blankets and carpets;
furniture, musical instruments, optical instruments, other instruments;
paper, books, etc;
fine metalwork including knives and surgical instruments;
wigs, haircloths, furs, etc.;
agricultural instruments;
carriages and other vehicles;
leather work;
candles, soaps, glues, etc.
(IRG 5 Feb 1849). 

The Government at that time too reorganised and expanded the schools of design to meet new needs. It was observed that the textile industry was then spending thousands of pounds each year buying patterns from abroad. 

In the fields of construction and heavy engineering Irish contractors proved equal to every demand. Early in the eighteenth century in the Georgian period building on a large scale commenced of both public and private buildings. Associated with building was stone-carving and applied sculpture. Irish contractors pioneered the introduction of canal building though none of their work in the eighteenth century was notably successful. By 1800 a new generation of Irish engineers had learned their business in England and Scotland under masters like Telford. On their return to Ireland they took charge of the construction or improvement of canals, river navigations, locks, piers, aqueducts, water-piping and sewage works, bridges, lighthouses. Their work, and that of the stonemason and quarrymen, was equal to that in England. 

The building of the railways brought a new challenge to Irish contractors and labourers. The speed of construction was dramatically raised and amazed the whole of Europe. Even royalty came to look at railway construction workers running up slopes pushing heavy wheelbarrows. Alcohol was freely available from huxter's shops wherever the gangs were working, but unlike the canal constructors the railway contractors ensured that the men were properly fed on a high protein diet of beef. Even so it was estimated that it took twelvemonths to harden even agricultural labourers to the work. Their working life was short, few over forty being employed, but they were the kings of labour in Europe and they knew it. When railway construction began in France the contractors imported British labourers in order to maintain the pace, but in Ireland local labour was used from the start.

As in England, the railway was surveyed and designed by the railway engineer, and then tenders were invited from local contractors to build sections of the line. William Dargan was the most famous of all the Irish contractors. The construction of the most difficult part of the Dublin and Belfast Junction Railway, later part of the Great Northern Railway (Ireland), was entrusted to a local firm called Killen and Moore. Just outside of Dundalk they had to bridge a wide shallow river estuary. Then followed the construction of a long embankment rising for four miles at a gradient of 1 in 100 to a height of 422 feet above sealevel. Then they had to blast for about a mile through solid granite to form the Wellington Cut. The railway almost immediately ran out on to the great Craigmore viaduct. This was in the form of arches constructed of blocks of granite up to two tons in weight. It was 1400 feet long and 140 feet in height from the lowest point in the ravine it crossed to the top of the parapet (SNL 26 Aug 1850). Similar obstacles were overcome elsewhere in Ireland.

 [Top] 

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Copyright Desmond J. Keenan, B.S.Sc.; Ph.D. ;.London, U.K.