Coal and iron
The lack of mineral resources (few coal mines and iron ore in little quantity and of inferior quality) combined with the lack of wood due to deforestation deprived Ireland of the raw material which had formed the basis of the Industrial Revolution in England. The emigration of workers to the North American colonies reduced the qualified workforce available. Small artisan forges worked iron imported from England and Russia, manufacturing low value items (nails, agricultural tools).
Stimulating Irish national production
A frequent recommendation is the setting up Irish manufacturing which could provide for domestic demand and replace the costly imports of glass, paper, pottery, forged tools. Jonathan SWIFT wrote several factual or satirical pamphlets denouncing imports and encouraging national production (doc. A). The letter addressed to the Dublin Society in 1739 on this subject bears the inscription : ” This Pamphlet is Printed on Irish Paper” (doc. B).
Stifled wool production
The restrictions placed on trade (Navigation Acts, customs dues) led to the emergence of a clandestine trade, notably exporting wool, but that did not make up for the lack of commerce, according to the anonymous HIBERNO BRITANNUS (doc. C, p. 8-9 ; See also SWIFT). Whilst wool production declined in consequence, the development of the linen industry in the north-east of the island seemed promising: « In this Country, tho’ we labour under many disadvantages in point of trade, and are restrained in many of the branches of it; yet one avenue is left open to us, which, if carefully pursued, cannot fail to make us a flourishing, rich and happy People! This is the Linen Manufacture…” (doc. D, p. 1).
Linen – saving the drapier
As for agriculture and cereals, subsidies were suggested to encourage linen production (1749). Flax was spun by women in the countryside and bought by the weavers. Hand-woven linen, produced in the pre-industrial mode, was sold by the hand-weavers in the market place. Industrial production in factories was introduced quite late and only for unbleached linen (doc. E, p. 56-57).
The market was regulated by detailed legislation, from the buying of raw material to the sale of the finished product controlled and sealed with wax & seal by the linen master, a public official, in the tradition of English protectionism. These practices were criticized by the drapiers, sometimes in verse (doc. F, p. 6-7, l. 95-104), railing against the regulations imposed on the width and length of the finished pieces of linen, and drawing a general political conclusion in the vein of Swift concerning the lack of liberty :
We Drapers too, who’re monied Men,
Shou’d be supreme and sovereign,
And not be made subordinate
To every petty Court o’ the State,
And have no Power, when we measure,
To make webs short, or long, at Pleasure;
Have our Proceedings disallow’d
By every Fellow in the Croud,
And have no Liberty, nor Shift,
To help ourselves at a dead list.