CELT document E800002-014

The Resources of Ireland

Thomas Osborne Davis

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The Resources of Ireland

Bishop Berkeley put, as a query, could the Irish live and prosper if a brazen wall surrounded their island? The question has been often and vaguely replied to.

Dr. Kane1 has at length answered it, and proved the affirmative. Confining himself strictly to the land of our island (for he does not enter on the subjects of fisheries and foreign commerce), he has proved that we possess physical elements for every important art. Not that he sat down to prove this. Taste, duty, industry, and genius prompted and enabled him gradually to acquire a knowledge of the physical products and powers of Ireland, and his mastery of chemical and mechanical science enabled him to see how these could be used.

Thus qualified, he tried, in the lecture-room of the Dublin Society, to communicate his knowledge to the public. He was as successful as any man lecturing on subjects requiring accurate details could be; and now he has given, in the volume before us, all his lectures, and much more. He then is no party pamphleteer, pandering to the national vanity; but a philosopher, who garnered up his knowledge soberly and surely, and now gives us the result of his studies. There was undoubtedly a good deal of information on the subjects treated of by Dr. Kane scattered through our topographical works and parliamentary reports, but that information is, for the most part, vague, unapplied, and not tested by science. Dr. Kane's work is full, clear, scientific, exact in stating places, extent, prices, and every other working detail, and is a manual of the whole subject. p.140 In such interlaced subjects as industrial resources we must be content with practical classifications.

Dr. Kane proceeds in the following order:—First, he considers the mechanical powers of the country—viz., its fuel and its water powers. Secondly, its mineral resources— its iron, copper, lead, sulphur, marble, slates, etc. Thirdly, the agriculture of the country in its first function—the raising of food, and the modes of cropping, manuring, draining, and stacking. Fourthly, agriculture in its secondary use, as furnishing staples for the manufacture of woollens, linens, starch, sugar, spirits, etc. Fifthly, the modes of carrying internal trade by roads, canals, and railways. Sixthly, the cost and condition of skilled and unskilled labour in Ireland. Seventhly, our state as to capital. And he closes by some earnest and profound thoughts on the need of industrial education in Ireland.

Now, let us ask the reader what he knows upon any or all of these subjects; and whether he ought, as a citizen, or a man of education, or a man of business, to be ignorant of them? Such ignorance as exists here must be got rid of, or our cry of “Ireland for the Irish” will be a whine or a brag, and will be despised as it deserves. We must know Ireland from its history to its minerals, from its tillage to its antiquities, before we shall be an Irish nation, able to rescue and keep the country. And if we are too idle, too dull, or too capricious to learn the arts of strength, wealth, and liberty, let us not murmur at being slaves.

For the present we shall confine ourselves to the subjects of the mechanical powers and minerals of Ireland, as treated by Dr. Kane.

The first difference between manufactures now and in any former time is the substitution of machines for the hands of man. It may indeed be questioned whether the increased strength over matter thus given to man compensates for the ill effects of forcing people to work in p.141 crowds; of destroying small and pampering large capitalists, of lessening the distribution of wealth even by the very means which increases its production.

We sincerely lament, with Lord Wharncliffe, the loss of domestic manufactures; we would prefer one housewife skilled in the distaff and the dairy—home-bred, and home-taught, and home-faithful—to a factory full of creatures who live amid the eternal roll, and clash, and glimmer of spindles and rollers, watching with aching eyes the thousand twirls and capable of but one act—tying the broken threads. We abhor that state; we prefer the life of the old times, or of modern Norway.

But, situated as we are, so near a strong enemy, and in the new highway from Europe to America, it may be doubted whether we can retain our simple domestic life. There is but one chance for it. If the Prussian Tenure Code be introduced, and the people turned into small proprietors, there is much, perhaps every, hope of retaining our homestead habits; and such a population need fear no enemy.

If this do not come to pass, we must make the best of our state, join our chief towns with railways, put quays to our harbours, mills on our rivers, turbines on our coasts, and under restrictions and with guarantees set the steam engine to work at our flax, wool, and minerals.

The two great mechanical powers are fire and water. Ireland is nobly endowed with both.

We do not possess as ample fields of flaming coal as Britain; but even of that we have large quantities, which can be raised at about the same rate at which English coal can be landed on our coast.

The chief seats of flaming coal in Ireland are to the west of Lough Allen, in Connaught, and around Dungannon, in Tyrone. There is a small district of it in Antrim.

