Irish Sea and Coastal Trade
The port of Dublin handled by far the greatest volume of trade in the kingdom, but the outports had a busy coastal traffic carrying goods to and from the capital as well as across the Irish Sea and to and from the continent. A considerable amount of the food required to feed the growing capital came by sea, particularly potatoes and grain from Counties Cork and Waterford, while the Newry Canal carried butter as well as linen from the counties around Lough Neagh down to the sea at Carlingford Lough. From 1767 parliament decreed that a bounty on:
The carriage of wheat, flour of wheat, oats, bere [a type of barley], barley or malt from the northern and southern parts of this kingdom to the city of Dublin as also from any port or place southwards of Dublin to Newry, Belfast and Londonderry, by water coastways ... will be further encouragement to trade and navigation.
There was an active trade backwards and forwards across the Irish Sea. Wakefield listed imports from Scotland such as coal, wheat, dried fish, horses, haberdashery, stockings, tobacco and upholsteryware. As Ireland and Scotland produced similar goods the trade was not large, but the proximity of the two countries ensured that it was busy. There was also a passenger traffic largely centred on Stranraer, where an infrastructure of inns and other necessities for travellers developed. The cattle trade went to Port Patrick - an even shorter crossing but a less protected port than Stranraer. De Latocnaye, in the 1790s, found that 'the number of cattle taken from here [Donaghadee, Co. Down] to Scotland is something inconceivable ... on the day I crossed there were 400 horned cattle taken over to Scotland, and in the six weeks previous there had been transported nearly thirty thousand.' He also considered that the boat owners held the farmers 'in the hollow of their hands' as 'they ask as much as twenty guineas for a crossing' and that the authorities should control this extortion. In the late eighteenth century six ships of 60 tons were employed in this trade, each carrying about 20 head of cattle. The trade was largely seasonal, from May to October. Cattle were driven to Donaghadee from all over Ireland to take advantage of the short sea crossing; many were destined for the English market.
Coal was by far the most important import. It was cheaply available from the west coast of England and Wales. In fact, apart from a small area round the mine itself, difficulties of transport ensured that before the canal and railway age the use of coal would be largely linked to the availability of natural water transport. By the end of the seventeenth century Dublin was already dependent on coal. As the city grew rapidly during the eighteenth century its fuel requirements rose accordingly. For instance, Young found that imports of coal into Ireland between 1764 and 1770 averaged 180,113 tons, but in 1771-7 the average rose to 204,566 tons. Most of this coal came from Whitehaven in Cumberland, but some came from Wales and Scotland. A small quantity of Irish coal from Coalisland was shipped down the coast from Newry, and Ballycastle also supplied a little. After the opening of the southern branch of the Grand Canal, some coal came from Castlecomer, near Kilkenny. Although Dublin was the principal market for British coal in Ireland, much of the eastern coast, even country areas, shared this dependency. As early as 1725 Michael Ward of Castle Ward on Strangford Lough was told that there 'will be great difficulty in getting ships to go for coals. They cost very dear but we must have coals cost what they will, we have not 20 tons.'
The masters of coal-ships, aware of this dependency, were not averse to raising the price by skilfully timing their deliveries, an activity that the Irish parliament repeatedly tried to control, for instance, 4 Anne, c. 8, 6 Geo. I, c. 2. In 1717 the House of Commons declared that 'the keeping of coals at the quay in any gabbard or boat above eight days is a means to raise the price of coals and highly prejudicial to this kingdom', and 'the practice of bringing a gabbard or boat of coals from the ship to the quay of Dublin as a sample and then selling the rest of the cargo before it come up to the quay is a manifest breach of the statute and a cause of raising the price of coals.' Furthermore, throughout the century, the captains insisted on being paid cash on delivery. They did not sail until they were paid, and this brought loud complaints about the drain of specie from the kingdom.
The endeavours of parliament to curb abuses were not helped by the fact that although Dublin was by far the busiest port in the kingdom, it had few natural advantages. In 1707 the Ballast Office was established in order to keep the port from silting up and to improve its facilities. The harbour was tidal and required constant dredging. Nevertheless, it was continually improved and in the course of the century the banks of the Liffey were lined first with wooden and then, after 1755, with stone quays. The up-river position of the Customs House and its lack of facilities created further difficulties, which were resolved by the building of the new Customs House, amid some objections, in the 1780s.
