Suppression of Irish Trade by England
written in 1921 by Seumas MacManus

THE systematic ruthlessness with which Ireland's trade and industries were wiped out by England, has, like the Irish Penal Laws, no parallel in the history of any other subject land. We shall briefly summarise the extraordinary story.
In the early centuries of the Christian Era the highly civilised Celt was slightly inclined to trade and commerce - probably stimulated thereto by the Phoenicians who carried on a large commercial intercourse with Ireland. The early Irish were famous for their excellence in the arts and crafts particularly for their wonderful work in metals, bronze, silver and gold. Ten hundred hills and bogs in Ireland constantly yield up testimony to this - even if we discarded the testimony of history, story and poem.

By the beginning of the I4th Century, the trade of Ireland with the Continent of Europe was important - and trading ships were constantly sailing between Ireland and the leading ports of the Continent. Irish merchants were known in the great Continental markets. And Irish money commanded credit.
This condition of things naturally did not suit commercial England. So at an early period she began to stifle Irish industry and trade.
In I339 England appointed an admiral whose duty was to stop traffic between Ireland and the Continent (34 Edward III, C. I7). He must have been but indifferently successful; for a little more than a century later, Edward the Fourth deplores the prosperity of Ireland's trade, and he orders (in 1465 ) that since fishing vessels from the Continent helped out the traffic with Ireland, these vessels should not henceforth fish in Irish waters without an English permit (5 Edwd. IV).
And since even this failed to stop the stubborn Irish, in 1494 an English law was enacted prohibiting the Irish from exporting any industrial product, except with English permit, and through an English port, after paying English fees.

This handicap, too, failed. For, we find English merchants in 1548, unofficially taking a hand at trying to end the traffic - by fitting out armed vessels to attack and plunder the trading ships between Ireland and the Continent - commercialised piracy. But official piracy had to be fallen back upon. Twenty years after, Elizabeth ordered the seizure of the whole Continental commerce of Munster - much more than half of the trade of the Island - and a fleet under Admiral Winter was despatched to do the good work. In I571 she ordered that no cloth or stuff made in Ireland, should be exported even to England, except by English men in Ireland, or by merchants approved by the Government. (Nearly thirty years before, her much married father, Henry, had forbidden Irish cloths to be exported from Galway.)
And Irish trade was attacked from yet another angle. At the same time that the pirate admiral was appointed by Edward III, Irish coinage was forbidden to be received in England. However, Irish merchants and Irish money had such worthy repute that not only did they still succeed with it on the Continent, but, one hundred years later, Irish coinage had to be prohibited again in England. That was in I447.

In I477, after imprisoning some Irish merchants who traded with Irish money in Bristol, the English Government adopted a radical reform by introducing into Ireland an English coinage debased twenty-five per cent below the English standard, and compelled Ireland to accept it as her legal currency.
This accomplished two good objects. English merchants bought in Ireland by the cheap standard and sold these purchases abroad by the dear standard. Also England was enabled to pay her army in Ireland with cheap Irish coin. When Ireland's merchants refused to honour at its face value the debased coinage tendered by the soldiers, an Act was passed (in I547) making such refusal treason.
By reason of their big Continental trade the shipping industry had in itself become an important one to Irishmen. Hence it was advisable to extinguish it. The Navigation Act of 1637 provided that all ships must clear from English ports for foreign trade. But as this did not sufficiently discourage Ireland, the Act was amended, in 1663 (15 Charles 11, c. 7), to prohibit the use of all foreign-going ships, except such as were built in England, mastered and three-fourths manned by English, and cleared from English ports. Their return cargoes too must be unladen in England.(1)
1. "The conveniency of ports and harbours with which nature had blessed Ireland was of no more use than a beautiful prospect to a man shut up in a dungeon.' -Swift.