The stone coal, or anthracite, which, having little gas, does not blaze, and, having much sulphur, is disagreeable  p.142 in a room, and has been thought unfit for smelting, is found —first, in the Kilkenny district, between the Nore and Barrow; secondly, from Freshford to Cashel; and thirdly, in the great Munster coal country, cropping up in every barony of Clare, Limerick, Cork, and Kerry. By the use of vapour with it, the anthracite appears to be freed from all its defects as a smelting and engine coal, and being a much more pure and powerful fuel than the flaming coal, there seems no reason to doubt that in it we have a manufacturing power that would supply us for generations.

Our bogs have not been done justice to. The use of turf in a damp state turns it into an inferior fuel. Dried under cover, or broken up and dried under pressure, it is more economical, because far more efficient. It is used now in the Shannon steamers, and its use is increasing in mills. For some purposes it is peculiarly good—thus, for the finer ironworks, turf and turf-charcoal are even better than wood, and Dr. Kane shows that the precious Baltic iron, for which from £I5 to £35 per ton is given, could be equalled by Irish iron smelted by Irish turf for six guineas per ton.

Dr. Kane proves that the cost of fuel, even if greater in lreland, by no means precludes us from competing with England; he does so by showing that the cost of fuel in English factories is only from 1 to 1 1/2 per cent., while in Ireland it would be only 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 per cent., a difference greatly overbalanced by our cheaper labour—labour being over 33 per cent. of the whole expense of a factory.

Here is the analysis of the cost of producing cotton in England in 1830:—

Cotton wool£8,244,693or per cent. 26.27
Wages£10,419,000or per cent. 33.16
Interest on capital£3,400,000or per cent. 10.84
Coals£339,680or per cent. 1.08
Rent, taxes, insurance, other charges, and profit£8,935,320or per cent. 28.65

In water-power we are still better off. Dr. Kane calculates the rain which falls on Ireland in a year at over 100 billion cubic yards; and of this he supposes two-thirds to pass off in evaporation, leaving one-third, equal to nearly a million and a half of horse-power, to reach the sea. His calculations of the water-power of the Shannon and other rivers are most interesting. The elements, of course, are the observed fall of rain by the gauge in the district, and the area of the catchment (or drainage) basins of each river and its tributaries. The chief objection to water-power is its irregularity. To remedy this he proposes to do what has increased the water-power on the Bann five-fold, and has made the wealth of Greenock—namely, to make mill-lakes by damming up valleys, and thus controlling and equalising the supply of water, and letting none go waste. His calculations of the relative merits of undershot, overshot, breast, and turbine wheels are most valuable, especially of the last, which is a late and successful French contrivance, acting by pressure. He proposes to use the turbine in coast mills, the tide being the motive-power; and, strange as it sounds, the experiments seem to decide in favour of this plan.

‘The turbine was invented by M. Fourneyron. Coals being abundant, the steam engine is invented in England; coals being scarce, the water-pressure engine and the turbine are invented in France. It is thus the physical condition of each country directs its mechanical genius. The turbine is a horizontal wheel furnished with curved float-boards, on which the water presses from a cylinder which is suspended over the wheel, and the base of which is divided by curved partitions, that the water may be directed in issuing, so as to produce upon the curved float-boards of the wheel its greatest effect The best curvature to be given to the fixed partitions and to the floatboards is a delicate problem, but practically it has been completely solved. The construction of the machine is simple, its parts not liable to go out of order; and as the action of the water is by pressure, the force is under the most favourable circumstances for being utilised. [...] The effective economy of the turbine appears to equal that of the overshot wheel. But the economy in the turbine is accompanied by some conditions which render it peculiarly valuable. In a water-wheel you cannot have great economy of power without very slow motion and hence where high velocity is required at the working point, a train of mechanism is necessary, which causes a material loss of force. Now, in the turbine the greatest economy is accompanied by rapid motion, p.144 and hence the connected machinery may be rendered much less complex. In the turbine also a change in the height of the head of water alters only the power of the machine in that proportion, but the whole quantity of water is economised to the same degree. Thus if a turbine be working with a force of ten horses, and that its supply of water be suddenly doubled, it becomes of twenty horse-power; if the supply be reduced to one-half, it still works five horse-power; whilst such sudden and extreme change would altogether disarrange water-wheels which can ouly be constructed for the minimum, and allow the overplus to go to waste.’ (The Industrial Resources of Ireland (1844))

Our own predilection being in favour of water-power— as cheaper, healthier, and more fit for Ireland than steam— gave the following peculiar interest in our eyes:—