In 1731 the British parliament opened ports in Ireland to all articles not enumerated in any of the Navigation Laws, and Ireland's trade with the American colonies grew during the period 1731-75, although the enumerated articles included such natural back-cargo as sugar and tobacco, while linen was often sent via England to collect the bounty. This in turn encouraged smuggling, and explains the numerous statutes aimed at preventing or controlling it, for instance the 1747 statute, 23 Geo. II, c. 2. Belfast was the leading port for this transatlantic trade. Much of the trade was centred in the north, where emigration had created multiple business links: Belfast, Londonderry and Newry had strong links with North America. One of the most active firms in this trade was the Belfast-New York firm of Greg, Cunningham (5008)& Co. but there were numerous others including Robert Alexander of Londonderry and, more interestingly Edward (0495 ) and Isaac Corry of Newry, while another very active firm was William & John Ogle. More widely based exports were provisions and salted fish to the West Indies from the southern ports. However, the American trade at its height accounted for only about 12 per cent of Ireland's total exports, and many of these merchant houses, such as Daniel Mussenden's, were also carrying on an extensive trade with the Baltic; he had agents as far away as Rotterdam, Trondheim and Danzig.
During the century Ireland's import and export trade became increasingly centred on Britain. At the beginning of the century 45.7 per cent of Ireland's exports went to England, but by 1800 the figure had risen to 85.4 per cent, while the volume probably rose about six-fold. The import figures were similar, if less extreme: 53.9 per cent in 1700 and 78.6 per cent a century later. Over the century, the official value of Ireland's imports from England rose from £427,603 to £4,862,626 sterling, while its exports to England increased from £372,585 to £3,482,691. The balance of trade was always in England's favour, and while Ireland's share of the English import market was normally under 10 per cent, it took under 11 per cent of England's exports. The only decades in which these percentages were exceeded were the 1780s and 1790s for imports and the 1770s and 1780s for exports. In both cases they fell back in the following decade.
Proximity and mercantilist laws and theory encouraged this development, for the sea provided by far the easiest and cheapest method of transport. Consequently it was often simpler to ship goods from Great Britain to Dublin or other Irish ports than to attempt to bring them overland within Ireland; for instance, although there was a considerable amount of slate in the western half of Ireland, it was easier to import it into eastern Ireland from Wales. But there was a demand in Britain for Irish marble, which was exported from various areas including the west to both Liverpool and Glasgow. Marble fire-surrounds were very fashionable, and near Kilkenny there was a factory that supplied them: £1 5s for a 'common' one, up to 4 guineas for a superior model. Michael Shanahan, the Earl-Bishop of Derry's architect, building superintendent, son's tutor and general man of all works had a marble business in his native Cork where he employed 28 marble carvers, and charged 60 guineas for his best mantelpieces.
Cork, on the river Lee, was the centre of the provision trade, which dominated the south and west of Ireland as the linen industry dominated the north. At Cobh, Cork had the best natural harbour in Ireland, although merchandise had to be transhipped at Passage before it could be brought to the merchants' warehouses in the city. Cork also attracted the coastal trade from the nearby ports of Kinsale and Youghal, whose harbours were less satisfactory, but whose hinterlands were served by the Bandon and the Blackwater rivers respectively. Its provisions made it a port of call for the British navy victualling for the West India stations. The French and Dutch also provisioned at Cork before the Atlantic crossing, and in time of war or of impending hostilities there was friction between the Cork merchants and the authorities, who placed an embargo on these visits. Parliament was then confronted with a spate of petitions.
In 1776 Young estimated that the Cork merchants owned between 70 and 80 ships, and it has been estimated that in 1791/2 this had risen to 123 ships accounting for about 14.1 per cent of the national tonnage of just under 70,000 tons. There was a considerable trade with mainland Europe, and Irish ships could be found not only in French or Spanish harbours but also in Baltic and Scandinavian ports. Most Irish-owned ships were used in the European rather than the British trade. Apart from Cork the south coast had a number of smaller harbours - Kinsale, Youghal, Dungarvan and Waterford. Youghal had 52 locally registered ships in 1787 and this had risen to 146 in 1796, but at an average of 40 tons they were about half the average size of the Cork ships - the harbours at Youghal and Waterford had a bar that discouraged larger ships.
Waterford was for much of the century the third port in the country; visiting it in 1732, Loveday found that 'the quay at Waterford is exceeding noble being in a straight line of great length, the stone buildings on it very handsome and nothing more beautiful than the view from the water.' In relative terms the port declined throughout the period. By the end of the century Belfast had rapidly superseded it as the third city in the kingdom. Galway declined most during the century, partly because of its isolation from the commercially dominant capital, the developing east coast outports with their Irish Sea trade, and the increasing orientation of Irish trade to Great Britain.
In the other outports the volume of trade was small and largely unspecialised. Many of the harbours had difficulties such as bars. But there was some regionally specialised shipping, such as the oyster boats of Carlingford and the potato boats of Dungarvan. Where there was wood available there was a tradition of small-scale shipbuilding in the coastal ports. At the beginning of the century Ringsend, Co. Dublin, was already established as a centre of shipbuilding. In March 1731/2 the launching of a large ship attracted such a great crowd that at least three people were severely injured. Wakefield commented on a decline in shipbuilding at the end of the century, which he attributed partly to Ireland not having the necessary raw materials, although at the same time he pointed out, in an unequal comparison, that Holland 'possesses neither timber nor corn, and its harbours are bad'. But there were exceptions as, foreshadowing its nineteenth-century greatness, William Richie had in 1791 opened a 'large' shipyard at Belfast.
