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[Post Famine Ireland- Social Structure Ireland as it Really Was. Copyright © 2006 by Desmond Keenan. Book available from and]

Chapter Four


Chapter Summary. This chapter deals with the tremendous growth of the manufacturing industry in Ireland, where some firms were the largest in the world in their class. The shipbuilding industry and allied trades like ropemaking and the manufacture of machinery and telescopes were notable. So too were the manufacture of linen, and the brewing, distilling, and tobacco manufacture industries. Tourism was just beginning to develop. Trade unions asserted themselves. Industrial legislation for the protection of workers closely followed that in Britain. The hyperlinks immediately below are to the most important headings.



Food Processing

Extractive Industries

Building and Construction


Other Manufactures


Trade Unions

Industrial Legislation



General Aspects

            Every industrialising country had to train its work force into habits of industry. This meant training them to arrive punctually every morning at the appointed hour and continuing to work steadily at their work place until the time appointed for finishing. This did not mean working particularly hard but working steadily. The older habit, derived from the rhythm of the seasons meant that men could work extremely hard in bursts, to save the harvest for example, and then take days off when it was wet, or if there was no work to do. Trade unionists were inclined to refer to factories where hours were kept as sweat shops. But we must remember that ‘Taylorism’, the control of work by stop watch, like the production line, were twentieth century inventions. Being present for work for sixty hours a week did not mean sixty hours work. In some jobs like those of dockers it was estimated that less than half the time was spent actually working. A crane for example might have to be shifted before another hold was unloaded. Machinery was very unreliable. Drive belts could come off, or be encouraged to come off. Sabotage is derived from the custom of French workers applying their sabot to a part of a machine so that worked stopped until it was repaired. One group of workers might be idle because another group had not finished their task. Josiah Wedgewood, the pottery manufacturer, for example had to make strenuous efforts to ensure that his work force kept regular hours and did not frequent public houses. It was much easier to train a work force in habits of industry if they moved to a different town or a different country.

            Horace Plunkett as vice-president of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction in 1902 discussed the problem. He noted that there is no shortage of capital in Ireland, only shortage of ideas to wake Ireland from its industrial sleep; a merchant needs about 4 to 6% return on his investment, but the money is stored in savings banks and joint-stock banks. Various reasons have been alleged for this failure of Irish industry, the lack of coal and iron, defective and expensive transit costs, over-taxation, free trade, political and religious animosities. But if you ask an English industrialist why he does not take advantage of the cheapness of labour in Ireland to manufacture here he will reply that low-cost labour is not cheap.

"Our workers are not at present as efficient as English and Scotch workers, their industrial education is inferior, they do not understand the punctuality and regularity modern industry requires, they have neither what I may call the mood or the habits of industrial life. Do not let us therefore waste time in pretending that we are endowed with qualities which we have had no opportunity of developing… We have got steadily and patiently to create such an atmosphere in Ireland, and then, and not till then, shall we be able to turn these qualities to account (Farmers’ Gazette 22 Feb. 1902).

Wise words, but exactly contrary to what nationalist politicians were preaching. It should be noted that even in 1921 most of the businesses in Ireland were owned by Protestant Unionists but they were excluded by Sinn Fein from all the negotiations with the British Government (Church of Ireland Gazette 7 October 1921). Almost all small towns had some small local factories or industries but a few depended chiefly on markets and trade (Newspaper Press Directory, London, 1857, 1880, 1895). Why did not the small local factories develop into export industries? It was remarked in 1913 that most Irish businesses were under-capitalised (Weekly Irish Times 12 April 1913). Cowley in his book on the Irish navvy in Britain noted that they were all untrained in any skill, and scarcely educated so that they were never promoted to be foremen or timekeepers. Often they were from large families where both boys and girls were sent to work by their fathers from the age of 12 onwards (Cowley, The Men who Built Britain, 29, 79, 194). But at the same time there were many skilled craftsmen in Ireland.

            The question of the sources of capital for small private firms is discussed by O’Grada. The only option was the banks. There was an excellent banking system and the banks did at times make considerable advances of cash to businesses. But normally these were to well-established businesses. A study somewhat later showed that only 8.5% of loans went to manufacturers, builders, railways and transport, against 27% to farmers and 22% to traders. Almost all the advances were seasonal and short term, perhaps for 3 months (O’Grada, Economic History, 350-365). As Plunkett observed, an English manufacturer with capital would have looked for at least a 4% p.a. return. The charge that there was an insufficient numbers of entrepreneurs willing to take risks to develop their businesses seems to be true, and also that many successful businesses were started or developed by Englishmen and Scotsmen (O’Grada Economic History, 324-8). In 1860 there were £40 millions of Irish money invested in British Government stocks, and another £20 million on deposit in Irish banks. Little was invested in manufacturing and vast sums in infrastructure; Dublin alone invested more money in railways between 1844 and 1850 than Belfast invested in the fixed capital in the linen industry in the preceding fifty years (Lee, ‘Capital in the Irish Economy’, 53).

But whatever the reason the fact remains that all over Ireland the industries in small towns did not develop in the way they did in many places in southern and eastern England. Industrial exhibitions were held to promote manufactures and associations. But none provided the spur to investment in small firms in small towns. Many ladies and gentlemen towards the nineteenth century established local industries but these had a high failure rate. Good intentions were not matched with good business skills (Farmers’ Gazette 10 Jan. 1920). It was observed too that the co-operative movement was adopted much less in Ireland than in Scotland (Irish Industrial Journal 22 Jan. 1910).

This has to be contrasted with the extraordinary development in the north east. The entrepreneurial spirit seems to have been more developed here. In 1924 the prime minister of Northern Ireland Sir James Craig said that seven of the largest industries in the world were in Ulster; the largest linen manufacturing concern, the largest firm of linen thread, twine and netting; the largest rope and cable works, the largest shipbuilding firm, the largest single tobacco works, the largest single flax spinning mill, and the largest single linen export trade of any comparable area (Weekly Northern Whig 1 March 1924). These were by no means the total of the great manufacturing concerns in Belfast. There was machinery-making, bottling of mineral waters, printing, distilling, sweets, etc. Dublin often seemed overshadowed by the growth of Belfast, but it remained a city with a wide range of smaller manufacturers as well as a world-famous brewery. It was once observed that if anything is manufactured anywhere in Ireland it is also manufactured in Dublin. [Top] 


There were many traditional manufactures in Ireland in the subsistence economy which did not survive into the commercial era. There were two at least partial reasons for this. One was that the availability of capital for machinery and closeness to coal for power elsewhere meant economies of scale and hence cheapness. The other was that even in labour-intensive jobs like the manufacture of pottery intense local competition drove up quality and drove down prices. This resulted in the loss of many traditional jobs like spinning and weaving, boot-making, and manufacture of nails, as factory made goods become cheaper. Only in the north-east did the Industrial Revolution develop as fully as it did in Britain.

The largest manufacturing industry in Ireland was the linen industry and it formed the backbone of the economy of Ulster. As in many other countries, textiles provided the route to industrialisation. Flax was widely grown in the province, but in decreasing quantities for the linen manufacturers preferred to import the better quality flax from the Continent, chiefly from Belgium and Russia. After Andrew Mulholland introduced flax-spinning machinery in 1828 gradually the whole industry turned to machinery. It was the huge spinning and weaving factories which turned out the immense quantities of linen cloth. Though linen did not take dye as easily as cotton the Jacquard loom enabled complex patterns and designs including pictures to be woven into the fabric. The markets were largely overseas. At the beginning of the 19th century linen was largely exported through Britain, but the Belfast manufacturers, now that capital had concentrated the industry, began exporting direct to agencies abroad. Mulholland however preferred to set up branches overseas and deal directly with customers. The firm was re-named the York Street Flax Spinning Company in 1851. Power-loom weaving took off after 1850. Like the others his firm prospered during the American Civil War; output of linen almost trebled during the cotton famine. In 1865, because of social ambitions Mulholland decided to float the company and use the proceeds to purchase an estate; this was one of the first joint-stock companies in the Irish linen industry. (His son became Baron Dunleath.) In 1864 the York Street Flax Spinning Company became one of the first limited companies in the linen industry with a nominal share value of £500,000 and a properly constituted board of directors. So when there was a recession in the linen industry in the mid-1870s it could call for more capital from its uncalled subscriptions and on the stock market, which family owned firms could not do; it also had a broader base of managerial experience. The firm was vertically integrated, controlling all processes from preparing the flax to marketing the cloth. The period after the American Civil War was difficult, partly from the ever-growing competition from cotton, partly from over-expansion during the Civil War, and partly from foreign competition; the network of outlets which Mulholland had provided assisted greatly. In the 1860's new spinning mills and a power loom weaving factory were erected in York Street; further expansion continued and by 1892 the York Street Flax Spinning company was the largest integrated spinning, weaving, and marketing company in the world. It operated 55,000 spindles, and 1,000 power looms, and employed 4,000 operatives. Another large firm was Ewart’s which in 1889 had 35,000 spindles, 2,000 power looms and 5,000 operatives (Jeremy, Business Dictionary, ‘Sir William Crawford’, I, 812-14); (DNB, Mulholland; Dict. of Business Biography, Andrew Mulholland; Sir William Ewart).

Another noted linen manufacturer was James Nicholson Richardson of Bessbrook in south Armagh. In 1852-3 powerloom weaving was introduced to the works in Bessbrook, and in the same year his father John Grubb Richardson turned the family company into the Bessbrook Spinning Company and increasingly left its management to his son. This coincided with a period of profits in the linen industry, with profits rising from £8,000 to £41,000 in two years; in 1867 damask weaving was introduced. This firm also suffered in the aftermath of the Civil War. In 1878 the firm was incorporated as a limited liability company. Much of their output was exported to America. In 1884 the Bessbrook Company started on a programme of expansion; but halted it in 1886 when the Home Rule Bill was introduced, the family preferring to invest more securely abroad. By 1880 employment at the company reached a peak at about 4,000; by 1921 it had fallen to 2,000 (Dict. of Business Biography, Richardson).