‘I have noticed at such length the question of the cost of fuel and of steam power, not from my own opinion of its ultimate importance but that we might at once break down that barrier to all active exertion which indolent ignorance constantly retreats behind. The cry of “What can we do? consider England's coal-mines,” is answered by showing that we have available fuel enough. The lament that coals are so dear with us and so cheap in England, is, I trust, set at rest by the evidence of how little influential the price of fuel is. However, there are other sources of power besides coals; there are other motive-powers than steam. Of the 83,000 horse-power employed to give motion to mills in England, 21,000, even in the coal districts, are not moved by fire, but by water. The force of gravity in falling water can spin and weave as well as the elasticity of steam; and in this power we are not deficient. It is necessary to study its circumstances in detail, and I shall therefore next proceed to discuss the condition of Ireland with regard to water-power.’ (The Industrial Resources of Ireland (1844))

Dr. Kane proves that we have at Arigna an inexhaustible supply of the richest iron ore, with coals to smelt it, lime to flux it, and infusible sand-stone and fire-clay to make furnaces of on the spot. Yet not a pig or bar is made there now. He also gives in great detail the extent, analysis, costs of working, and every other leading fact as to the copper mines of Wicklow, Knockmahon, and Allihies; the lead, gold, and sulphur mines of Wicklow; the silver mines of Ballylichey, and details of the building materials and marbles.

He is everywhere precise in his industrial and scientific statements, and beautifully clear in his style and arrangement.

Why, then, are we a poor province? Dr. Kane quotes p.145 Forbes, Quetelet, etc., to prove the physical strength of our people. He might have quoted every officer who commanded them to prove their courage and endurance; nor is there much doubt expressed even by their enemies of their being quick and inventive. Their soil is productive—the rivers and harbours good—their fishing opportunities great—so is their means of making internal communications across their great central plains. We have immense water and considerable fire power; and, besides the minerals necessary for the arts of peace, we are better supplied than almost any country with the finer sorts of iron, charcoal, and sulphur, wherewith war is now carried on. Why is it, with these means of amassing and guarding wealth, that we are so poor and paltry? Dr. Kane thinks we are so from want of industrial education. He is partly right. The remote causes were repeated foreign invasion, forfeiture, and tyrannous laws. Ignorance, disunion, self-distrust, quick credulity, and caprice were the weaknesses engendered in us by misfortune and misgovernment; and they were then the allies of oppression; for, had we been willing, we had long ago been rich and free. Knowledge is now within our reach if we work steadily; and strength of character will grow upon us by every month of perseverance and steadiness in politics, trade, and literature.

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Title (uniform): The Resources of Ireland

Author: Thomas Osborne Davis

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Electronic edition compiled by: Beatrix Färber

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2. Second draft.

Extent: 3598 words

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Publisher: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College Cork

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Date: 2005

Date: 2010

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Editions of this text and other writings by Thomas Davis

  1. Angela Clifford, Godless colleges and mixed education in Ireland: extracts from speeches and writings of Thomas Wyse, Daniel O'Connell, Thomas Davis, Charles Gavan Duffy, Frank Hugh O'Donnell and others. Belfast: Athol, 1992.
  2. Charles Gavan Duffy (ed.), Thomas Osborne Davis, The patriot parliament of 1689, with its statutes, roles and proceedings. 1893.
  3. Sir Charles Gavan Duffy (ed.), Thomas Davis, the memoirs of an Irish patriot, 1840–1846. 1890.