The Provision Trade
The provision trade was to the southern counties what linen was to the north. Pastoral farming is the natural agrarian occupation of a country that predictably produces lush grass but has uncertain harvest weather. The provision trade started the century under the mercantilist restrictions of the Cattle Acts passed by the English parliament in 1663 and 1666. These prohibited the export of live cattle to England, and this encouraged the decline of the smaller coastal ports such as Galway, Kinsale and Youghal. However, it was more than compensated for by the rise of the provision trade. Between 1720 and 1750, beef exports rose nearly 50 per cent. Cork, with its accessible hinterland, strategic location and fine natural harbour, became the principal beneficiary but Dublin, Limerick and Waterford also profited, and by 1794 these ports controlled 92 per cent of the provision trade in meat. The allied butter trade began more slowly, as in 1737-40, immediately before the 1741 famine, exports were only 15 per cent higher than they had been in 1683-6. But after the 1740-1 famine the provision trade improved rapidly, and in the next 25 years exports increased by approximately 75 per cent. Butter followed a similar trade pattern to beef, and by the middle of the century the butter trade was also centred on Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Dublin.
The rise of the provision trade and the erratic harvests of the early eighteenth century encouraged a swing from arable to pastoral farming. Arable farming gave five times the amount of employment required for pastoral management, and in some areas considerable social dislocation was reported. Contemporaries felt that this swing was substantial, but it is difficult to gauge its overall extent, for even in the early eighteenth century the population was rising, although at a much lower rate than it did after the middle of the century. Thus, it can be argued that there was little or no decline in quantity of arable production and that the provision trade carved out a new niche for itself, expanding in lands that were largely unsuitable for arable farming. Grain accounted for 2.2 per cent of total exports in 1700 and 2.0 per cent of a much larger volume of exports in 1750. Thereafter demand for grain rose internally as well as externally, and was encouraged by a series of laws giving bounties for its production. By the mid-1770s grain's proportion of the export market had risen to 3.8 per cent; in the inflated wartime conditions of the mid-1790s it increased to 6.5 per cent.
Fairs and Markets
Most agricultural produce was traded through fairs or markets, particularly in the early part of the century, before enterprises grew large enough to bypass them. In 1684 there were 503 advertised fairs, and 43 per cent of these were in Leinster. By 1770 there were nearly 3,000 advertised fairs and their distribution indicated the increased economic development of the country, for only 27 per cent of this greatly expanded total were in Leinster. Fairs and markets of varying size and importance were the normal mechanism for the transfer of goods throughout the island. The right to hold a fair was granted by letters patent from the sovereign and could be vested in either a local landlord or a municipal corporation. The patentee was responsible for the conduct of the market and received its tolls. Most fairs provided for the exchange of the goods of the region and for the barter or purchase of external necessities. As commerce developed certain fairs became specialised, for instance the livestock and wool fairs at Ballinasloe, the cattle fairs at Mullingar and Banagher, the butter market at Cork and the brown linen markets in various Ulster towns.
Fairs were usually held on a quarter- or half-yearly basis, and they combined hiring and carnival with marketing opportunities. Sideshows, competitions and games jostled with the more serious business of striking a bargain and arranging the 'luck-penny', or rebate given to ensure that all would go well with the deal. Individual and faction fights - a species of gang warfare - were normal social activities at fairs. 'No fairs were ever held,' wrote Lord George Hill of nineteenth-century Gweedore, 'without some serious rows.' This he attributed to the easy availability of illicit spirits. In the immediate aftermath of the 1798 rebellion, a man living in a town where a large fair was being held reported that 'all was Peace and quiet for he had left them all fighting.'
Usually the Clerk of the Market was responsible for its organisation and oversight. Markets began and ended at specified hours. The patentee was responsible for ensuring that weights and measures were accurate and in conformity with the standard set by parliament. A feature of eighteenth-century trade was the standardisation of weights and measures throughout the country. A statute of 1695, 7 Will. III, c. 24, pointed out the discouragement to trade caused by the want of a clear measure for grain throughout the kingdom, and decreed that a set of standard measures was to be kept in the Exchequer. All measures throughout the country were to be standardised on this set, and authenticated by being stamped on the edge or rim with the crown and HM's initials. Sixpence only was to be paid for the stamp, with a penalty of £50 for false marking, £25 of this to be paid to the informer. Using non-standard measures carried a penalty of £10: £5 to the informer and the remainder for the benefit of the poor of the parish. However, in 1705, 4 Anne, c. 14, declared that in many parts of the country:
no true nor certain balance nor weights are to be had to weigh merchandise between buyer and seller ... there shall be one weight throughout this kingdom ... and all manner of merchandise shall be weighed by ballance [sic], so that the tongue of the said ballance be even without bowing to the one side or the other, or by puting [sic] hand or foot to touch or disorder the same.