The number of spindles in the spinning mills in Ireland rose to 956,000 by 1918 and the number of power-looms to 37,000. The number in actual use in a given year varied considerably with the ups-and-downs of the trade cycle. Exports of linen were valued at almost £16 million in 1913. Associated with the linen industry were the bleaching and finishing industries. The growth in the expansion of manufactured goods caused some of the firms to go bankrupt (Boyle, in Beckett, Belfast, 48-9). But with every set-back the linen manufacturers improved their production techniques and extended their markets. As firms went out of business or declined, the industry consolidated itself and the successful firms grew larger. Production reached a peak towards the end of the First World War when the entire capacity of the industry was devoted to making linen for aircraft production, and by October 1918 1,662,750 yards a week were being made. During the period when Mr Robert John MacKeown was chairman of the Irish Power Loom Manufacturers Association a uniform 48 hour week was established in the industry and a uniform scale of wages for all in the weaving industry was started (Linen and Jute Trades Journal 16 August 1920). By 1920 the linen industry reached its peak. Thereafter there was a steady decline.

Associated with the linen industry was the linen thread industry. In 1920 the bulk of the world's linen thread was controlled by The Linen Thread Company, which had its head office in Glasgow, with branches in Ireland, England, Scotland, and America. The Irish companies in the group were William Barbour and Sons of Hilden, Lisburn, Co. Antrim; Robert Stewart and Sons of Lisburn; F. W. Hayes and Co. of Banbridge, Co. Down; and Dunbar and MacMaster of Gilford, Co. Down. The combine was formed about twenty years ago with a capital of £2,750,000; in recent years it has paid an annual dividend of 6% with a bonus of 5% (Linen and Jute Trades Journal 15 Jan 1920). Through subsidiaries, the combines controlled much of the linen thread produced throughout the United States and the Empire; the sales and financial aspects were controlled from Glasgow, the technical and manufacturing aspects from Hilden ((Dict. of Business Biography, Sir John Milne Barbour). It looks suspiciously as if the companies were operating a cartel. The Linen Thread Company announced the dividend and bonus for 1919 making a total of 11% for the year; the Brookfield Linen Company of Belfast paid a dividend of 7⅞% this year as against 10% last year (Linen and Jute Trades Journal 3 March 1920). With dividends like that the shares were worth having.

The woollen industry over which nationalist writers spent so much time agonising did surprisingly well. The numbers employed in the woollen industry steadily declined as more and more machinery was used, falling from around 90 thousand in 1850 to 6.5 thousand in 1900 of whom around half were in woollen mills. The number of spindles for making thread and the number of power-looms showed a steady increase, though limited in numbers compared with the linen industry. Handloom-weaving survived chiefly in Donegal. In the twentieth century there was a considerable export market for Irish tweeds (Burke, Industrial History, 330-3). Like most other Irish industries it did well during the War. Men wanted hard-wearing woollen clothing which would last for many years.

An advertisement for Irish friezes (strong rough tweeds) in 1913 gives an idea of the state of the industry. Frieze was suitable for country suits, travellers, sportsmen, and for cold climates, being substantial, warm, pliable, hard-wearing, and almost weatherproof. Tweed skirts were suitable for women also in cold weather both indoors and outside. Irish homespuns were similar but more lightly woven and so lighter. There were also very stout Irish tweeds, and extra thick friezes for heavy driving, and motoring ulsters; prices of Donegal homespuns varied according to weight and merit, the lighter ones suitable for the Tropics from 2/- to 3/6 a yard. The long heavy frieze coat known as the ulster was internationally famous. There were also Connemara, Tipperary, Antrim, Cork, Kerry, and Mayo peasant homespuns (Whittaker’s Almanac 1913). The Sisters of Charity in 1891 obtained a loan of £1,000 to open a convent in Foxford, Co. Mayo, and took charge of the national school. The Congested Districts Board gave a grant of £1,500 and a loan of £7,000 to start up a woollen factory (Weekly Irish Times 31 Dec. 1904; Fingall, Seventy Years Young 228-30).

The cotton industry virtually disappeared. Nobody could compete with Lancashire in England. Though in 1900 there was a cotton thread factory surviving in Belfast. Another cotton spinning and weaving factory survived in Co. Waterford until 1904 when it finally failed (O’Grada, Economic History, 274-81). A small but surprising survivor was the Irish poplin industry. Poplin is a fabric made with a silk warp and a woollen weft, and was a survivor of the silk industry introduced by the Huguenots. It was a favourite material for ties and scarves but finally had to give way to imports from China. [Top]


            Shipbuilding is often regarded as synonymous with Belfast, but ships and boats were always built along the Irish coast. Anderson in his Sailing Ships of Ireland gives an account of the various ship-builders and boat-builders. There was shipbuilding in Dublin, Belfast, Londonderry, Carrickfergus, Waterford, and Cork, and boatbuilding in Wexford, Dungarvan, Youghal, Limerick, Dundalk, Drogheda and Arklow. Shipbuilding survived in Cork until around 1877. Shipbuilding continued in Londonderry, though twice the yards were closed and re-opened. These ships normally did not exceed 600 or 700 tons but one in Waterford launched in 1864 was 1,454 gross tons (Anderson, 262). Shipbuilding survived in Dublin until 1871, but attempts were made in the following century to revive the industry. There was a small yard in Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim, which specialised in small schooners of under 200 tons and produced a steady stream of these, the last in 1893. Small craft for the coasting trade were built on every large river bank or open beach, and ranged from 15 tons to 300 tons. These small vessels were built from timber. Boatbuilding skills were common on the shores of north western Europe and north east America. Most were built for fishing but some carried cargo. As late as 1876 a new shipyard was opened in Dundalk. Even smaller wooden boats without a deck were built in Connemara, while the canvas-covered currachs were built all along the west coast (Synge, In Wicklow, West Kerry, and Connemara, Dublin, 1980). The introduction of motor fishing boats in the twentieth century gave a spur to a declining industry (Echo 12 Aug. 1911). Racing yachts were built in yards at Cork, Dublin, Kingstown, Carrickfergus and Belfast (Irish Field, 27 Jan 1900).

            But shipbuilding was really centred on Belfast, and in Belfast on two yards, Harland and Wolff and Workman and Clark. In the first half of the century there were some small building yards on the left bank of the Lagan. In 1841 and 1849 the Belfast Harbour Board (Ballast Board) had two deep straight cuts dredged into the winding channel of the River Lagan and the mud and soil were dumped to form an artificial island, called Dargan’s Island after the contractor, and later called Queen’s Island. Here on the opposite side of the Lagan there was room for constructing docks in ever-increasing size (Sweetman, in Beckett, Belfast, 61-2). In 1853, Robert Hickson, who owned a small ironworks in Belfast opened a shipbuilding yard on the island and in 1854 was able to attract Edward Harland, a shipbuilder from Tyneside in Northumberland to manage it. Harland bought the yard in 1858 and brought in Gustav Wolff from Hamburg whose family had connections with the Bibby shipping line of Liverpool as a partner and overseer of works. Harland’s great idea was that the construction of iron ships need not be modelled on wooden ships and the ships could have a square section amidships and be much longer in relation to width. He used a design like that of a box girder with a roughly square cross-section for the hull. These two developments meant that greater cargoes could be carried more economically. By making stem and stern vertical he made the ships more manoeuvrable under steam-power. When the predictions that these lengthened ships would break in a storm proved false, there came a great demand for the ‘Belfast bottom’ and the yard got extra work lengthening other ships (Jeremy, Dictionary of Business Biography, Sir Edward James Harland, vol. III, pp 36-41; Gustav Wolff in Jeremy, vol. V, 854-9; Sir James Pirrie, vol. IV, 702-10; DNB Sir Edward Harland, Gustav Wolff, James Pirrie). When the first White Star liner was launched in 1870 he again broke with tradition by placing the passenger accommodation amidships where pitching and rolling was least and furnishing the first class accommodation in extraordinary luxury. The great era of luxury travel between the United States and Europe which was to last until the 1950s began. The firm branched out into the construction of marine steam engines with triple and quadruple expansion. The pistons in line drove downwards on to the crankshaft which lay above the keel. In each of the years 1891 to 1894 output of the yard exceeded 60,000 gross tons making it the largest yard in the UK; by then the yard covered 80 acres and employed 8,000. Harland was able to keep wages lower than in the other yards and this explained his success; this was especially true for unskilled labour.

            Last year (1909) the world record for shipbuilding output was held by Workman and Clark, and this year by Harland and Wolff, the world record in two successive years going to Belfast. The output of Workman and Clark last year was 88,952 and this year, only 45,993; they have however also repair and other incidental work so they are kept busy. This year Harland and Wolff launched 8 vessels totalling 115,861 tons including the Olympic the world's largest ship (Weekly Irish Times 2 Dec. 1910).