Secondary Liteature

  1. Robert Kane, The industrial resources of Ireland. Dublin 1844.
  2. Arthur Griffith (ed.), Thomas Davis: the thinker & teacher; the essence of his writings in prose and poetry. Dublin: Gill 1914.
  3. William O'Brien, The influence of Thomas Davis: a lecture delivered by William O'Brien, M.P., at the City Hall, Cork, on 5th November 1915. Cork: Free Press Office, 1915.
  4. Michael Quigley (ed.), Pictorial record: centenary of Thomas Davis and young Ireland. Dublin [1945].
  5. Joseph Maunsell Hone, Thomas Davis (Famous Irish Lives). 1934.
  6. M. J. MacManus (ed.), Thomas Davis and Young Ireland. Dublin: The Stationery Office, 1945.
  7. J. L. Ahern, Thomas Davis and his circle. Waterford, 1945.
  8. Michael Tierney, 'Thomas Davis: 1814–1845'. Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 34:135 (1945) 300–10.
  9. Theodore William Moody, 'The Thomas Davis centenary lecture in Newry'. An t-Iubhar (=Newry) 1946, 22–6.
  10. D. R. Gwynn, O'Connell, Davis and the Colleges Bill (Centenary Series 1). Oxford and Cork, 1948.
  11. D. R. Gwynn, 'John E. Pigot and Thomas Davis'. Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 38 (1949) 145–57.
  12. D. R. Gwynn, 'Denny Lane and Thomas Davis'. Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 38 (1949) 15–28.
  13. N. N., Clár cuimhneacháin: comóradh i gcuimhne Thomáis Daibhis, Magh Ealla, 1942. Baile Átha Cliath (=Dublin) 1942.
  14. W. B. Yeats, Tribute to Thomas Davis: with an account of the Thomas Davis centenary meeting held in Dublin on November 20th, 1914, including Dr. Mahaffy's prohibition of the "Man called Pearse," and an unpublished protest by "A.E.", Cork 1965.
  15. Theodore William Moody, 'Thomas Davis and the Irish nation'. Hermathena, 103 (1966) 5–31.
  16. Malcolm Johnston Brown, The politics of Irish literature: from Thomas Davis to W. B. Yeats. Seattle (University of Washington Press) 1973.
  17. Eileen Sullivan, Thomas Davis. Lewisburg, New Jersey: Bucknell University Press, 1978.
  18. Mary G. Buckley, Thomas Davis: a study in nationalist philosophy. Ph.D Thesis, National University of Ireland, at the Department of Irish History, UCC, 1980.
  19. Giulio Giorello, '"A nation once again": Thomas Osborne Davis and the construction of the Irish "popular" tradition'. History of European Ideas, 20:1–3 (1995) 211–17.
  20. John Neylon Molony, A soul came into Ireland: Thomas Davis 1814–1845. Dublin 1995.
  21. Robert Somerville-Woodward, 'Two 'views of the Irish language': O'Connell versus Davis'. The History Review: journal of the UCD History Society, 9 (1995) 44–50.
  22. John Neylon Molony, 'Thomas Davis: Irish Romantic idealist'. In: Richard Davis; Jennifer Livett; Anne-Maree Whitaker; Peter Moore (eds.), Irish-Australian studies: papers delivered at the eighth Irish-Australian Conference, Hobart July 1995 (Sydney 1996) 52–63.
  23. David Alvey, 'Thomas Davis. The conservation of a tradition'. Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 85 (1996) 37–42.
  24. Harry White, The keeper's recital: music and cultural history in Ireland, 1770–1970. (Cork 1998).
  25. Joseph Langtry; Brian Fay, 'The Davis influence'. In: Joseph Langtry (ed.), A true Celt: Thomas Davis, The Nation, rebellion and transportation: a series of essays. (Dublin 1998) 30–38.
  26. Joseph Langtry, 'Thomas Davis (1814–1845)'. In: Joseph Langtry (ed.), A true Celt: Thomas Davis, The Nation, rebellion and transportation: a series of essays. (Dublin 1998) 2–7.
  27. Sean Ryder, 'Speaking of '98: Young Ireland and republican memory'. Éire–Ireland, 34:2 (1999) 51–69.
  28. Ghislaine Saison, 'L'écriture de l'histoire chez la Jeune Irlande: quelle histoire pour une nation du consensus et de la réconciliation?'. In: Centre de recherche inter-langues angevin, Écriture(s) de l'histoire: Actes du colloque des 2,3 et 4 décembre 1999. (Angers 2001) 435–46.
  29. Gerry Kearns, 'Time and some citizenship: nationalism and Thomas Davis'. Bullán: an Irish Studies Review, 5:2 (2001) 23–54.
  30. More information on Sir Robert Kane is available on Peter Childs' website: http://www.ul.ie/~childsp/Elements/Issue1/childs.html
  31. Desmond Clarke, 'Sir Robert Kane'. Administration 16 (1968) 155–59.

Davis, Thomas Osborne (1910). ‘The Resources of Ireland’. In: Thomas Davis: Selections from his prose and poetry‍. Ed. by T. W. Rolleston. Dublin and London: The Talbot Press, pp. 139–145.

You can add this reference to your bibliographic database by copying or downloading the following:

  author 	 = {Thomas Osborne Davis},
  title 	 = {The Resources of Ireland},
  editor 	 = {T. W. Rolleston},
  booktitle 	 = {Thomas Davis: Selections from his prose and poetry},
  publisher 	 = {The Talbot Press},
  address 	 = {Dublin and London},
  date 	 = {1910},
  pages 	 = {139–145}


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Creation: by Thomas Davis

Date: c. 1844

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  1. The Industrial Resources of Ireland, by Robert Kane, M.D., Secretary to the Council of the Royal Irish Academy, Professor of Natural Philosophy to the Royal Dublin Society, and of Chemistry to the Apothecaries' Hall of Ireland. Dublin: Hodges & Smith, 21 College Green. 🢀


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