Ireland's ship-building industry was thus destroyed, and her Continental trade was practically wiped out.
Yet, Ireland, ever persevering, began, even under such heavy restriction, to develop a lucrative trade with the Colonies. This was cured in 1670 by 22 Charles 11, C. 26, which forbade Ireland to export to the Colonies anything except horses, servants, and victuals!
Then Ireland fell back upon the little profits to be derived from imports from the Colonies. And England, observing this, put a bush in the gap (7 & 8 Wm. 11, C. 22) decreeing that no Colonial products should be landed in Ireland till they had first been landed in England and paid all English rates and duties. "Thus," says Newenham, "was Ireland deprived of the direct lucrative trade of the whole western world."
But England must get credit for repentance. By 4 Geo. II, c. 15, Ireland was permitted to import directly from the Plantations all goods, etc., of the growth, production or manufacture of the said Plantations, except sugar, tobacco, indigo, cotton, wool, molasses, ginger, pitch, turpentine, tar, rice, and nine or ten other specified items which, stripped of its facetious verbiage, just means that she was permitted to import West Indian rum, thus aiding the planters and rum makers of the West Indies, at the expense of Irish farmers, distillers, and constitutions.
The foregoing will seem to many readers a good English joke. But from constant reiteration through the centuries these English jokes proved rather wearing on Ireland's health.

The woollen joke was not the least trying.
At a very early period Ireland had been forbidden to export her cattle to England, and then, turning to sheep-raising, was, by 8 Eliz. c. 8, forbidden to export sheep. She next essayed woollen manufactures.
This quickly became a great Irish industry. In the Continental markets, and even in the British, Irish woollens were in brisk demand. Consequently this trade should be stopped. Though, as usual, it took a long time to convince the pig-headed people who inhabited Ireland that it was for their benefit to stop it. The good work was, for the good step-mother, a tedious and thankless task. But with praiseworthy perseverance, she persisted till her good end was accomplished.

The Irish woollen manufacturers began, at an early period, to rival England's. So, in 1571 Elizabeth imposed restriction upon the Irish woollen trade that crippled the large Irish, trade with the Netherlands and other parts of the Continent. Yet half a century later Lord Strafford, then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, begs for a little more discouragement. In 1634, he writes to Charles the First, "That all wisdom advises to keep this (Irish) kingdom as much subordinate and dependent on England as possible; and, holding them from the manufacture of wool (which unless otherwise directed, 1 shall by all means discourage), and then enforcing them to fetch their cloth from England, how can they depart from us without nakedness and beggary?" (Strafford's Letters.)
But it was not until 166o that was taken the radical step of forbidding by law the export of woollens from Ireland to England. When this blow fell the Irish resorted to exportation of their raw wool. This was stopped by I 2 Charles II, c. 32, and 13 and I4 Charles 11, C. 18 - which Acts prohibited Ireland from exporting sheep-wool, wool-fells, mortlings, shortlings, yarn made of wool and wool-flocks. The Acts were thorough.
In 1673, Sir William Temple (by request of Viceroy Essex) advised that the Irish would act wisely in giving up altogether the manufacture of wool (even for home use), because "it tended to interfere prejudicially with the English woollen trade."(2)
2. This is the same English statesman who pithily put the maxim which England has always observed in protecting Ireland, and fostering Irish welfare - "Regard must be had to those points wherein the trade of Ireland comes to interfere with that of England, in which case Irish trade ought to be declined so as to give way to the trade of England."

Now Ireland was almost completely cured of the bad habit of exporting both woollens and wool - almost. But a trace of the habit still lingered. While the British Colonies (possibly by oversight) had been left open to her, she continued exporting to them. This needed attention. So, in 1697 an act was introduced to prohibit Ireland from sending out any of her woollen manufactures to any place, whatsoever!(3)
But it was very soon found that even this Act was incomplete. It inadvertently left the Irish market open to the Irish wool manufacturers - which market must, of course, or ought to be the private property of the English manufacturers. The mistake must be remedied. So on June 9th, 1698, both English Houses of Parliament addressed King William beseeching him to chide his Irish subjects for that - in the language of the Lords - "The growth of the woollen manufactures there hath long been, and ever will be, looked upon with great jealousy by all your subjects of this kingdom, and if not timely remedied may occasion very strict laws totally to prohibit and suppress same." The impending punishment for continued wilfulness on the part of the naughty Irish child was going to give the noble lords more pain than it would the child, which was being punished for its own good.