A correct set of weights and measures made of brass and stamped AR, surmounted by a crown, was to be lodged in the Exchequer. Every county, city and town was to provide itself with one set 'of just and true weights' tested against the set in the Exchequer and sealed by the officer responsible for standard weights, who was to be paid 1d per weight. There followed a list of county towns where they were to be lodged. Subsequently, parliament passed a number of statutes further regulating weights and measures, but Wakefield found that variations still existed at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
By the beginning of the eighteenth century the separate but complementary beef and butter trades had divided the pastoral areas of the country into breeding (with its concomitant, dairying) and fattening areas. Young cattle were first sent to the mountains and finally fattened on the richer lowlands. Cattle were transferred at the various cattle fairs, in particular Ballinasloe, Banagher and Mullingar. The right to hold a fair was a profitable privilege. Irish cattle were small, averaging 4-8 cwt against the 10-15 cwt of contemporary English breeds. Much beef was shipped to the West Indies; and in 1778 Henry Heard of Cork warned Charles O'Hara that 'the beef fit for the West Indies is generally from 5.5 to 6.5 cwt as none inferior will answer but prime quality.' Any other kind was shipped to the French Islands or, in time of war, to the great Dutch market at St Eustatia. Improving landlords, the Dublin Society and various local associations all made great efforts to increase the size of cattle.
As the statutes show, marketing was closely supervised at all stages. It was usually unwise for graziers to attempt to dispose of their beef independently and increasingly links were established between merchants and graziers, which eventually short-circuited the fairs. The merchant would contract with the grazier to buy at a certain deadweight price. A butcher was then engaged, usually by the grazier, to kill and flay the requisite number of animals. Alternatively, the merchant might simply send the butcher to arrange the deal. Slaughtering took place in the autumn and the beef was then carefully prepared under the eye of the exporter or his trusted servant, for the reputation of the house depended on the quality of the product in the barrels that carried its name. The barrels were supplied by coopers who, when they were packed, sealed them. Various laws were passed to regulate the beef trade, for example 9 Anne, c. 7 (later amended and made perpetual), 'An Act to prohibit Butchers from being Graziers, and to redress several Abuses in buying and selling of Cattle, and in the slaughtering and packing of Beef, Tallow and Hides'.
Butter presented greater problems in quality control. Essentially there were two types: lightly salted butter for the English or Dutch market and heavily salted butter for the West Indian and tropical markets. Before 1770 the tropical market was the more important, but thereafter more consideration was given to developing the English market and consequently reducing the amount of salt that had preserved - and masked the poor quality of - the product. At the beginning of each season firkins and larger casks for the West Indian market would be delivered by the butter merchants. The butter was prepared, under most unhygienic conditions, and heavily salted by the dairymen in the outlying districts. The filled casks were then brought on small carts or by packhorses, each carrying two firkins (about 100 cwt), to the public weigh-house in the appropriate port. Here the city officials would officially weigh the butter. There was also a brisk local trade in butter in markets up and down the country, often conducted by the women, who carried it to market in containers balanced on their heads.
Attempts to impose quality control on butter at first met resistance, but the trade was too valuable to risk market rejection and, following a statute of 1747, 21 Geo. II, c. 7, regulations were universally applied. Checks on freshness stopped the hoarding of butter for a rising market and enabled the merchants to know how much, and what quality of, butter was available. The method of checking was to take a bore out of the barrel or firkin and, having inspected it, replace it. Further attempts to improve the market were made in 1769, when a group of merchants came together to assist the weigh-masters by appointing inspectors to grade the butter and rule on its consistency, salt content and freshness, and to classify it in a three-tier system. As usual the system started off well but gradually degenerated. Parliament repeatedly passed statutes to regulate the trade, ensure its efficient operation and prevent frauds: for instance, 22 & 23 Geo. III, c. 22, tried to remedy abuses in the Dublin market by insisting that all butter be brought to the public scales, where it was to be tasted and clearly branded first, second, third or inferior quality. Any frauds in weighing carried a penalty of £5, and the taster had to take an oath that he would perform his function 'without favour or affection to any person or persons'. From 1 May to 1 October the weighing machines were to be open from 5 to 11 a.m. and from 3 to 8 p.m., and for the rest of the year from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Dublin merchants had developed better marketing and presentation skills than many of the smaller ports, such as Belfast.