            Francis Workman and George Clark were both trained in the Harland and Wolff yard. In 1877 Workman started his own little yard and in 1880 entered into a partnership with George Clark who possessed capital and had links to Scottish shipping lines. The partners got their first order in 1882 for a 2,576 ton ship. They formed the company of Workman, Clark, and Co. Ltd in 1891 and began producing their own engines. In 1894 they took over another yard and modernised it. By 1902 the original 4 acre site had risen to 50 acres, and the company launched more tonnage (75,800 tons) in 1902 than any other single company in the world; they were to do the same with 88,200 tons in 1909. They were among the first to adopt Parson's turbine in the Victorian, built for the Allen Line, this being the first turbine powered commercial ocean steamer. They were also pioneers in the construction of insulated and refrigerated fruit carriers. They specialised in medium-sized cargo boats and rarely launched ships over 10,000 tons, and of the 534 launched between 1880 and 1933 only 19 were described as liners. The yard was heavily involved in Admiralty work after 1914 especially smaller types like patrol vessels and sloops; by 1920 they were employing 10,000 men. In 1909 it was producing 14% of the output of UK yards; by 1920 it was one of the most efficient yards in the world. In 1918 one of its riveters Mr J. Moir, established the world record of hammering home 11,209 rivets in 9 hours (George Clark in Jeremy Business Dictionary vol. I, 683-6; Francis Workman in Jeremy, Business Dictionary vol. V, 891-3).

            Brunel’s Great Western weighed 1,320 tons in 1838 and by 1900 ships of 10,000 tons were being built. In 1899 Harland and Wolff under James Pirrie began the 17,040 Oceanic, at 705 feet in length the first to exceed the 692 feet and 32,600 tons of Brunel’s Great Eastern (1858). The latter had proved a commercial flop for there were few places at the time it could berth. In 1900 the 20,000 ton Celtic was begun and ever heavier ships culminating with the Olympic and Titanic of 46,400 tons (1912) and the Britannic of 50,000 tons (DNB Pirrie).

            Harland and Wolff was also fully engaged during the War and branched out into aircraft manufacture. It also developed its diesel engines which were gradually replacing the steam engines. It constructed one major warship, the battle cruiser Glorious (19,000 tons with Parsons’ turbines) which was altered to become an early aircraft carrier which was sunk by the battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau on 8 June 1940 while returning from Norway. (Later in 1939 the yard built the cruiser Belfast which was involved in the sinking of the Scharnhorst on 26 December 1943.) In 10 months in 1917 150,000 tons of shipping were produced in Belfast in 10 months.

            The only other major centre of shipbuilding to survive was Londonderry. Though the yards were there they were not always profitable. Between 1846 and 1882 no large vessels were built in Derry, but in that year the Foyle Shipyard was opened. Between 1882 and 1892 the Foyle shipyard built 26 sailing vessels and 6 steamships. Most of the sailing ships were steel-hulled, the largest being between 1,200 and 1,800 tons and were regarded as very fine ships. Four- or five-masted barques remained the most cost efficient way for transporting bulk cargoes of wool or wheat over long distances, as from Australia. In 1899 the yard re-opened and built 9 steamships before closing down in 1904. In 1912 the yard was taken over by Swan Hunter of Tyneside and proved very successful. In 1914 a 9,000 ton ship was launched (Weekly Irish Times 21 Feb. 1914). During the War too it was fully occupied with repairs and overhauls on destroyers, submarines, trawlers, and minesweepers. By 1918 the yard was equipped to build ships of 11,000 tons and steel barges of 1,000 tons. The yard closed in 1924 during the Depression (Anderson, Sailing Ships, 246-254).

            Dublin had a more chequered career. It was prominent as a shipbuilding centre in the first half of the nineteenth century, but could not keep its wage costs down when compared with Tyneside. The first iron ship built in Dublin was in 1864, an iron sailing barque of 1,450 tons. In 1863 a shipbuilding company was started at the North Wall by Walpole and Webb and they carried on a fairly successful business for 25 years. It is 13 years since they last built anything. The writer attributed the demise of the company and shipbuilding in Dublin chiefly to overcharging by the Port and Docks Board in rent for the ground and the use of the graving dock; in Derry the port authorities fitted out a yard and let it at a nominal rent (Warder 21 June 1901). A new shipbuilding company was formed in 1901 and by 1904 had launched its 7th ship (Weekly Irish Times 14 May 1904). In 1909 the launch of a collier of 700 tons was announced. Production of modest vessels at a slow rate continued. In 1920 the largest ship yet the vessel 331 feet in length was launched in Dublin for the Limerick Steamship Company (Weekly Irish Times 28 Feb. 1920). By 1920 ships of 2,365 tons had been launched (Irish Industrial Journal 10 Jan, 4 Sept. 1920. Londonderry at this time was launching ships of 9,000 tons. The company survived until 1960.

            Cork had been the largest producer of ships in the first half of the 19th century, and managed the change-over to iron hulls and steam engines but shipbuilding virtually ceased by 1870. In 1900 the Royal Navy had plans to use the old yards at Haulbowline. Total exports of ships in 1919 were about £10 million compared with £18 million for poultry products and over £30 million for linen (Irish Homestead 6 March 1920).[Top]

Food Processing

            Apart from shipbuilding the major industries of Ireland were mostly connected with processing the products of agriculture. The most important of these were textiles, brewing, distilling and butter manufacturing. The latter has been dealt with under agriculture though increasingly by the end of the period it was being carried out in factory conditions.

            Brewing was Ireland’s most important food-processing industry. Factory-scale breweries existed in many parts of Ireland. Barley and clean water were found locally but hops had to be imported from England as well as the coal for roasting the barley. Beamish and Crawford’s brewery in Cork, the largest in Ireland in the first half of the nineteenth century was eclipsed by Arthur Guinness of Dublin in the second half of the century. The company was incorporated in 1886 as Arthur Guinness Son and Co. Ltd. About 1850 Guinness was producing about 100,000 barrels a year, but the growth of the railways enabled the company to sell its product all over Ireland and eventually accounted for two thirds of the Irish beer market. In 1868 the brewery was producing about 350,000 bulk [36 gallon] barrels sold mainly in Ireland; its main products were various kinds of stout. At this time the trade was changing, for porter, which had been dominant for almost a century was giving way to ale. Following the lead of the giant brewers at Burton on Trent in Staffordshire the London brewers increasingly changed to ale, while Guinness increased their exports of the dark beer, porter, and stout to the extent that they almost dominated the English market. By 1875 the output was 725,000 bulk barrels, and by 1886 1.2 million, making it the largest brewery in the world (Edward Cecil Guinness in Jeremy, Business Dictionary). (Porter or porter's ale, a kind of beer, brewed from malt partly browned or charred by drying at a high temperature; ale, a liquor made from fermented malt with hops and other bitters.) The Trade Mark Registration Act (1875) allowed it to patent its buff coloured label with its harp motif; it achieved a reputation for consistency and reliability.

            As the size of breweries increased so did their number decrease but there were still several provincial breweries surviving and prospering. There were around 20 of them in 1914. The output of the breweries rose steadily from around 741,999 barrels in 1850 to 3,532,000 barrels in 1914 after which production was severely hit by the War. Excise or duty on beer was not imposed until 1880, having been imposed previously only on malt. The tax was imposed at 6 shillings and 3 pence on the standard barrel of 36 gallons. (Bulk and standard were distinguished by the specific gravity of the beer.) In 1914 it was raised to 25 shillings a barrel and by 1918 this was 100 shillings (Burke, Industrial History, 338-9). By this time 60% of the output was being exported.

            In 1909 the value of the exports of Irish brewers and distillers was roughly equal at £1.6 million each. Distilling concentrates the amount of alcohol in the drink, generically called spirits. The alcohol content of a bottle of spirits is around 40% compared with 12-15% for strong wines, and 3-6% for beers. The production of whiskey in Ireland declined slightly after the excise on spirits was raised in 1858 to the same level it was in England but after 1870 the growth of the industry was resumed. Production was 8,293, 000 gallons in 1850 and 14,481,000 gallons in 1900 after which production began to fall again. Consumption of spirits in Ireland fell steadily over the period so exports had to increase. In 1887 there were 28 distilleries in operation and in 1919 there were 23. Ireland before the First World War was producing a quarter of the United Kingdom’s output (O’Grada, Economic History, 298).

            The whiskey industry underwent a change when an Irish excise man called Aeneas Coffee from Dublin in 1831 invented Coffee’s ‘patent still’. Whiskey is made by a process of distillation. A process of fermentation of almost any vegetable matter produces alcohol, not all potable. The fermented matter is placed in a vat which is then heated. As alcohol has a low boiling point it evaporates off and is collected, luckily the poisonous alcohols coming off first. Irish distillers distilled the matter three times in what was called a pot still, while Scottish distillers distilled only twice producing a harsher spirit. Coffee invented a process of continuous distillation which produced a cheaper but rather tasteless spirit (Daiches, Scotch Whisky, 66-9). This however was very useful for blending with pot still whiskies to produce blended whiskies. Blended whiskies were cheaper and ultimately proved more popular, possibly because they were marketed more aggressively by Scottish blenders (O’Grada, op. cit, 301).

            Milling of cereals became an important industry in the first half of the 19th Century. The Irish Government in the preceding century had given a bounty for the production of flour. This resulted in a great increase in tillage and the construction of flour mills that were enormous by the standards of the time. In the 1840s exports of flour were around 750,000 hundredweight but declined to 160,000 hundredweight by 1867. Then the demand changed to American hard wheat, and a new rolling process of milling was introduced. Milling of barley was important for the drinks industry and for animal feed; milled oats for human (oaten meal) and animal feed. However some Irish firms adapted and in 1907 5,000 people were employed in the industry and their output was valued at £7.5 million. There were also £2.6 millions worth imported (Burke, Industrial History, 244-5, 343-4; O’Grada, Economic History, 304-5). A greater challenge arose just before the First World War when giant British mills at seaports using imported grain dumped their surplus in Ireland.