3. Swift said: "Ireland is the onlv kingdom I ever heard or read of either in ancient or modern story, which was denied the liberty of exporting its native manufactures and commodities wherever it pleased."
And the Commons in the course of their address say, "And therefore we cannot without trouble observe that Ireland, which is dependent on, and protected by, Enqland, in the enjoyment of all they have, should of late apply itself to the woollen manufacture, to the great prejudice of the trade of this kingdom . . . make it your royal care, and enjoin all those whom you employ in Ireland to make it their care, and to use their utmost diligence, for discouraging the woollen manufacture of Ireland." And in token of their solicitude for the country which was "dependent on, and protected by England in the enjoyment of all they have," it was suggested that Irishmen should turn from woollens to hemp and linen - which England had little means of making - and which, more betoken, Ireland had then less means of making.
King William answered his faithful Lords and Commons, "I shall do all that in my power lies to discourage the manufacture of woollens in Ireland." And the king was this time as good as his word (despite the slanders of Limerick men). In this year of 1698 he signed an Act to the effect that because these manufactures are daily increasing in Ireland (disastrous to relate!), the exports of wool and woollen manufactured articles from Ireland are hereby forbidden under pain of forfeiture of the goods and ships that carried them, and five hundred pounds fine!

It is worth remembering that though the mere Irish in Ireland were the workers, earning a subsistence at the trade, it was almost entirely the Anglo-lrish, the purely British-blooded people of the Island, who were the manufacturers-the only monied people in the country - and traders. They, having had the misfortune to be born and bred in Ireland, were penalised and striven to be crushed out by their own kin beyond the Irish Sea. That they richly deserved, however, to be throttled and robbed, is proven by the fact that they, servile creatures, acting at the behest of William and their kin beyond the water did, in September, 1698, actually pass in their own House of Parliament (from which the real Irish were carefully excluded) an act laying prohibitory duty (four shillings in the pound) on their own woollen manufactures-"the better to enable His Majesty," said they, "to provide for the safety of his own liege people!" (4)
4. In this connection it is worth comparing the spinelessness of the Anglo-Irish in 1698 with the spinefulness of their cousins in Amer,ca, three quarters of a century later.

Except for a few little items such as coverlids and waddings which were overlooked in the act of William the Third - but carefully attended to by his successors - the great Irish woollen manufacture was now extinguished forever. But to make assurance doubly sure, by 5 Geo. II, c11 three ships of war and eight or more armed vessels were appointed to cruise off the coast of Ireland with orders to seize all vessels venturing to carry woollens from Ireland.
The Irish woollen joke was now, at last, concluded. "So ended," says Lecky, "the fairest promise that Ireland had ever known of becoming a prosperous and a happy country. The ruin was absolute and final."

For a long time after this destruction of one of the country's chief supports, the economic conditions in Ireland were fearful. Swift, who had stated that "since Scripture says oppression makes a wise man mad, therefore, consequently speaking, the reason that some men in Ireland are still not mad is because they are not wise" - Swift thus describes the pass to which the country was now brought - "The old and sick are dying and rotting by cold and famine, and filth and vermin. The younger labourers cannot get work, and pine away for want of nourishment to such a degree that if at any time they are accidentally hired to commence labour, they have not the strength to perform it."

When William took from Ireland its woollen manufactures, he promised to compensate by encouraging in its stead hemp and linen. And his Lords justice in their address to the Irish Houses of Parliament, Sept. 27, 1698, after suavely requesting the country to commit felo de se by resigning the woollen manufacture, said: "Amongst these bills there is one for the encouragement of the linen and hemp manufactures which we recommend to you. The settlement of those manufactures will contribute much to the people of this country, and will be found much more advantageous to this kingdom than the woollen manufacture, which, being the staple trade of England, from whence all foreign markets are supplied, can never be encouraged here for that purpose: whereas, the linen and hempen manufactures will not only be encouraged as consistent with the trade of England, but will render the trade of this kingdom both useful and necessary to England.