As Anglo-Irish trade came to dominate the economy during the eighteenth century, these controls were made with a view to improving the access to English markets for Irish agrarian goods. After the suspension of the restrictions on live cattle in 1759, the English market was increasingly open to Irish agricultural goods but the heavily salted Irish butter was not to the English taste. However, although the subsequent reduction in salt met with some opposition from the West India provision merchants, the scheme was successful. Irish imports to Britain increased and the quality of butter improved, but even at the end of the century its market was confined to the growing working class, for whom its cheapness was a major consideration. When the restrictions on live cattle and other produce were finally repealed in 1774, Cork was exporting 34 per cent of all Irish butter destined for British markets and, by the late 1770s, the English market accounted for half of the butter exported from Cork. Although heavily salted butter continued to be sent to the West Indies and Portugal, increasing exports to England led to a decline in exports to other northern European countries.
The recurrent wars of the century, with their demand for military, and particularly naval, provisions, provided a further outlet that was not confined to Great Britain; French ships and French colonies were equally anxious to obtain these essential commodities. Indeed, France considered them so useful that between 1721 and 1741 the French mercantilist system was specifically altered to allow French ships to call at Cork on their way to the West Indies. Naturally these imperatives of supply and demand were not shared by the British mercantilists, particularly in times of war when provisions were of vital strategic importance. From 1740 the Irish administration was instructed in wartime to prevent provisions from being either sold directly to French ships or shipped for the same purpose to some neutral European port such as Stockholm, or to the Dutch West Indian entrepôt of St Eustatia, so convenient for both the French West Indian fleet and the French islands, particularly Martinique and Guadeloupe.
At the outbreak of war the imposition of these embargoes often produced a temporary dislocation of trade. For instance, after the outbreak of the War of Austrian Succession in 1740, the Irish Lord Chancellor wrote in March 1741 to Lord Lieutenant Devonshire to enquire about rescinding the embargo placed on the export of beef and butter to Newfoundland, 'for fear of its falling into the hands of the French or by means of the Dutch be conveyed to them', as 'the stink and odious smell that came from the dock was enough to infect the whole country.' The smell must have been very strong, as the eighteenth century was not particularly odour-conscious.
However, by the middle of the century the Irish provision trade enjoyed a very favoured position in both peace and war. This was illustrated by the embargo placed on the export of provisions from 1776 to 1779 by order of the Irish Privy Council on the instructions of the British government. It caused a furore among the Irish parliamentary opposition, but their fulminations were not sustained by the scarcity implicit in the very high price of provisions during these years. Furthermore, in Cork alone the British government was spending upwards of half a million pounds sterling on the purchase of provisions. Thus government contracts for provisions probably more than outweighed any consequences of the embargo.
At the end of the century, the French wars of the 1790s and the ensuing Napoleonic wars similarly gave an inflated prosperity to the provision trade. As its centre Cork became very prosperous and, as befitted the indisputable second city in Ireland, by the middle of the century it had built or rebuilt an exchange, a customs house, a new cathedral and a corn market. The Mansion House was completed in 1767. The city had a network of canals and waterways to facilitate the transport of heavy and bulky goods, which could be brought in lighters directly to and from the merchants' warehouses. In 1748 it was estimated that 100,000 head of cattle were slaughtered in or around the city each year, mainly in the autumn months; this figure fluctuated to meet demand. This must have created, especially under eighteenth-century conditions, an enormous problem in municipal sanitation, in contrast to the city's elegant walks, gardens and shops, and its reputation for good taverns and cuisine.
The provision trade produced a number of satellite industries such as tallow and hides. Although soap and candles were made for the home market, unrefined tallow was exported, as were hides, both tanned and untanned. Deforestation had resulted in a shortage of oak bark for tanning, and early in the century there was a considerable export trade in 'green' hides to the Netherlands. But by the middle of the century Britain had become the principal importer of untanned hides, and by 1790 the local tanners were complaining of imported tanned leather. Nevertheless, although some tanned leather was manufactured locally for various purposes, such as horse-harness and brogues or shoes for the local market, tanning was not a major local industry, nor were tanned hides an export one.
The Fish Trade
Fishing was an important commercial activity, particularly herring fishing in the north-west and west of the country. For instance, in 1773 Robert Alexander, a Derry merchant, began a fishery with two 40-ton sloops; the next year he added a brig and exported 650 barrels of salted herrings to Antigua. He also had a coastal trade, and the fate of one of his vessels indicates some of the problems and dangers of this activity:
In 1775, he had the same brig and three sloops, and loaded all four in bulk for the coast trade; one of which on her voyage was put ashore at Black Sod, in the county of Mayo; and, though the sloop was not the least injured, the country came down, obliged the crew to go on shore, threatening to murder them if they did not, and then not only robbed the vessel of her cargo, but of every portable material. The cargo was 40 ton, or 160,000 herrings.