Baking and bread manufacture was practised widely for local markets. The second great manufacture in Dublin was biscuits, in particular Jacob’s cream crackers. Biscuit-making was not a big commercial enterprise in the first half of the 19th century. Jacob's factory was founded by an old Quaker family settled in Ireland for two centuries. In 1851 William B. Jacob decided to add biscuit-making to the output of his bakery in Waterford, and a few years later he opened a factory in Dublin, and concentrated on making 'cream crackers' (made largely of flour and yeast) which became a great commercial success. They run a model hygienic factory; wages are good, even learner girls at 14 are paid 4/- a week; the best workers can earn 15/- or £1; hours are 50 a week. No members of the staff were dismissed for belonging to the Transport or any other union (Weekly Irish Times 29 Nov. 1913). What was even more remarkable were the facilities, medical and recreational, that the firm provided for their work force, including medical attention, a subsidised canteen, a gymnasium, showers and a swimming pool. The labour leader James Larkin had obviously not done his homework when he attacked the conditions of the workers which were among the best in the world.

            Under the heading of processing must come tobacco. Tobacco was always a great source of revenue and both the British and Irish Governments were anxious to promote the industry. Though the raw material had to be imported, despite various attempts to establish tobacco-growing in the first half of the 19th century, Irish manufacturers supplied most of the Irish market. P. J. Carroll of Dundalk was started in 1824. By the beginning of the 20th century the hundreds of little tobacco-twisters had disappeared and were replaced by a few large factories and Ireland became a nett exporter of tobacco products. The great success story, as usual, was in Belfast, where Gallagher’s became a world-class company. Thomas Gallagher was born in Templemoyle, Co. Londonderry, son of a farmer and corn mill proprietor. He was apprenticed to Osborn and Allen, general merchants of Londonderry where he learned the techniques of tobacco manufacture; in 1857 he borrowed £200 from his mother at 5% and started his own tobacco manufacture business. Between 1850 and 1900 the consumption of tobacco in Ireland per capita doubled. He got a reputation for pure tobacco unlike the common adulterated stuff then being sold commonly in Ireland. In 1863 he transferred the factory to Belfast. In the 1870s when marketing tobacco and snuff throughout Ireland he began to install machinery to replace the hand processes still then in use. In 1881 a five-storey factory employing 600 was built at York Road, Belfast. Gallagher’s was slow to change to the manufacture of cigarettes (Jeremy, Business Dictionary). "Gallagher, Thomas" 1840-1927; pp 461-464).

             Gas was widely used for lighting but increasingly for cooking. Street lighting and the lighting of homes by means of gas had commenced early in the 19th century. By the end of that century almost every town in Ireland had its gas works which produced and distributed the gas through underground pipes and also sold the by-product coke. Gas meters dispensing a fixed quantity of gas for a penny were installed in most urban dwellings. There were 11 gas companies in Ireland furnishing abstracts of their accounts to the Board of Trade. The total amount subscribed to gas companies in Ireland was £1,472,621 with profits of £91,774 which works out at a dividend of £6 4/7; the only Irish company reporting a loss was the Limavady established as recently as 1899. The others are the Cork, the Queenstown, the Alliance and Dublin, the Downpatrick, the Enniskillen, the Londonderry, the Dundalk, the Sligo, the Omagh, and the Waterford. In the other towns and cities like Belfast the gas supply was controlled by the municipal authorities (Irish Investor’s Guardian 7 Mar 1903). In Newry, production of gas was taken over by the Town Commissioners from the gas company in 1878 (Canavan, Frontier Town 160-1).[Top]

Extractive Industries Mining Minerals and Timber

            If Ireland did not develop massive extractive industries it was not for lack of trying or lack of prospecting. The trouble was that Ireland simply lacked the minerals in commercial quantities. Coal measures were quite extensive but the seams were very thin and difficult to work properly or competitively with British coal mines which were often situated close to the coast. Peat bogs were also widespread but the low calorific value of peat, the difficulties of drying it, and the cost of transport made it largely non-competitive except locally. Though again, much thought was put into how this resource could be profitably used. (Peat was traditionally called turf in Ireland, but turf is also used to describe a horse racecourse.) Nationalist writers commonly deluded themselves about how fortunes would be made if Ireland had a local parliament to develop these deposits.

            Despite the small size and thin seams of coal Irish mines were worked on a considerable scale before 1850. The first inland canal in the British Isles, the Newry Navigation, was commenced in 1731 to allow the carriage of coal from Coalisland, Co. Tyrone to Dublin. The peak of the Irish coal industry was reached in the 1850s when an output of 150,000 tons was extracted. Thereafter, production declined until it stabilised around 90,000 tons. The vast bulk of Irish coal was imported from Britain where England, Scotland, and Wales had rich coalfields (Burke, Industrial History, 349; O’Grada, Economic History, 315-18).

            Irish output of minerals 1903 was given as follows: coal 102,812 tons, fireclay 6,946 tons, iron ore 96,325 tons, bauxite 6,128 tons, iron pyrites 2,739 tons, barytes 2039 tons, copper ore and copper precipitate 521 tons, quarrying 1,037,306 tons of which limestone 477,939 tons and slate 6,302 tons (Weekly Irish Times 7 July 1904). Limestone was mostly used to make lime, so lime-burning in small local limekilns was widespread. The other great use for stone was in crushed form for railways and road surfaces. But there was also some stonecutting and marble dressing. A beautiful granite suitable for monumental work was quarried near Newry but faced competition from Norway. Granite setts were commonly used paving streets because of the hardness of the stone. The quantities of mineral ores discovered were too small to justify erecting smelters in Ireland so the raw material was exported. A considerable deposit of gypsum for making plaster was worked in Co. Cavan. Another local industry was the extraction of rock salt near Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim.

            Though some countries in central Europe were able to utilise deposits of brown coal, a substance with a density about half way between peat and pure coal, attempts to use peat for other than domestic purposes always proved a failure. O’Grada lists the various attempts to use peat as a fertiliser, as animal litter, for making brown paper, for making hardboard, and for compressing peat for fuel (Economic History, 323). In 1900 yet another company was formed to make compressed peat for fuel, and it acquired 500 acres of suitable bog (Weekly Irish Times 13 Jan. 1900). The same newspaper noted in 1904 that machine-won turf was used in Russia and Sweden on the railways (2 July 1904). It also noted the possibility of making briquettes of peat. But whatever the reasons, large-scale use of peat did not commence until after the Second World War (Encyc. of Ireland, ‘Bord na Mona’, ‘Energy Sources’).

            Timber-felling and saw-milling was another widespread industry which from its nature had to be local. Forestry was an abiding concern in Ireland for centuries. No schemes for the management of forests had ever proved successful and indeed it would seem that when they existed they were only there to preserve hunting grounds. In the south east of England, coppicing for fuel was widespread with the result that it remains the most wooded part of the country. Early in the 18th century there were proposals for re-forestation. As noted in the last chapter, in 1900 1.5 million mature trees were felled. [Top]

Building and Construction

            Building and construction was another industry which of its nature had to be local. Sometimes it involved no more than the skills of the local mason and carpenter, but there were also great construction works. This was especially true in the construction of the railways, but it also applied to the improvement of ports. The railway bridges over the Shannon and the Boyne, and the Craigmore viaduct on the Dublin to Belfast line are equal to anything else built in the world at the time. The facing stones on these were usually of granite carved by hand. Stone carving was to be found on all prominent public buildings and churches. The granite blocks in the Craigmore viaduct were up to two tons in weight. The Boyne Bridge marks an early use of the iron lattice girder where the stresses were carefully calculated. The River Boyne at Drogheda flows through a valley with the ground rising sharply from its banks to plateaus on either side. Steep descents and ascents being impossible the track had to be carried across the valley at a high level. Because of the difficulty it was the last part of the 100 mile route to be tackled. One of the engineers working on the Boyne Bridge or viaduct, Bindon Blood Stoney, became the port engineer in Dublin. When extending the quays, as described above, he used concrete monoliths of 350 tons each and devised the appliances necessary for handling them. Stoney was fond of mass concrete, but reinforced concrete was introduced in the 20th century.

            As the Catholic Church grew richer it built more elaborate and expensive churches and cathedrals. In the second half of the century St Patrick’s cathedral in Armagh was built in full-blown French Gothic style. The interior vaulting was never of stone, for that would have been impossibly expensive, but the roofs were either timbered, or covered in plaster arches to mimic the real thing. The Church of Ireland, too built, or re-built churches and cathedrals, St Patrick’s in Dublin being substantially re-built. If Dublin was a Georgian city then Belfast was a Victorian one, with solid brick buildings. Of public buildings the great city hall in the centre of Belfast (1899-1906) was the counterpart of the great municipal buildings in British cities and was rivalled only by St. Anne’s cathedral. Numerous great country houses were also built. The railways too had to have impressive buildings at their main terminals (de Breffney, Cultural Encyclopaedia, ‘Architecture’).

At a meeting of the institution of Civil Engineers in London, Sir John Purser Griffith addressed it on Irish engineering achievements, noting that the world's largest telescope was for years in Ireland; it built the largest ships, the largest sluices, the largest concrete blocks for harbour work, the greatest improvement of a harbour (at Dublin) by scour; the largest brewery, the largest linen and weaving works, and the largest ropeworks in the world (Weekly Irish Times 8 Nov 1919). [Top] 


            The Victorian age is remembered as the age of steam power and almost all enterprises relied on its availability. This involved being close to a port or a railway station, and this was often the prime concern when a new mill or factory was being planned. Nevertheless, where water power was being harnessed with weirs, millponds, and waterwheels the mill or factory often continued in use and even, as the 20th century commenced, was used for generating electricity. In eastern Ireland almost every stretch of a fast-flowing river was utilised, often in connection with the textile industry. But a water wheel could also for example be used to lift a trip hammer in the forge of a spade factory.