Now to see how the promises of William and his Lords Justice were kept. " First, the Irish linen manufacture."
In I705 it was enacted that only the coarsest kinds of undyed Irish linen should be admitted to the British Colonies. Checked, striped and dyed Irish linens were excluded. Besides, no Colonial goods could be brought in return. And Irish linens of every kind were forbidden to be exported to all other countries with the exception of Britain. There a thirty per cent duty met it with a laugh, and turned it home again. And, to the British linen manufacturers a bounty was granted on all linen exports!
But English attention followed and sought out the Irish linen trade even within the four seas of Ireland. When Crommelin, the Huguenot, who had helped to build up the linen trade in Ulster, tried to bring the manufacture into Leinster, the fiercest English opposition blazed up.
Edmund Burke excoriated the English Government for its gross breach of faith. And the poor, servile, Anglo-lrish Parliament in 1774, addressing the Lord Lieutenant Harwood on the subject of the linen ruin, said, "The result is the ruin of Ulster and the flight of the Protestant population to America." So, it was the ruin of the linen trade by England who "protected them in the enjoyment of all they have" which helped to give to America her so-called Scotch-Irish population
Next, the promised help to the hempen manufacture. Although no Act came to their aid, the Irish went ahead with the hemp as well as with the linen, and soon developed a considerable trade in the export of sail-cloth to Britain. Then came the long promised aid. By 23 Geo. II, C. 33, there was a heavy import duty placed upon sail-cloth shipped to Britain. And to pursue the beast to its lair, very soon after British manufacturers were granted a bounty on sail - cloth exported from Britain to Ireland!
The British had given to the Irish the linen and hempen manufactures to play with, while they were carrying off their woollen trade. And when the woollen was safely got away from them, they were politely requested to hand over the linen and hempen manufactures also.

Ireland tried its hand at manufacturing cotton. England met this move with a twenty-five per cent duty upon Irish cotton imported into England. And next (in the reign of Geo.1) forbade the inhabitants of Great Britain to wear any cotton other than of British manufacture. So the cotton comedy was ended before it was well begun.
From an early period, as before mentioned, the Irish had a large trade in the export of cattle to England. This was soon prohibited. But when England felt need for Irish cattle, they were admitted once more. In 1665 Irish cattle were no longer welcome, and an Act of Parliament in that year put a heavy import duty on black cattle and sheep.

The resourceful Irish then began killing their cattle and exporting the dead meat to England. Their equally resourceful protectors countered with a law ( 18 Chas. 11, C2 ) henceforth a common nuisance, and forbidden. And to leave no little hole without a peg - they added pork and bacon for good measure.
But the contrary Irish ferreted out a hole to get through. They developed dairying, and began exporting butter and cheese from Ireland. Their exasperated protectors had to go to the trouble of amending the prohibition laws - adding butter and cheese to the items which the Irish were invited to keep at home.
When both their live cattle, their dead cattle and all the products of cattle were shut out from Britain the Irish again fell back upon curing the killed meat, and exporting it to the Continent. They soon developed a highly profitable trade in this line. "And," says Newenham, "Ireland became the principal country from which butchers' meat was exported." At the instigation of the English contractors, then, the English Parliament began laying embargo on the exportation of Irish provisions, on pretence of preventing the enemies of Britain from being supplied therewith! And the trade in salted provisions was no more.'

5 The Irish next killed their cattle and horses for their hides, and began what soon proved to be a prosperous trade in leather-which was in demand not only in England, but on the Continent of Europe. And their vigilant English masters soon came along with another prohibition bill, which put an end to that business. Before quitting the cattle drive, however, it is only fair to say that one of England's most representative commercial writers of the early eighteenth century, Davenant, pleaded that England should permit Ireland to resume the cattle trade - because it would hold the Irish from manufactures!