However, Alexander recouped this loss the following year when he exported 1,750 barrels of herrings to the West Indies in another of his vessels, the 340-ton Alexander, and, finding his business restricted through lack of facilities on Lough Swilly, he built a salting house at Downings to prepare fish specifically for this trade. The proper preserving of fish for the overseas market was important, as shortly before Charles O'Hara (1576) had warned the Royal Dublin Society that 'it is apprehended that our fresh herrings not being in esteem in foreign markets is owing partly to the Fish not being properly cured.' O'Hara explained that they were usually salted in bulk in factories on the coast. After a time they were packed into a ship's hold and sent to be marketed as bulk herrings. If the merchant was unsuccessful they were either sold on easy terms or barrelled up and exported. But as wood for barrels was scarce, packaging was probably as much a problem as defective curing technique.
In 1775 Alexander had about 500 ships involved in his enterprise. Although it was very large by contemporary Irish standards, it was not the only such capitalised undertaking. Another ambitious venture was the Burton-Conyngham (0303) fishery on Rutland Island, off the Co. Donegal coast, 'where a village with every necessary building and accommodation for setting and curing the fish was erected, at an expense, to himself of £38,000 and £20,000 granted by Parliament'. The fishery was supported by an elaborate infrastructure of roads and the provision of 300 vessels and 1,200 boats but, after a initial success, the herring disappeared and the scheme failed, confirming Young's observation on the Alexander enterprise that 'here appears a very noble profit; but fishing on paper is an easier business than upon Loch-Swilly. The behaviour of the fish made the outcome of such enterprises unpredictable.
At a lesser level, the personal and financial risks involved ensured that fishing was usually a co-operative activity. Often the methods used were simple and traditional. At the beginning of the nineteenth century Wakefield discovered the fishermen in Co. Clare making fishing boats from cow-hide daubed all over with tar - a method they had inherited from remotest antiquity. These cost about 32s. Further south the two-ton herring boats at Dingle, Co. Kerry had 14-foot keels and cost £3 5s to build. A string of three nets cost £3 3s. Nets made of Baltic hemp were used for professional fishing. These boats carried five men and, as was common elsewhere, the poor fished in partnerships. At the end of the century in Co. Dublin the fishing boats, known as wherries, carried seven or eight men, each of whom had a share in the catch, while two shares were reserved for the boat's owner.
There were many small herring fisheries on the western and southern coasts. Although herring was the principal catch, it was not the only fish. For example, in the middle of the century Pococke found that there was plenty of cod on a bank some distance out from Newport, Co. Mayo. Young found that at Sligo a good night's catch was 3,000-5,000 herring, and this could be sold at an average price of 16s 8d per 1,000. At Galway there was a large herring fishery which at one time was estimated to employ 2,500 people. In 1786 the Cork and Waterford merchants lobbied the House of Commons to have the duty on foreign herrings removed as it interfered with their provision trade, but the Galway fish merchants counter-petitioned, pointing out that while this might benefit the southern provision merchants it would be disadvantageous to the nation as a whole.
The considerable fishing activity off the south coast depended less on the exportable herring and more on the home market. The Nymph Bank lying off counties Cork and Waterford abounded in cod, ling, skate, bream and whiting. In the spring there was some whaling off the west coast that attracted Dutch and Danish whalers - including some from Greenland - as well as British and Irish fishermen. Young attributed the invention of the gun-harpoon to Thomas Nesbitt of Kilmacrenan. At the same time Irish fishermen from the south were fishing off Newfoundland. The men often travelled to and fro for some seasons before bringing their wives over and settling there.
Oysters and shellfish were very popular, particularly on the Dublin market. Traditionally the capital was supplied with oysters from Carlingford Lough - 'fresh Carlingford oysters' was one of the street cries of Dublin - but in the mid-eighteenth century oyster beds were being cultivated at Sutton and Clontarf, while Pococke, visiting Lough Conn, noted in 1752 that 'they have a bed of small oysters here which at spring tides is left by the sea, and the people go and pick 'em up, pickle 'em and send them to Dublin. They sell them there for a penny a hundred and on the bank they load a horse for 4d.'
Fish was preserved for the Dublin or overseas market in a variety of ways. The scarcity of wood also created problems in smoke-curing fish. The fishing was done by the men but, as Wakefield noted at Kinsale, women prepared and cured the catch. In Kilkenny fresh salmon was prepared for the Dublin market by parboiling or 'setting' it. Nevertheless, given marketing conditions and the short lifespan of fresh fish, especially shellfish, food poisoning must have been common.
