While the Irish were excluded from English law and intercourse, England imposed no restrictions on our trade. The Pale spent its time tilling and fighting, and it was more sure of its bellyful of blows than of bread. It had nothing to sell; why tax its trade? The slight commerce of Dublin was needful to the comforts of the Norman Court in Dublin Castle. Why should it be taxed? The market of Kilkenny was guarded by the spears of the Butlers, and from Sligo to Cork the chiefs and towns of Munster and Connaught—the Burkes, O’Loghlens, O’Sullivans, Galway, Dingle, and Dunboy—carried on a trade with Spain, and piracy of war against England. How could they be taxed?
Commercial taxes, too, in those days were hard to be enforced, and more resembled toll to a robber than contribution to the state. Every great river and pass in Europe, from the Rhine and the Alps to Berwick and the Blackwater, was affectionately watched by royal and noble castles at their narrowest points, and the barge anchored and the caravan halted to be robbed, or, as the receivers called it, to be taxed.
At last the Pale was stretched round Ireland by art and force. Solitude and peace were in our plains; but the armed colonist settled in it, and the native came down from his hills as a tenant or a squatter, and a kind of prosperity arose.
Protestant and Catholic, native and colonist, had the same interest—namely, to turn this waste into a garden. They had not, nor could they have had, other things to export than Sydney or Canada have now—cattle, butter, hides, and wool. They had hardly corn enough for themselves; but pasture was plenty, and cows and their hides, sheep and their fleeces, were equally so. The natives had always been obliged to prepare their own clothing, and therefore every creaght and digger knew how to dress wool and skins, and they had found out, or preserved from a more civilised time, dyes which, to this day, are superior to any others. Small quantities of woollen goods were exported, but our assertion holds good that in our war-times there was no manufacture for export worth naming.
Black Tom Wentworth, the ablest of despots, came here 210 years ago, and found “small beginnings towards a clothing trade.” He at once resolved to discourage it. He wrote so to the king on July 25th, 1636, and he was a man true to his enmities. “But,” said he, “I’ll give them a linen manufacture instead.” Now, the Irish had raised flax and made and dyed linen from time immemorial. The saffron-coloured linen shirt was as national as the cloak and birred; so that Strafford rather introduced the linen manufacture among the new settlers than among the Irish. Certainly he encouraged it, by sending Irishmen to learn in Brabant, and by bringing French and Flemings to work in Ireland.
Charles the Second, doubtless to punish us for our most unwise loyalty to him and his father, assented to a series of Acts prohibiting the export of Irish wool, cattle, etc., to England or her colonies, and prohibiting the direct importation of several colonial products into Ireland. The chief Acts are 12 Charles, c. 4; 15 Charles, c. 7; and 22 and 23 Charles, c. 26. Thus were the value of land in Ireland, the revenue, and trade, and manufactures of Ireland—Protestant and Catholic—stricken by England.
Perhaps we ought to be grateful, though not to England, for these Acts. They plundered our pockets, but they guarded our souls from being anglicised. To France and Spain the produce was sent, and the woollen manufacture continued to increase.
England got alarmed, for Ireland was getting rich. The English lords addressed King William, stating that “the growth and increase of the woollen manufacture in Ireland had long been, and would be ever, looked upon with great jealousy by his English subjects, and praying him, by very strict laws, totally to prohibit and suppress the same.” The Commons said likewise; and William answered comfortably:—”I shall do all that in me lies to discourage the woollen manufacture in Ireland, and to encourage the linen manufacture there, and to promote the trade of England.”
He was as good as his word, and even whipped and humbugged the unfortunate Irish Parliament to pass an Act, putting twenty per cent. duty on broad and ten per cent. on narrow cloths—
“But it did not satisfy the English parliament, where a perpetual law was made, prohibiting from the 20th of June, 1699, the exportation from Ireland of all goods made or mixed with wool, except to England and Wales, and with the licence of the commissioners of the revenue; duties had been before laid on the importation into England equal to a prohibition, therefore this Act has operated as a total prohibition of the exportation.”
There was nothing left but to send the wool raw to England; to smuggle it and cloths to France and Spain, or to leave the land unstocked. The first was worst. The export to England declined, smuggling prospered, “wild geese” for the Brigade and woollen goods were run in exchange for claret, brandy, and silks; but not much land was left waste. Our silks, cottons, malt, beer, and almost every other article was similarly prohibited. Striped linens were taxed thirty per cent., many other kinds of linen were also interfered with, and twenty-four embargoes in nineteen years straitened our foreign provision trade. Thus England kept her pledge of wrath, and broke her promise of service to Ireland.
A vigorous system of smuggling induced her to relax in some points, and the cannon of the Volunteers blew away the code.
By the Union we were so drained of money, and absentee rents and taxes, and of spirit in every way, that she no longer needs a prohibitory code to prevent our competing with her in any market, Irish or foreign. The Union is prohibition enough, and that England says she will maintain.
Whether it be now possible to create home manufactures, in the old sense of the word—that is, manufactures made in the homes of the workers—is doubted.
In favour of such a thing, if it be possible, the arguments are numberless. Such work is a source of ingenuity and enjoyment in the cabin of the peasant; it rather fills up time that would be otherwise idled than takes from other work. Our peasants’ wives and daughters could clothe themselves and their families by the winter night work, even as those of Norway do, if the peasants possessed the little estates that Norway’s peasants do. Clothes manufactured by hand-work are more lasting, comfortable, and handsome, and are more natural and national than factory goods. Besides, there is the strongest of all reasons in this, that the factory system seems everywhere a poison to virtue and happiness.
Some invention, which should bring the might of machinery in a wholesome and cheap form to the cabin, seems the only solution of the difficulty.
The hazards of the factory system, however, should be encountered, were it sure to feed our starving millions; but this is dubious.
A Native Parliament can alone judge or act usefully on this momentous subject. An absentee tax and a resident government, and the progress of public industry and education, would enable an Irish Parliament to create vast manufactures here by protecting duties in the first instance, and to maintain them by our general prosperity, or it could rely on its own adjustment of landed property as sufficient to put the people above the need of hazarding purity or content by embarking in great manufactures.
A peasant proprietary could have wealth enough to import wrought goods, or taste and firmness enough to prefer home-made manufactures.
But these are questions for other years. We wish the reader to take our word for nothing, but to consult the writers on Irish trade:—Laurence’s Interest of Ireland (1682); Browne’s Tracts (1728); Dobbs on “Trade” (1729); Hutchinson’s Commercial Restraints (1779); Sheffield on “Irish Trade” (1785); Wallace on “Irish Trade” (1798); the various “Parliamentary Reports,” and the very able articles on the same subject in the Citizen.
Do not be alarmed at the list, reader; a month’s study would carry you through all but the Reports, and it would be well spent. But if you still shrink, you can ease your conscience by reading Mr. John O’Connell’s Report on “The Commercial Injustices,” just issued by the Repeal Association. It is an elaborate, learned, and most useful tract.