In the middle of the eighteenth century Ireland, developing an important silk weaving industry, began to disturb the dreams of English silk weavers. So Britain, which imposed a heavy dutv on Irish silk imported into England, politely requested the Irish Parliament to admit British manufactured silk into Ireland free! What is more, the despicable Anglo-lrish Parliament complied. Within the next generation the number of silk looms at work in Ireland was reduced from eight hundred to twenty. "And," says Newenham, "three thousand persons were thereby driven to beggary or emigration."

Ireland attempted to develop her tobacco industry. But a law against its growth was passed in the first year of the reign of Charles the Second. And again, in 183I, under William the Fourth, it was enacted that any person found in possession of Irish-grown tobacco should suffer a heavy penalty. The tobacco trade was tenderly shown out.

In the latter part of the eighteenth century Ireland began not only making her own glass, but also making glass for export: and Irish glass was gaining a name. Then by 4 Geo. 11, c. 15, the Irish were forbidden to export glass to any country whatsoever under penalty of forfeiting ship, cargo, and ten shillings per pound weight of cargo. And it was forbidden to import any glass other than that of English manufacture.

Four and five centuries ago and upward, the Irish fisheries were the second in importance in Europe. Under careful English nursing they were, a century and a half ago, brought to the vanishing point. Then the independent Irish Parliament at the end of the eighteenth century saved them. It subsidised and revived the Irish fisheries - till they were rivalling the British. A few years after the Union, in 1819, England withdrew the subsidy from the Irish fisheries - at the same time confirming and augmenting the subsidies and grants to the British fishermen - with the result that, notwithstanding Ireland's possession of the longest coastline of almost any European country, it is now possessed of the most miserable fisheries. Where 150,000 Irish fishermen in 27,000 Irish boats worked and thrived at the time that the English Parliament took away the subsidy in 1819, only 20,000 Irish people get a wretched support from Irish fisheries to-day. The British fisheries, four centuries ago, about equalled the Irish. The fisheries of Britain to-day are valued at £9,000,000 annually. The fisheries of Ireland are worth £300,000. The Irish fish were, with typical British solicitude, protected into the British net.

Here have been set down only the principal Acts and devices for the suppression of Irish manufactures and Irish industries, but yet sufficient to show how England protected her beloved Irish subjects in the enjoyment of all they have - how Ireland prospered under English Rule in a material way - and how England, in her own step-motherly way, took each toddling Irish industry by the hand, led its childish footsteps to the brink of the bottomless pit, and gave it a push - thus ending its troubles forever.
And thus is explained in part why Ireland, one of the most favoured by nature, and one of the most fertile countries in Europe,(6) is yet one of the poorest. And why it is that, as recent statistics show, ninety-eight per cent of the export trade of the three kingdoms is in the hands of Britain and in Ireland's hands two per cent.
6. Hear the testimony, two-edged, of Carew (sixteenth century) : "Would you had seen the countries we have seen in this our journey, and then you would say you had not seen the like, and think it were much pity the same were not in subjection."
And again: "I never, nor no other man that ever I have communed with, but saith that for all things it is the goodliest land that they have seen, not only for pleasure and pastime of a prince, but as well for profit to his Grace and to the whole realm of England." The final clause is the kernel of the matter.
Even the bitter anti-Irish Froude, in his English in Ireland, is constrained to confess, "England governed Ireland for what she deemed her own interest, making her calculations on the gross balance of her trade ledgers, and leaving her moral obligations aside, as if right and wrong had been blotted out of the statute book of the Universe."
Says Lecky, "It would be difficult in the whole range of history, to find another instance in which various and powerful agencies agreed to degrade the character, and blast the prosperity of a nation."
And here endeth what may be considered by those who know not England's way with Ireland an amazing chapter - but quite commonplace to those who have a bowing acquaintance with Irish history.

A very worthy and indeed appropriate piece of damning satire written in 1921 by Seumas MacManus.