Smuggling, Quarantine and Wrecking
Mercantilist regulations inevitably encouraged smuggling, but its illegality precludes any accurate assessment of its extent. Undoubtedly, as the statutes show, it was a problem, but it is debatable whether it was as serious as was alleged, or whether it was any worse in Ireland than in the other British possessions. Although the best profits for smugglers lay in the more moneyed economy of the east of Ireland and in particular in the area around Dublin, many parts of the indented Irish coast lent themselves to smuggling. The three principal commodities in this illicit market were spirits, tobacco and tea, but from time to time there was some variation in demand for specific goods and the quantities of them. Apprehending smugglers was often a difficult and dangerous activity. They were ruthless individuals, frequently with a degree of social acceptability in the neighbourhood where they operated.
Until 1765, when it was acquired by the British government for £70,000, the great smuggling entrepôt in the Irish sea was the Isle of Man. An independent possession of the Duke of Athol, the Isle of Man levied its own extremely low customs duties to encourage this entrepôt trade. In an effort to prevent it, parliament in 1725 (12 Geo. I, c. 2) threatened forfeiture of goods and a fine of treble their value against spirits and tobacco that 'are secretly imported into this kingdom in small ships and vessels or boats under the burthen of twenty tons from the Isle of Man'. In 1788 Lord Lieutenant Buckingham commented to the Home Secretary, Lord Sydney, on a bill aimed at discouraging tobacco smuggling in which 'the liberty of importing tobacco into the port of Londonderry is taken away from the first day of March 1789 on account of the enormous smuggling committed by the inhabitants of that district'.
In 1743, the Bordeaux merchant John Black wrote to his brother Robert Black, a merchant in Portugal, about his 'son Robert your godson; he is now these several years in partnership with a very worthy man Mr David Rosse at Douglas, Isle of Man, where I assure you they are making a little fortune with the brandy, rum, wine and tea trade'. This was a very convenient trade, as the family firm in Bordeaux could consign goods legitimately to the Isle of Man. From there it was a short run to either England or Ireland. The real nature of Rosse, Black and Christian's business is indicated by the fact that in 1765, after the British government closed the Isle of Man loophole, Robert hastened to wind up his business. By 1766 his father and brothers were preparing for his return to Belfast. Family connections were important in all aspects of business, and Black's earlier correspondence with his brother gives many sidelights on methods used to circumvent customs regulations. For instance, in November 1740 he wrote that 'the sherry adventure is well arrived in Leith and with some difficulty received to an entry and a profitable trade.' Choosing the right port to present 'sham certificates' required skill, and in February 1741 John Black suggested that next season London should be avoided for the entry of Spanish goods sent via Portugal to take advantage of the Anglo-Portuguese trade treaty.
After 1765, when the Isle of Man lost its advantages, direct trade with the continent was resumed. The Isle of Man's position in the contraband trade was partly inherited by the Channel island of Guernsey. Roscoff in Brittany was another popular source of supplies, but this involved a longer run into Ireland where the small port of Rush in Co. Dublin, with its proximity to the capital, was a prominent haunt of smugglers. The smugglers' back-cargo was interesting, as it included such unexpected articles as counterfeit money and, as the law of copyright did not exist in Ireland, pirated editions of books.
The variation in the type of smuggler was immense, from the cut-throat brigand to the many generally legitimate traders who engaged in a little smuggling on the side. This mixture of legitimate and illegitimate trading complicated the work of the Revenue officials, many of whom were poorly qualified and worse paid for their often dangerous duties. The strict enforcement of mercantilist policies presented them with an almost impossible task. For example an entry in the eighteenth-century account book of the O'Connells of the Iveragh Peninsula, Co. Kerry reads: 'To ---, the boatman who came here seeking a prey 5s 5d'. The O'Connells were partners in a small business trading in Nantes. They were noted smugglers for, as one of them later recorded, 'their faith, their education and their wine were equally contraband.' Smuggling was widespread in this area. Many members of the Co. Kerry grand jury were from time to time involved in similar activities. In 1737 it was reported that at Galway, where the city gates were still locked at night, 'the smugglers made use of picklocks to open the Gates of the Garrison whenever they pleased in the night time, by bribing the Centrys [sic]; and by that means conveyed in or out, what uncustomed goods they thought proper.' These had included 50 tons of wool which was taken from Roundstone to France in a large Dutch-built ship.
Early in the eighteenth century there was a smuggling trade in raw wool. Irish wool was in demand for blending with grades grown in France and elsewhere. However, by the middle of the century rising demand from England had led to a relaxation in restrictions and a secure and elastic market with the English wool merchants. On one occasion early in the century, the Co. Cork Revenue officials had intercepted a cargo near Clonakilty and Speaker Boyle, the local landlord, was offered this untimely seizure as an excuse for rent arrears among his tenants in the town of Clonakilty! Smugglers often had exchange facilities. For example, in 1784 Arthur Annesley instructed his agent John Moore to arrange to transfer his rents through a bill of exchange that he had given to Jameson, one of his tenants, who, it transpired, was a smuggler, as Annesley was informed that 'there were 321 casks of brandy taken out of a dunghill in his yard by the Revenue officers lately.' Among European nations smuggling was almost universal in the eighteenth century. Each nation sought to establish an exclusive trade zone and thereby tempted other nations to break into it.
