The early Irish were famous for their excellence in arts and crafts, especially for their wonderful work in metals, bronze, silver and gold. By the beginning of the 14th century trading ships were constantly sailing between Ireland and the leading ports of the Continent.
COMPETITION WITH ENGLAND.
This commerce was a threat to English merchants who tried to discourage such trade. They brought pressure on their government, which passed a law in 1494 that prohibited the Irish from exporting any industrial product, unless it was shipped through an English port, with an English permit after paying English fees. However, England was not able to enforce the law. By 1548 British merchants were using armed vessels to attack and plunder trading ships travelling between Ireland and the Continent (unofficial piracy).
ENGLISH MEN, ENGLISH SHIPS, ENGLISH CREWS, ENGLISH PORTS AND IRISH GOODS.
In 1571 Queen Elizabeth ordered that no cloth or materials made in Ireland could be exported, even to England, except by English men in Ireland. The act was amended in 1663 to prohibit the use of all foreign-going ships, except those that were built in England, mastered and three-fourths manned by English, and cleared from English ports. The return cargoes had to be unloaded in England. Ireland’s shipbuilding industry was thus destroyed and her trade with the Continent wiped out.
TRADE WITH ‘THE COLONIES’.
Ireland then began a lucrative trade with ‘the Colonies’. That was “cured” in 1670 by a new law which forbade Ireland to export to ‘the colonies’ “anything except horses, servants, and victuals.” England followed with a decree that no Colonial products could be landed in Ireland until they had first landed in England and paid all English rates and duties.
Ireland was forbidden to engage in trade with ‘the colonies’ and plantations of the New World if it involved sugar, tobacco, cotton, wool, rice, and numerous other items. The only item left for Ireland to import was rum. The English wanted to help English rum makers in the West Indies at the expense of Irish farmers and distillers.
IRISH WOOL TRADE CURTAILED, THEN DESTROYED.
When the Irish were forbidden to export their sheep, they began a thriving trade in wool. In 1634 The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Stafford, wrote to King Charles I: “All wisdom advises us to keep this (Irish) kingdom as much subordinate and dependent on England as possible; and, holding them from manufacture of wool (which unless otherwise directed, I 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?”
In 1660 even the export of wool from Ireland to England was forbidden. Other English laws prohibited all exports of Irish wool in any form. In 1673, Sir William Temple advised that the Irish would act wisely by giving up the manufacture of wool even for home use, because “it tended to interfere prejudicially with the English woolen trade.”
George II sent three warships and eight other armed vessels to cruise off the coast of Ireland to seize all vessels carrying woolens from Ireland. “So ended the fairest promise that Ireland had ever known of becoming a prosperous and a happy country.”
LINEN TRADE REPRESSED.
Irish linen manufacturing met with the same fate when the Irish were forbidden to export their product to all other countries except England. A thirty percent duty was levied in England, effectively prohibiting the trade. English manufacturers, on the other hand, were granted a bounty for all linen exports.
BEEF, PORK, BUTTER AND CHEESE.
In 1665 Irish cattle were no longer welcome in England, so the Irish began killing them and exporting the meat. King Charles II declared that the importation of cattle, sheep, swine and beef from Ireland was henceforth a common nuisance, and forbidden. Pork and bacon were soon prohibited, followed by butter and cheese.
SILK AND TOBACCO.
In the middle of the 18th century, Ireland began developing a silk weaving industry. Britain imposed a heavy duty on Irish silk, but British manufactured silk was admitted to Ireland duty-free. Ireland attempted to develop her tobacco industry, but that too was prohibited.
In 1819 England withdrew the subsidy for Irish fisheries and increased the subsidies to British fishermen – with the result that Ireland’s possession of one of the longest coastlines in Europe, still left it with one of the most miserable fisheries.
Late in the 18th century the Irish became known for their manufacture of glass. George II forbade the Irish to export glass to any country whatsoever under penalty of forfeiting ship, cargo and ten shillings per pound weight.
By 1839, a French visitor to Ireland, Gustave de Beaumont, was able to write:
“In all countries, more or less, paupers may be discovered; but an entire nation of paupers is what was never seen until it was shown in Ireland. To explain the social condition of such a country, it would be only necessary to recount its miseries and its sufferings; the history of the poor is the history of Ireland.”
From the 15th through the 19th centuries, successive English monarchies and governments enacted laws designed to suppress and destroy Irish manufacturing and trade. These repressive Acts, coupled with the Penal Laws, reduced the Irish people to “nakedness and beggary” in a very direct and purposeful way. The destitute Irish then stood at the very brink of the bottomless pit. When the potato blight struck in 1845, it was but time for the final push….
Please help us to push back – your support would be greatly appreciated.