CELT document E800002-024

Commercial History of Ireland

Thomas Osborne Davis

Edited by T.W. Rolleston

Whole text


Commercial History of Ireland

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 or 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 colonists 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,  p.157 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 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. 6. 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  p.158 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 license 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  p.159 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 England in any market, Irish or foreign. The Union is prohibition enough, and that she 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 the 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  p.160 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.

Document details

The TEI Header

File description

Title statement

Title (uniform): Commercial History of Ireland

Author: Thomas Osborne Davis

Editor: T.W. Rolleston

Responsibility statement

Electronic edition compiled by: Beatrix Färber

proof corrections by: Margaret Bonar

Edition statement

2. Second draft.

Extent: 3166 words

Publication statement

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

Address: College Road, Cork, Ireland—http://www.ucc.ie/celt

Date: 2006

Date: 2008

Distributor: CELT online at University College, Cork, Ireland.

CELT document ID: E800002-024

Availability: Available with prior consent of the CELT programme for purposes of academic research and teaching only.

Source description

Editions of this text and/or other writings by Thomas Davis

  1. Thomas Davis, Essays Literary and Historical, ed. by D. J. O'Donoghue, Dundalk 1914.
  2. Thomas Davis: selections from his prose and poetry. [Edited] with an introduction by T. W. Rolleston. London and Leipzig: T. Fisher Unwin (Every Irishman's Library). 1910. [Published in Dublin by the Talbot press, 1914.]
  3. Sir Charles Gavan Duffy (ed.), Thomas Davis, the memoirs of an Irish patriot, 1840–1846. 1890.
  4. Thomas Osborne Davis, Literary and historical essays 1846. Facsimile reprint, with an introduction by John Kelly, 1998, Washington, DC: Woodstock Books.
  5. Essays of Thomas Davis. New York, Lemma Pub. Corp. 1974, 1914 [Reprint of the 1914 ed. published by W. Tempest, Dundalk, Ireland, under the title 'Essays literary and historical'.]
  6. Thomas Davis: essays and poems, with a centenary memoir, 1845–1945. Dublin, M.H. Gill and Son, 1945. [Foreword by an Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera.]
  7. 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.

Selected further reading

  1. Richard Lawrence, The interest of Ireland in its trade and wealth stated in two parts: First part observes and discovers the causes of Irelands not more increasing in trade and wealth from the first conquest till now; Second part proposeth expedients to remedy all its mercanture maladies, and other wealth-wasting enormities, by which it is kept poor and low; Both mix'd with some observations on the politicks of government, relating to the incouragement of trade and increse of wealth; With reflections on some principles of religion, as it relates to the premisses, Dublin, 1682.
  2. Sir John Browne, An essay on trade in general; and, on that of Ireland in particular. Dublin: printed by S. Powell, for George Ewing, 1728.
  3. Arthur Dobbs, An essay on the trade and improvement of Ireland. Dublin: printed by A. Rhames, for J. Smith and W. Bruce, 1729–31: 1729.
  4. John Hely Hutchinson (= John Hely-Hutchinson), The commercial restraints of Ireland, considered in a series of letters to a noble lord: containing an historical account of the affairs of that kingdom, Dublin, 1779, by John Hely Hutchinson; re-edited., with a sketch of the author's life, introduction, notes, and index, by W.G. Carroll. Dublin: M.H. Gill, 1888.
  5. Lord John Holroyd, Earl of Sheffield, Observations on the Manufactures, Trade, and Present State of Ireland. Dublin: Printed for R. Moncrieffe, L. White, and P. Byrne, 1785.
  6. Thomas Wallace, An essay on the manufactures of Ireland: in which is considered, to what manufactures her natural advantages are best suited; and what are the best means of improving such manufactures Dublin: Campbell and Shea, 1798.
  7. John O'Connell, The "taxation injustice": Extract from appendix of A report to the Repeal Association, on the general case of Ireland for a repeal of the legislative union [...] Dublin: Printed by J. Browne, 1843.
  8. Arthur Griffith (ed.), Thomas Davis: the thinker & teacher; the essence of his writings in prose and poetry. Dublin: Gill 1914.
  9. 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.
  10. Johannes Schiller, Thomas Osborne Davis, ein irischer Freiheitssänger. Wiener Beiträge zur englischen Philologie, Bd. XLVI. Wien und Leipzig, W. Braumüller, 1915.
  11. Michael Quigley (ed.), Pictorial record: centenary of Thomas Davis and young Ireland. Dublin [1945].
  12. Joseph Maunsell Hone, Thomas Davis (Famous Irish Lives). 1934.
  13. M. J. MacManus (ed.), Thomas Davis and Young Ireland. Dublin: The Stationery Office, 1945.
  14. J. L. Ahern, Thomas Davis and his circle. Waterford, 1945.
  15. Michael Tierney, 'Thomas Davis: 1814–1845'. Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 34:135 (1945) 300–10.
  16. Theodore William Moody, 'The Thomas Davis centenary lecture in Newry'. An t-Iubhar (=Newry) 1946, 22–6.
  17. D. R. Gwynn, O'Connell, Davis and the Colleges Bill (Centenary Series 1). Oxford and Cork, 1948.
  18. D. R. Gwynn, 'John E. Pigot and Thomas Davis'. Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 38 (1949) 145–57.
  19. D. R. Gwynn, 'Denny Lane and Thomas Davis'. Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 38 (1949) 15–28.
  20. N. N., Clár cuimhneacháin: comóradh i gcuimhne Thomáis Daibhis, Magh Ealla, 1942. Baile Átha Cliath (=Dublin) 1942.
  21. K. M. MacGrath, 'Writers in the