However, a serious consideration (17 Geo. II, c. 12) was the breaking of quarantine regulations that inevitably accompanied smuggling. In 1728 ships coming from Greece and the Greek Islands were placed under a 40-day quarantine as suspected carriers of plague, and there were numerous similar incidents throughout the century. One of the last statutes of the Irish parliament, 40 Geo. III, c. 79, stated that:
It is notorious that notwithstanding the many good laws made to prevent the clandestine importation of customable and prohibited goods and merchandises, a pernicious trade of that kind is still carried on in open boats or vessels of small burden, which privately put into creeks and secret places on the coast ... which practice may prove highly detrimental to the safety of this kingdom during a time of infection.
Another illegality was the practice of wrecking for profit. The variety of coastal cliffs is shown in Co. Antrim, where within a few miles there are the basalt headlands at Fair Head, the hexagonal columns of the Giant's Causeway, and the limestone cliffs at Portrush. It was off this coast that the Gerona, commanded by Alonzo da Levya and carrying the sons of the leading Spanish nobility, foundered in the storms that completed the destruction of the Armada in 1588.
Much of the Irish coast is very treacherous and in the eighteenth century the Irish parliament passed repeated statutes against looting and wrecking. For instance, in 1783 (23 & 24 Geo. III, c. 48), 'an act for the amendment of the law in relation to the danger of perishing at sea' declared that 'many wicked enormities have been committed to the ... grievous damage of merchants and mariners of our own and other countries', and reiterating that it was a capital offence to 'put out any false lights with intention to bring any ship or vessel into danger'.
In the 1730s wrecking was taking place in counties as far apart and as various as Down and Kerry,where, on 7 November 1730, the Danish East India Company's ship Golden Lyon was stranded near the residence of Thomas Crosbie (0538), MP for Dingle. The ship was insured in Denmark, and while the formalities were being resolved, Crosbie, assisted by the armed forces stationed at Dingle and Tralee, took charge of it and its cargo. On 4 June 1731 Crosbie died, and 'about twelve or one in the night a number of men broke into the house ... where the money chests were kept, wounded three of the Danes and carry'd the Chests off.' The Danish East India Company advertised a reward of one-tenth of the treasure, estimated at £9,287 6s, for its recovery and the conviction of those involved. About ten of the robbers were eventually caught and brought before the assize court, but not before they had sold a quantity of the silver, part in coin and part in wedges, for £30 to a Limerick goldsmith. In 1739 Robert Ward wrote to Judge Ward that the inclement weather had prevented him from investigating a Co. Down shipwreck, adding 'but I have made a small progress in relation to the Kilchief wreck'; he goes on to list the goods from it found in the cabins of various tenants.
The prevention of marine crime was very much in the interests of the Irish merchants so that Ireland should be a safe place for ships to call. This was particularly true for the Cork provision merchants. But, in 1722 when the St Peter of Polequin sailed from Cork to Nantes, 'there sailed in her one Philip Roche, Pierce Cullen, Andrew Cullen and Richard Neall as passengers who made themselves master of the crew not without suspicion of murthering them.' The success of the authorities against this deep-rooted tradition of marine lawlessness was limited. At the end of the century De Latocnaye describes it as still prevalent in the notoriously lawless district of Eyre Connacht, Co. Galway, and at the beginning of the nineteenth century Lord Downshire's agent was trying to restrain the inhabitants of Dundrum Bay from plundering ships wrecked off the Co. Down coast.
In wartime the threat of invasion was compounded by the danger from former smugglers turned privateers prowling in the Irish Sea. Invasion was always feared, especially during the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745. This did not occur on either occasion. Nevertheless, Ireland was invaded twice in the course of the century. In 1760 Thurot captured Carrickfergus, which he found 'totally unguarded and unprovided ... the walls were ruinous and in many places incomplete'. After demanding a ransom from Belfast he put to sea with the Mayor of Carrickfergus and three of the principal inhabitants. Shortly after he was captured by the British navy. The other occasion was Humbert's invasion of Mayo in 1798. From their peacetime careers as smugglers, many privateers knew the coast extremely well. Some, in the early wars of the century, were Irishmen exiled after 1692. During the American war John Paul Jones, who had been born in Kirkcudbright and apprenticed to a merchant in Whitehaven, returned to wreck havoc and fear on coasts he knew from childhood.