A reservoir was constructed in the Mourne Mountains in 1839 which covered 259 acres with a head of 35 feet; another was added further down the same river, the Bann in 1847 with 70 acres and a head of over 11 feet; these works cost £30,000 and were paid for by levies on the owners of linen, corn, and scutch mills. Half the natural fall was utilised; this was at a time when it was estimated that the cost of a steam mill worked out at £30 a year. The Irish Waterpower Industries Association uses an aggregate of 5,680 hp and employs 3,423 hands at an annual cost of £100,000. The mill owners do not put in gratings to keep out the fish; one owner who owned mills at Springfield and Belmont in King’s County says he is going to shut his mills worth £50,000 because the Fishery Conservators served him notice with regard to the installation of gratings (Irish Field 3 Feb. 1900). More recently the upper waters of the Dodder (a short rapid stream flowing from the Dublin mountains) were impounded; at one time a fall of 370 feet was utilised by a succession of 28 mills manufacturing paper, cloth, and flour, and reaching in total 900 hp; the flow of the Dodder was extremely variable (op.cit. p. 28). This of course was a major difficulty in using waterpower and why millers used to pray to St Swithun to make it rain for 40 days in the summer. To even out the flow reservoirs and millponds had to be constructed. Millponds could refill themselves during the night so that twice the flow of the river could be used during the day. With the waterwheel power generation was maximised by using gravity not flow. The wheel had wooden or iron buckets around its circumference which filled on the way down and emptied on the way up. The great axle of the waterwheel was extended into the building to drive the mill, machines, etc. The water turbine with the water flowing past curved blades was even more efficient.

With regard to waterpower and electrical development, the availability of water power led to the development of Ireland’s first electrical railway at Portrush and Giant’s Causeway, and also it seems for the Newry and Bessbrook Tramway built shortly afterwards. Doubtless various other electric light undertakings in Galway, Killarney, Kenmare, Carlow, Bray, and Boyle, would not have been started but for the presence of existing waterpower installations. Electricity is generated by repeatedly passing coils of wire through a magnetic field, the rotation of the coils being driven either by water or steam power. In a turbine the water flowed down through a vertical pipe within which was placed rotating blades like fans or propellers. The propeller acted like a ship’s propeller in reverse feeding power into the generator. Gearing produced the optimum revolutions for the generator. In Carlow the waterwheel was replaced with a vortex turbine designed to give 54 horsepower from a fall of 4 feet 6 inches (Irish Engineering Review 15 April 1904). Turbines were also proposed for the Shannon scheme (Irish County Councils’ Gazette 2 Feb. 1900). An Article noted that as the demand for electric light is only during a few hours every day, the cost of the fuel was small compared with the interest on heavy hydraulic works (Dublin Penny Journal 5 April 1902, p. 12). In other words in most cases it depended on being able to purchase cheaply unused existing works.

             Sir Robert Kane estimated that the total available waterpower in Ireland from the rain falling on 20 million acres of a mean height of 387 feet was one and a quarter million horsepower; however it is difficult to estimate how much of that can in practice be realised. The Shannon descends 97 feet between Killaloe and Limerick, and the Erne 150 in five miles between Belleek and Ballyshannon. In the case of the Shannon it is proposed to use a fall of 40 feet; in the case of the Erne, 60 to 70 feet could be utilised; these together could theoretically provide 300,000 hp; but in practice much of storm water would go to waste. The quantity of horsepower used in 1839 was 2,147, and is probably not greater today; about 800 hp seems to be used at present for generating electricity (op.cit.). (Though a Limerick Company was established in 1901 to supply the city of Limerick with electricity the Shannon Scheme was not commenced until 1924 and the Lough Erne Scheme until 1950.) One major problem was that the power is available long distances from where it was required and lost rapidly in transmission. This problem was largely solved by transmitting at higher voltages where the loss was proportionately less. In 1918 a scheme was proposed for generating electricity on the Liffey.

But the great source of power was steam generated by coal which drove cylinders which drove machinery. Stationary engines, the overhead beam engines, using steam power had been invented by Thomas Newcomen at the beginning of the 18th century for pumping water out of mines. Enormous factories were built driving machinery by means of belts driven by rotating bars at roof level. It was possible to have multiple bars on each floor all linked to the first bar at ground level driven by one steam engine. By 1920 factories in England were abandoning belt-driven machinery for individual electric motors at each bench. Power-loss through friction could amount to 50% in a large factory (Linen and Jute Trades Journal 15 Jan. 1920).

When James Watt’s patents expired in 1800 numerous developers applied them to marine and railway engines. Railway locomotives and ships had multiple cylinders. These had enormous influence in opening up new lands to trade and colonisation. The road traffic Acts inhibited the development of steam-driven road vehicles, but did not prevent their development entirely. The slow speed of 4 mph required mechanical gearing, namely a system of larger and smaller cog wheels as in a clock and at times a clutch to engage the engine. Such engines usually had a single cylinder mounted on top of the boiler and a large flywheel which smoothed out the power and assisted in starting. Steam tractors for pulling and running fairground equipment were one such use. Steam rollers another. But most were probably used for pulling and powering threshing sets, the threshing machine and the straw elevator. The threshing machine was powered by a belt driven by the flywheel. It was to become a classic scene in the early 20th century (Partridge Farm Tools 160).

Parson’s steam turbines rapidly became the preferred option for generating electricity as a means of transmitting steam power. The use of electricity had been limited to the electric telegraph. In 1876 Bell invented the telephone. From 1880 the electric motor and the electric bulb came into use. The electric motor was almost identical with the generator but reversed with the electric current flowing into the motor not out of it. When electricity for use as power was being generated in three phases it proved far easier to synchronise turbines when more than one were being used. Electric trams quickly displaced horse-drawn trams as electric tram companies built generators and an overhead distribution system. Rail companies began to experiment with steam, electricity, and motor power, and over comparatively short heavily-used suburban railways it was soon clear that electricity was the most powerful and economic. They accelerated faster out of stations and could pull trains up slopes of 1 in 50.

The electrical industry spread over the whole of Ireland as every town turned to electric lighting. Electricians had to be trained on the job, and many mistakes were made. Though this was essentially a service industry not a manufacturing one, there was no difficulty in training the work force. Systems of generation, distribution, and maintenance, had to be devised (Irish Engineering Review, April, June, 1904). In a similar manner and at the same time car mechanics were trained, or trained themselves, as motor cars, lorries, and tractors became common.

The internal combustion engine was used increasingly for road transport. Cars and motor lorries were becoming very common. Tractors were first used for power on the farms from about 1917 onwards using a cheaper distillate than petrol called variously paraffin, kerosene, or tractor vapour oil (These terms were not standardised at first.) The 24 hp American Overtime tractor was advertised: the new motor tractor is light and versatile and can be used in quite small fields, and for driving threshers, corn crushers, chaff cutters, pulpers etc; it does the work of six horses [pulper for pulping roots or fruit etc]. It had two-cylinders of robust construction, with a speed fixed at 2 ½ mph, and would run on petroleum or paraffin. As these farm machines were belt-driven a small wheel, corresponding to the flywheel on a steam locomotive was attached to the engine. Eventually tractors replaced the steam locomotive for threshing. Henry Ford of Detroit was persuaded to start a tractor assembly plant in Cork in 1917. The bigger Irish farmers seem to have adopted the tractor very rapidly, but the horse did not finally disappear from farms until after the Second World War.[Top]

Other Manufactures

            What is surprising is the range of Irish manufactures. Clothing and leather manufactures were important industries. Naturally, these were focussed primarily on supplying the Irish market. Tailors, seamstresses, and bootmakers and repairers abounded. Treadle-powered sewing machines were introduced around 1856, gradually found their way into most Irish homes, and by 1900 girls in primary schools were being taught how to use them. With regard to textile manufacturing there was really only one large-scale industry, and that was shirt-making around Londonderry. There were 38 factories and a network of 100 outstations around 1900. These factories had adopted the sewing machine at an early date (O’Grada, Economic History 292). In 1912 the factories were exporting 20 million separate collars annually (Burke Industrial History 335). (Shirts were usually made with detachable collars and cuffs, with six collars being sold with every shirt allowing a businessman or clerk to have a clean collar every day.) Lace-making was very popular for those who wished to provide local work for women, and were often associated with convents. Hosiery, not merely hand-knitting but also factory-made also survived, and a moderate export trade was maintained. A hosiery factory in Balbriggan, Co. Dublin, survived until 1980. Printing was another industry which was regarded as having fended off foreign competition. The number of local newspapers grew as the population became increasingly literate. Some trades like paper-making and glass-bottle making declined over the period. But bottling mineral waters was a surprising newcomer. This was centred on Belfast and arose largely out of the temperance movement. Thomas Cantrell and Henry Cochrane formed a partnership, Cantrell and Cochrane, and sank an artesian well in Belfast to tap the pure water underneath. In 1869 a branch was opened in Dublin and Cochrane eventually resided there and became the sole partner. The Temperance Movement assisted the firm and by 1890 the firm had 500 employees and was bottling 160,000 bottles of table waters a day, acquiring a world-wide reputation (Jeremy, Business Dictionary, Sir Henry Cochrane I, 720). Another was the poster printing and advertising business of David Allen and Sons. The billposting business was first begun in Ireland in 1887 and spread to England and Scotland. By 1908 it claimed to be the largest bill-posting company in the world (Jeremy, Business Dictionary, William Edward Allen, I, 37-9).