    Title (periodical): Nation

    , 1842–5.' Irish Historical Studies 6, no. 23 (March 1949), 189–223.
  22. Christopher Preston, 'Commissioners under the Patriot Parliament, 1689'. Irish Ecclesiastical Record, 5th ser., 74:8 (1950) 141–51.
  23. 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.
  24. Theodore William Moody, 'Thomas Davis and the Irish nation'. Hermathena, 103 (1966) 5–31.
  25. Malcolm Johnston Brown, The politics of Irish literature: from Thomas Davis to W. B. Yeats. Seattle (University of Washington Press) 1973.
  26. Eileen Sullivan, Thomas Davis. Lewisburg, New Jersey: Bucknell University Press, 1978.
  27. 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.
  28. 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.
  29. John Neylon Molony, A soul came into Ireland: Thomas Davis 1814–1845. Dublin 1995.
  30. 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.
  31. 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.
  32. David Alvey, 'Thomas Davis. The conservation of a tradition.' Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 85 (1996) 37–42.
  33. Harry White, The keeper's recital: music and cultural history in Ireland, 1770–1970. (Cork 1998).
  34. 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.
  35. 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.
  36. Patrick Maume, 'Young Ireland, Arthur Griffith, and republican ideology: the question of continuity.' Éire–Ireland, 34:2 (1999) 155–74.
  37. Sean Ryder, 'Speaking of '98: Young Ireland and republican memory'. Éire–Ireland, 34:2 (1999) 51–69.
  38. Gerard Kearns, 'Time and some citizenship: nationalism and Thomas Davis'. Bullán: an Irish Studies Review, 5:2 (2001), 23–54.
  39. 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.
  40. Ghislaine Saison, 'Thomas Davis et la nation irlandaise'. Cercles, 4 (2002), 121–31.
  41. Helen Mulvey, Thomas Davis and Ireland: a biographical study. Washington, D.C., Catholic University of America Press, 2003.

Davis, Thomas Osborne (1910). ‘Commercial History of Ireland’. In: Thomas Davis: Selections from his prose and poetry‍. Ed. by T.W. Rolleston. Dublin and London: The Talbot Press, pp. 156–160.

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

  author 	 = {Thomas Osborne Davis},
  title 	 = {Commercial History 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 	 = {156–160}


Encoding description

Project description: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts

Sampling declarations

The whole essay.

Editorial declarations

Correction: Text has been proof-read twice and parsed.

Normalization: The electronic text represents the edited text. Italicized or capitalized sections of the text are tagged emph; or encoded according to the underlying reason for italicizing.

Quotation: Direct speech is tagged q.

Hyphenation: Soft hyphens are silently removed. When a hyphenated word (and subsequent punctuation mark) crosses a page-break, this break is marked after the completion of the word (and punctuation mark).

Segmentation: div0=the whole essay. Page-breaks are marked pb n="".

Standard values: Dates are standardized in the ISO form yyyy-mm-dd.

Interpretation: Personal names and titles of books, manuscripts and journals are tagged, and identified or regularized within the encoding.

Profile description

Creation: by Thomas Davis

Date: 1843

Language usage

  • The text is in English. (en)

Keywords: literary; prose; 19c

Revision description

(Most recent first)

  1. 2008-02-15: File updated; keywords added and re-parsed; new SGML and HTML version created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  2. 2006-08-08: File parsed. SGML and HTML files created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  3. 2006-08-07: File proofed (2), structural and content markup applied; header inserted. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  4. 2005-07-31: File proofed (1). (ed. Margaret Bonar, Dublin)
  5. 1996: Text captured by scanning. (ed. Audrey Murphy)

Index to all documents

Standardisation of values

CELT Project Contacts



For details of the markup, see the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI)

page of the print edition

folio of the manuscript

numbered division

 999 line number of the print edition (in grey: interpolated)

underlining: text supplied, added, or expanded editorially

italics: foreign words; corrections (hover to view); document titles

bold: lemmata (hover for readings)

wavy underlining: scribal additions in another hand; hand shifts flagged with (hover to view)

TEI markup for which a representation has not yet been decided is shown in red: comments and suggestions are welcome.

Source document


Search CELT


    2 Carrigside, College Road, Cork