            In Belfast there grew up two famous firms making machinery. One was the Sirocco Works making industrial fans, and the other was Mackie’s making textile machinery. In 1881 Samuel Davidson returned to Belfast to found the firm later called the Sirocco Works after his tea-drying machine. Consumption of tea rose four and a half times in the UK between 1864 when he went to India and 1921 the year he died. To produce good quality tea a reliable method of drying the leaf was required. It had been formerly been done over charcoal fires, but this method was slow, crude, and often produced poor quality tea. Davidson devised a system of driving hot air by means of fans through trays of leaves. It took him until 1898 to perfect his Sirocco Forward Bladed Centrifugal fan. In the same year the firm became a limited company, and soon he was employing 1,000 men in Belfast. His fans were used everywhere even in the German battleships (Jeremy, Business Dictionary, Sir Samuel Davidson II, 188). In 1858 James Mackie started a small foundry and engineering works in central Belfast and was engaged in small jobbing work until he expanded into building textile machinery. In 1893 the firm moved to a larger site on the Springfield Road, and produced about 100 wet spinning frames a year, and also diversified into other types of machinery connected with the textile trade. In 1897 it became a limited company. In 1914 the factory was turned over to making munitions and the workforce increased to 650. The great period of expansion was in the 1920s (Jeremy, Business Dictionary, IV, 38-41). John Boyd Dunlop invented the pneumatic tyre and along with William Harvey du Cross of Dublin commenced manufacturing tyres in Dublin. In 1893 du Cross moved the factory to Coventry in England. Harry Ferguson was another Irish inventor of the period who developed his business outside Ireland, but it must be remembered that two very significant inventions, the pneumatic tyre and the three-point linkage for farm machinery came from Belfast men in this period.

William Holmes Smiles (1846-1904) was born in Leeds the son of Samuel Smiles of Self-help fame. In 1873 joined Samuel Wilson, who owned a small rope works in Belfast. Ropemaking had been started in Belfast in 1758. Belfast was the leading linen city in the world, and shipbuilding was rapidly developing. The skills for ropemaking could be learned in the linen industry, while the shipbuilding industry provided the market. In 1876 the Belfast Ropewarks was incorporated with Gustav Wolff as chairman, Smiles as managing director, and Edward Harland and Samuel Smiles among the original shareholders. By 1904 the firm was employing 3,000 and claimed to be the largest ropeworks in the world. They made everything from fine lines for fishermen to ropes 24 inches in circumference, and in 1904 the output was worth £325,000 p.a. (Jeremy, Business Dictionary ‘William Holmes Smiles’. Like all other Irish businesses, during the First World War it was turned over to war production.

Though the firms in Dublin were smaller than those in Belfast some achieved an equal reputation. One of these was that of Thomas Grubb, an instrument maker in the first half of the 19th century who first assisted William Parsons, the 3rd Earl of Ross to make his giant telescopes, and went on to make his own telescopes, among which was one for Melbourne University, a 48 inch reflector completed in 1867. In 1868 Thomas retired and was succeeded by his son (Sir) Howard Grubb, who was chiefly famous for his optical gunsight (Warder 30 March 1901). He also built periscopes and range-finders as well as telescopes. During the First World War, with a separatist movement growing in Ireland the Ministry of Munitions transferred his factory to England. Meanwhile, Charles Parsons, son of the 3rd Earl of Rosse, had perfected his steam turbine, which he manufactured in England. He developed an interest in optical instruments and in 1925 purchased the firm of Sir Howard Grubb which continued to make reflectors for telescopes.

In 1857 the first and only porcelain factory was established at Belleek, Co. Fermanagh. Earthenware has a rough edge when broken; porcelain is smooth like glass. Skilled labour was imported from Staffordshire and gradually local labour was trained. The locality, from one of the poorest, became one of the richest in Ireland (Lady of the House 15 Aug 1900). The business commenced when china clay was discovered locally, water was used for power, and peat for fuel. The firm had to be financially re-structured in 1920, having jogged along for many years. Its products are famous worldwide and are collectors’ items. Cut glass ceased to be produced in Waterford in 1851 and was not re-started until 1947. Explosives and cartridges were manufactured in Arklow by Kynoch’s and production was expanded rapidly during the First World War. It shut down abruptly shortly afterwards. Messrs Kynoch Ltd started manufacturing explosives at Arklow around 1895 and in 1901 were employing between 600 and 700 people; they also have factories in England. The old-established paper mill at Drimna has been purchased by Messrs Kynoch as they require the works for the manufacture of cartridge paper (Warder 24 Aug 1901).

Ireland’s iron industry reached it peak during the construction of the great railways, but never went on to develop abroad unlike Mackie’s and the linen exporting firms. Indeed the great majority of Irish firms were content either with filling a local need or they succumbed to imports. In 1850 there were still 16 iron foundries and 25 brass foundries surviving in Dublin alone (Warder 7 Sept. 1901). A firm in Galway was able to make girders up to 40 feet long, but went out of existence (Irish Engineering Review 15 March 1904). Among the survivors was Kennan’s who made farm buildings of corrugated iron on a large scale. The engineering works maintained by the great railway companies constructed their own locomotives, carriages, and wagons up to the standards of the best in the world. But no independent locomotive works for the export market developed.

With regard to the manufacture of agricultural machinery, the founder of Pierce's of Wexford was Mr James Pierce who 60 years ago commenced a small business manufacturing horse threshing machines; his machines proved popular and he had to expand his business. The firm expanded again and commenced manufacturing other agricultural machines. Nowadays the products of the factory are admired around the world. They manufacture bicycles as well, and they do not merely assemble components bought in from Birmingham and Coventry (Weekly Irish Times 1 April 1906). John O’Neill's bicycle factory in Dublin was started in 1894, originally assembling the bicycles, but not manufacturing all the parts (Weekly Irish Times 5 April 1913). The Chambers Brothers in Belfast produced and sold 500 cars (Encyclopaedia of Ireland ‘motoring’). But neither bicycle nor motor manufactures really caught on. The father of the present owners of Eustace Brothers’ steam dye works, Richard Eustace, introduced coal tar (aniline) colours to Dublin; his father James Eustace pioneered hand-tufted carpet making 80 years ago, and he dyed the yarns with vegetable dyes. The works were originally in the Liberties but moved in 1884 to Cork Street (Weekly Irish Times 3 May 1913). The manufacture of chemical manures began in Ireland in 1842 on a small scale; now over £1,000,000 capital and 2,000 workers are employed in the business, and supply ¾ths of Ireland’s needs and export some abroad (Weekly Irish Times 6 June 1903). Carpet manufacturing was resumed as part of make-work schemes in 1899. Not all were successful, but in the 20th century there was a thriving carpet industry. Irish factories produced the carpets for the Olympic and Titanic (Encyclopaedia of Ireland ‘Carpets’).

Dundalk was one of the few success stories of the 19th century among Irish country towns. It was a very prosperous town; the Great Northern Railway, which employed 500 skilled men, was the keystone of its economy. There were many industries in Dundalk: two breweries, a distillery, several flour mills, spinning mills, three large brick works, two iron works, where they make anything from steam engines and lattice bridges to shovel heads. Other factories were devoted to making salt, soap, candles, pinafores, aprons, blouses, leather, tobacco, and bacon. With regard to communications there were main tracks to Dublin and Belfast, a direct line to Greenore to connect with the London and North Western, and powerful steamers of the Dublin and Dundalk Steam Packet Company plying to Glasgow and Liverpool. £40,000 has been spent on the harbour so that vessels drawing 16 feet can reach the quays; one of the drawbacks he was told was that Irish buyers would not buy Irish made goods (Weekly Irish Times 28 July 1906).

There were some surprising manufactures, besides those mentioned, ladies fans, organs and other musical instruments, stained glass, ordinary glass, laces and embroideries. But the big question remains, Why did Ireland not do better? Why did machine-based industries not spring up in the towns? The coastal towns had an easier and cheaper access to coal than many places in England. (There was no coal in the southern half of England.) By 1921 most of the 26 counties which were to form the Irish Free State had been virtually denuded of manufacturing industries. Inland counties had traditionally lacked industries producing for the market. The question is examined at length by O’Grada, but there are no obvious answers (Economic History 314-348).

The rural craftsman declined in the countryside, but never disappeared. In every parish there was at least one skilled carpenter, one builder or mason, one tailor, one shoemaker or cobbler and one blacksmith. Plumbers who worked with lead piping became increasingly important. These were engaged in the service industries rather than manufacturing. Small rural factories and mills serving the local area still survived in places, especially where there was a local source of waterpower. [Top]


            Though in volume or importance the tourist industry was nothing like what it was to become after the Second World War yet people in Ireland were beginning to take it seriously. Already from 1850 onwards the various railway companies tried to attract traffic on to their lines, for example by advertising places for angling or golf. In 1895 the Irish Tourist Association was established under the auspices of the Royal Dublin Society and under the patronage of the Lord Lieutenant, Baron Houghton. It later merged with the Development Syndicate (Ireland) Ltd., which in turn was reconstructed as the Tourist Development (Ireland) Ltd. The syndicate was set up in 1896 to develop tourist traffic in Ireland. A meeting was held at the Imperial Institute in London, which set up the syndicate under the chairmanship of the Earl of Mayo; also included were the Duke of Abercorn, the Earl of Crewe, Lord Iveagh, and the Rt. Hon Horace Plunkett. The syndicate had a nominal capital of £25,000 in £500 shares of which £7,000 has been paid up. They, in conjunction with the Treasury and the railway companies devised tourist routes in the south of Ireland and equipped comfortable coaches with horses, which were very successful (County Councils’ Gazette 18 May 1900). The work was facilitated by the passing of the Health Resorts and Watering Places (Ireland) Act (1909) which enabled the company legally to advertise Ireland, as other centres on the Continent and Britain do; corporations and urban and rural districts were enabled to strike a rate, not exceeding 1 penny in the £1 for advertising purposes. The need was noted to co-ordinate efforts; otherwise much will overlap with considerable waste; Switzerland and the Isle of Man both market themselves as units (Warder 20 April 1901; Weekly Irish Times 20 Nov. 4 Dec. 1909).

In 1901 the Warder quoted the report of the Irish Statistical and Social Enquiry Society which showed that tourism in Ireland had increased by 100% over the preceding 15 years on account of advertising, better accommodation, and cheaper travel. The founding of the Hotel Proprietors Association largely caused this. It commented that all Irish hotels could benefit as English hotels did from an annual spring-clean; some hotels were charging too much, and it would be better if they aimed at attracting families on a month’s holiday than attracting the swells. In 1905 The Warder reported the great development of Bundoran on the Donegal coast in the previous 20 years; a palatial hotel had been erected by the Great Northern Railway with an 18 hole golf course (Warder 9 Sept. 1905). Portrush on the north Antrim coast developed rapidly and had a famous golf course, the Royal Portrush, which got its title from the Prince of Wales (Edward VII). The Irish Times wrote that Queenstown was the gem of Irish seaside resorts; its mean temperature the same as Torquay in Devon and higher than the other English south coast resorts. It is very much improved lately and continually improving. People nowadays want more than a place to pick up shells or dig in the sand; young people want places to cycle to, amusements beyond paddling in the sea; somewhere to parade in a smart frock. There are easy excursions to Youghal, Killarney, etc., and many good hotels; numerous steamer trips. The promenade committee provided a series of amusements such as music by the band of the King's Royal Rifles (presumably the ninth battalion, the North Cork militia Weekly Irish Times 25 May 1901).

Advertising and promotion were no longer the preserve of the railway companies. Resort towns were competing to attract visitors, though in 1913 it was complained that Dublin was doing little to attract visitors.[Top]

Work Force and Labour Relations

Trade Unions

Those classified as general labourers rose from 31,000 in 1841 to 144,000 in 1881. Organised trade unionism was rather subdued; only the bakers managed to put up a successful fight, while outbreaks of Ribbonism occurred up to 1870. The Ribbonmen were traditional semi-organised rural agrarian terrorist secret societies. All through the century many farm labourers and cottiers moved to the towns. Despite this, until the arrival of James Connolly and James Larkin the Irish trade unions did not resort to violence and intimidation. The boundaries between agrarian crime, political struggles, revolutionary socialism, and trade unionism were rather vague, and there was no reason why a man could not be a member of more than one of these at the same time. This being said, only James Connolly and James Larkin organised their followers on the lines of revolutionary socialists like the Bolsheviks and the Nazis.   

 As in Britain workers who organised themselves preferred to negotiate with their employers not confront them (Boyd, Irish Trade Unions, 51). Their leaders were not socialists, still less revolutionaries, but rather supported either the Liberals or the Conservatives. They were craft unions of properly-qualified, apprentice-trained operatives. The Amalgamated Society of Engineers (i.e. those working on engines) was formed in 1851 and established branches in the east coast towns, and reached a membership of 1,000 by 1868. But there were also some unions of unskilled workers. Some dock labourers formed a union in 1860, and there was a dock union in Dublin in 1875. These little unions tended to affiliate themselves to the big British unions. Printers, boilermakers, carpenters and joiners, cabinet-makers, bricklayers and so on formed unions amalgamated with the corresponding British one (op. cit, 52-3).

Most of the demands of the unions were moderate and in course of time they were conceded. In the 19th century the unions had only one major victory over their employers and that was their campaign of strikes in various towns against the very long hours which bakers in the various bakeries had to work. In Dublin the master bakers did not provide extra ovens or employ extra staff. The men could start baking at 3 pm and instead of finishing at 3 am they were persuaded, for some extra money to continue working into the following morning. Though the law was changed to prevent this, their actions persuaded the master bakers to invest in machinery (Boyd Irish Trade Unions 55-58).

Local Government officials also formed unions. The Relieving Officers Protective Association followed the example of other poor law officials and organised themselves; the duties of dairy inspectors, and inspectors of common lodging houses, and sanitary sub-officers were substantially increased after the Local Government Act (1898, but with no increase in salaries (County Councils Gazette 17 Aug 1900). Farm labourers, as described in an earlier chapter, in places established their own unions. Though many Irish unions were affiliated to the British Trade Union Congress the Irish Congress of Trade Unions was formed in 1894 and many Irish unions preferred to work through it. When an Irish Labour Party was formed it was virtually the ICTU under a different hat.

A very interesting case study in unionism was that of national (primary) teachers, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO). National teachers were subjected directly to the National Board of Education and to the local school manager, in nearly all cases the local parish priest or minister. When the National Board was established in 1831 with the object of getting a primary school functioning in each one of the more than 1,000 parishes in Ireland, few of these teachers were trained; some were good and some were bad. The conditions of the school buildings was often deplorable, the pay was low, they were liable to dismissal at an hour’s notice, no accommodation was provided for the teachers who often had to lodge in farmhouses, and there was no pension when they became unable to work through sickness or old age. Some teachers tried to meet in order to better their work conditions. In this they got no support from the clerical school managers. When they tried to form a Redress Committee were informed by the National Board that if they complained about anything to the Committee they were liable to be dismissed. They got great backing from the philanthropist and educationalist Vere Foster and their delegates were received by the Powis Commission on education and by the Lord Lieutenant, Earl Spencer in 1869. Gradually their demands for improvements were met, even though much later Archbishop Walsh expressed his astonishment that the INTO at its annual congress was going to discuss a matter on which he had pronounced the previous year (Irish Teachers’ Journal 15 Dec 1900; 5 Jan. 1901).

            Two Acts dealing with trade unions were passed in 1871, the Trades’ Union Act (1871 which relaxed the restrictions on trade unions imposed in 1826 after the failure of the first act to legalise unions of workers, and the Criminal Law Amendment Act (1871) which made picketing illegal, and molestation and intimidation were made crimes. Peaceful unions could register as friendly societies and receive protection for their funds. In 1875 the Employers and Workmen Act (1875) replaced the Master and Servant Act (1867), the change in terminology being very significant. A breach of contract was no longer to be a criminal matter but a civil dispute, and employers were no longer responsible for the conduct of their employees except at their place of work. A Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act (1875) made peaceful picketing legal and laid down the principle that no act by a group was illegal if the act performed by an individual was legal. The laws dating back to medieval times against combination and conspiracy were removed (Briggs and Jordan Economic History of England 432-34). These Acts applied to the whole of the United Kingdom.

In 1901 a case was brought by a butcher in Belfast named Leatham against a trade union official in the North of Ireland Butchers’ Society named Quinn who in the course of a trade dispute organised a boycott of Leatham’s butcher’s shop. Leatham brought an action for damages against Quinn, won, and was awarded £250 in damages. The verdict was upheld in the House of Lords who ruled that ‘ two or more persons combine together, without legal justification, to injure another and by doing so cause him damage, they are liable to an action for conspiracy’ (Boyd Irish Trade Unions 71). In the same year the Taff Vale Railway Company in Wales won against a trade union, the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, for damages to the company caused by a strike caused by the said Society. The union had believed that its funds were protected by the Trades Union Act (1871). An appeal in this case also reached the House of Lords who ruled that the union could be considered a corporate body which could be sued for damages. This ruling, known as the Taff Vale Judgment, meant that no future strike would be possible without financially crippling the union (Briggs and Jordan Economic History 442). When the Liberals returned to power in 1906 they passed a Trades’ Dispute Act (1906). The unions were made immune from civil actions for damages as they had been made immune from criminal actions by the 1875 Act. In future no company involved in a strike, nor any company or individual not involved in a strike, who suffered material or financial damages because of the strike, could sue the union for damages. A merchant, for example, whose goods were spoiled because of a strike by transport workers, could not sue the union for damages. And as James Larkin quickly realised, the victims of sympathy strikes could neither take him to court for criminal actions nor sue him for damages.

In 1909 a union official named Osborne took his own union to court on the grounds that its contributions to the infant Labour Party were illegal because ultra vires, politics not being a function of a trade union. Again, in the Osborne Judgment, the House of Lords agreed with him, so another Act, the Trade Union Act (1913) legalised this under certain conditions (Briggs and Jordan Economic History 444).

Though James Connolly and James Larkin were totally unrepresentative of Irish trade unionists, and their violent methods repelled most trade unionists, their activities made the headlines for several years. They were both, to greater or lesser degree believers in anarcho-syndicalism, or simply in English, syndicalism. They believed that the purpose of unions was to overthrow capitalism, abolish the machinery of state and make the workers’ syndicates the rulers, and that it was lawful to use force to attain this end. Variants of this belief were to be found in Bolshevism in Russia, Nazism in Germany, and Fascism in Italy. Connolly’s ‘Citizen Army’ was an equivalent of the Nazi ‘Brown Shirts’ and Fascist ‘Black Shirts’.

James Connolly was born in Edinburgh of Irish parents. He joined the Scottish Socialist League in 1889 and founded an Irish Republican Socialist Party in Dublin in 1896. He went to America in 1903 and returned to Ireland in 1910. He formed what would now be called a para-military group on the same lines as Hitler’s Brown Shirts whose ostensible aim was to ‘protect’ workers from police violence. He threw in his lot with the revolutionary republicans of the IRB and was executed for high treason in 1916. Though he achieved almost nothing his writings became almost unchallengeable sacred writ among Irish socialists.

More prominent in the headlines was James Larkin who was born in Liverpool of Irish parents. In 1907 he came to Ireland as agent of the National Union of Dock Labourers. He formed his own union, the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. He was a rousing speaker, but a poor manager. He had a cavalier attitude towards both money and promises to his followers. He believed in confrontation, and organised intimidation on a massive scale. He pioneered the use of the sympathetic strike against those who were handling ‘tainted goods’, i.e. goods coming from or going to the firm against whom his union was striking. The union workers did have some grievances, but managers were often sympathetic to their demands if it did not mean putting themselves out of business, and the Irish Government including the Lord Lieutenant was prepared to mediate. At first British unions offered assistance, but finding him an unreasonable man, withdrew their support. Larkin in 1913, involved in a dispute over the non-recognition of his union by William Martin Murphy, tried to organise a general strike in Dublin. It collapsed when the leaders of the British unions saw no great principle involved, were appalled by the violence of Larkin’s men, and withdrew their support. Connolly was dead, Larkin went to America and the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union under William O’Brien (not the nationalist MP) grew to be a large influential traditional union (DNB, Connolly, Larkin). During the IRA’s terrorist campaign (1918-21) transport workers assisted them by refusing to carry troops or munitions. The British Army just switched to using lorries.

In 1920 there was a police strike in England and an attempt to form a police union. Though some of the Irish police were sympathetic to the idea none of them actually joined the strike. In place of a Police Union a Police Representative Board was established (Irish Constabulary Gazette 1920 passim). [Top]

Industrial Legislation

As factories grew larger, and machines larger and more reliable, factory owners tended to keep the machines running continuously and to extend the working day. Extended working days were of course common in farm work during haymaking and harvest when working until sundown was common for brief periods. A nominal 12 hour working day could come to mean 11 hours of actual work and that six days a week all the year round. One has to remember that long hours did not mean long work. For large parts of the day a shop assistant might be occupied in dusting and polishing, but they were not allowed to sit down. Even in factories a belt could come off and work stopped until it was put on again. Only in the first decades of the 20th century in America did ‘Taylorism’, work timed by stopwatch, and the production line come in. Trade unionists denounced ‘sweat shops’ which was more properly ‘swot shops’ where the employees were on piece work, i.e. paid for every piece of work they finished. Naturally the harder they worked the more they earned, and young and fit workers earned far more than the elderly, the lazy, and the infirm.

In this period there was a long series of Acts, factory Acts, shop Acts, compensations Acts, and trade union Acts, to improve the conditions of the workers. As noted above the Employers and Workmen Act (1875) finally abolished the medieval relationship of master and servant. A Workshops Regulation Act (1867 had been passed to regulate conditions in workshops with its own inspectorate (Allison Seeds of Time 162). Factory and workshop regulation was consolidated in the Factories and Workshops Act (1878. The Act abolished the distinction between factories and workshops and made the all subject to the Factory Acts, while the inspection of factories was transferred to a Factory Inspectorate (Richards and Hunt Modern Britain 190-193; Briggs and Jordan Economic History 547). For women and young persons the working day was to be from 6 am to 6 pm with a half day on Saturday. No stretch of work was to exceed 4½ hours with a break of half an hour, making a total of 56 hours worked. This was particularly relevant to the women millworkers in Belfast. An Act in 1891 restricted the day of young people to 6 hours and forbade their employment under the age of 11. Shop assistants worked from 9 am to 8 pm with two 20-minute breaks, but on Saturdays until 10 or 11 pm. In the wholesale branch of the same business, hours were from 9 am to 6 pm with an hour for lunch with a half day on Saturday. The retail assistants wanted similar hours, but with the half day not on a Saturday (Allison 162-3).

            Before 1830 the Bank of England closed on approximately 40 saints' days and anniversaries, a relic of the Middle Ages, but in that year the number was reduced to 18 days. In 1834 they were further reduced to four: Good Friday, May 1, November 1, and Christmas Day. By the Bank Holidays Act (1871), the following were constituted bank holidays in England, Wales, and Ireland: Easter Monday; Whit-Monday, the first Monday of August, December 26 if a weekday; and, by the Act of 1875, December 27 when December 26 falls on a Sunday (i.e., the first weekday after Christmas; Boxing Day). The Bank Holiday (Ireland) Act of 1903 designated March 17, St. Patrick's Day (or, if on a Sunday, the following Monday), as a bank holiday for Ireland. In England, Wales, and Ireland, Christmas Day and Good Friday were bank holidays under common law (Encyc. Britannica ‘Bank Holiday’). The number of mainly clerical workers who benefited from the Act was at first limited, but was gradually extended. Manual workers did not get bank holidays, but for factory workers their legal days off were often taken on bank holidays, but not necessarily. For Catholic workers the 15th August, the feast of the Assumption was preferred to the first Monday in August.

A typical Catholic nationalist confrontation with a Protestant mill owner occurred at Laragh in Co. Monaghan in 1873. By the Factory Acts, mill owners were obliged to give their workers 8 half days besides the whole of Christmas Day. The Catholic clergy wanted the Government to recognise Catholic holy days on which Catholics were obliged to abstain from work. There were ten of these, and the mill owner, who claimed that the mills were being worked at a loss wanted all the women, including Catholics, to work on those days. If two of these were counted for St Patrick’s Day that meant 6 half-days or 3 whole days. So the dispute was with regard to the remaining 6 Catholic holy days (holidays). This millowner’s attitude was not universal, for other Catholic mill workers were paid on the Catholic holy days though absent from work (M’Kenna, Diocese of Clogher, 371-2).

The Employers’ Liability Act (1880) made factory owners liable to pay compensation to injured employees, men, women, and children who were injured by machinery in the course of their employment. Accidents to children were frequent (Briggs and Jordan, Economic History, 548; Allison, Seeds of Time, 162. Accidents involved one half of the admissions to the Belfast General Hospital). Joseph Chamberlain brought in his Workmen's Compensation Act (1897) and Frederick Falkiner, the Recorder of Dublin, got it extended to Ireland. A Commissioner for Labour was appointed by the Board of Trade in 1893 (DNB, Sir Hubert Smith). Prior to 1897 there was no obligation on an employer to compensate an injured workman except in a case of negligence or culpable fault; this was changed by the Workmen's Compensation Act (1897, where an employer was bound to give compensation unless there was negligence on the part of the employee. The Workmen's Compensation Act (1900) extending that of 1897, applied to everyone employed in agriculture or horticulture, and dealt with injuries or death in the course of his work. An example could be that if a farm worker while working was kicked by a horse his employer would have to pay his widow £150 (Farmers’ Gazette 29 June 1901). It was recommended that farmers should insure their workmen with a reliable company (Farmers’ Gazette 6 Oct. 1900). Convent laundries were exempt from inspection as religious and charitable bodies under the 1901 Act, but an arrangement was arrived at by mutual agreement allowing voluntary inspection. In most cases the laws with regard to hours, working conditions, holidays, etc. were already being complied with (Weekly Irish Times 20 June 1903). Commercial steam laundries were often started by convents to provide work for women.

The Employment of Children Act (1903 laid down further rules on the employment of children outside factories, such were errand boys, and delivery boys; those in home industries, agricultural work, and street trading; in general prohibiting the employment of anyone under 14 (New Irish Jurist 1904 Reports). This law was widely ignored in Ireland even after the Compulsory Attendance Act (1892) made schooling compulsory. The Shop Hours Act (1904) gave to local authorities the power to fix closing times. The Unemployed Workmen’s Act (1905) provided for the constitution of distress committees; in Ireland any municipal borough or urban district with a population of 5,000 could set up such a committee. There were 42 such districts in Ireland (Dublin Irish Jurist 6 Oct. 1905). The report of the Chief Inspector of Factories and Workshops in 1909 described poor standards of hygiene; one lady inspector reported on very bad conditions for women. In two factories in the North there was a great lack of privacy; in some factories there was not even 'make-believe' attempts to provide heating though the company was prosperous. In one recently-built factory the only heating was provided by the gas jets, which also vitiated the air with CO2, which is highly conducive to the spread of tuberculosis (Weekly Irish Times 5 June 1909). Reformers invariably highlight the very worst cases they find.

In 1910, Winston Churchill finally introduced the Shop Hours Act which granted the desires of shop assistants; the week of all the 1,000,000 shop assistants will be limited to 60 hours, they must get one half-day, and no shops are to open on Sunday except those that are necessary (Weekly Irish Times 16 July 1910). This still meant 11-hour days. The resulting Shops Act (1912 which unexpectedly passed a few months ago came into force in May 1912; all shop assistants were guaranteed a half-day; it was due to the agitation for a long time of the shop assistants associations that Mr Churchill’s bill was introduced. Half-holidays were fixed in the provincial towns; in not all do the pubs close (Weekly Irish Times 11 May 1912). But most Dublin traders sought exemption from applying the half-day (Weekly Irish Times 15 March 1913). In provincial market towns market days were held on different days of the week to allow stall-holder to have stalls in several. The half-day could not be the market day. The Early Closing (Shops) Act 1920) remedied the defects of the 1912 Act and made it clear that all shops except newsagents were bound by it. Gradually all workers got a 5½ day week, the half day being taken on a Saturday except by shop workers.

In 1919 40,000 shipyard workers struck to enforce a 44 hour week against the 47 hour offer of the employers. A conference in Dublin of trades affiliated to the Dublin Trades Council demanded a forty-hour week following similar demands in England and Scotland. This demand was supported by the Irish Labour Party and the Irish Trade Union Congress who demanded a 44-hour week and a national minimum wage. The Irish Transport and General Workers Union agreed to a 49-hour week, i.e., a 9-hour day (Weekly Irish Times 1, 15, 22 Feb. 1919). The Industrial Courts Act (1919) enabled industrial courts to be established. The new Ministry of Labour asked Sir Dunbar Plunkett Barton to act as one of the chairmen of the Industrial Court; he had acted as arbitrator or conciliator in more than 70 labour disputes in Ireland over the previous two years. He presided at the sitting of the Industrial Court in Belfast settling disputes in the Londonderry shipbuilding yard; previously he sat in Kilkenny and in Cork. Barton was an Irish High Court judge (Irish Law Times 24 Jan. 1920).



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