English Legislation & Irish Industry

In the original English Navigation Act 1660, the Irish vessels had the privileges of English ones.  This legislation was amended in 1663 and Ireland was deprived of colonial trade.  European articles could not be imported into the English colonies, except from England in ships built in England and manned by English sailors, principally. Articles could not be brought from the colonies to Europe without being first unladen in England.  By legislation 1696, it was provided that no goods of any kind could be imported directly from the colonies to Ireland.

The Cattle Acts 1665 and 1680 prohibited the importation into England from Ireland of all cattle, sheep, swine, beef, pork, mutton and even butter and cheese.  The legislation was passed at that behest of English landowners fearing  the competition, particularly from confiscated and newly planted landowners. The cutting off of this trade had a serious effect on Irish prosperity.

Due to the prohibition on the export of cattle to England, Irish landowners turned to the manufacture of wool.  The wool trade prospered in Ireland at this point.  An Act of the British Parliament 1699 prohibited the export of Irish manufacturing wool to any country, whatever.It was permitted to export raw wool to England.

The effect of the above legislation was to damage substantially existing growth areas for Irish industries. Linen manufacture was not as adversely affected by legislation and prospered particularly in the North. The Irish Parliament sought to encourage linen offering premiums.  A board of trustees was appointed in 1710 seeking to encourage the trade.

Commercial Life

Dublin, Cork and Belfast developed as commercial centres.  Smaller towns and markets emerged.  In other places, some small ventures received parliamentary support while others were supported through the grant to the Royal Dublin Society.

The 18th century saw many loan defaults and a number of bank failures.  Most banks in this era were relatively small partnerships. A number of statutes sought to deal with debtors and bankruptcies.  Small debtors were imprisoned.  The commencement of the French war in the 1790s created a major recession, triggering numbers of bankruptcies.

Postal Service

The Irish Postal Service was established in 1635.  By the 18th century there were over 100 postal towns with deliveries twice weekly.  An Irish post office was established in 1784.  The postmaster was given power to widen and strengthen roads to facilitate carriage of mails.

In late 19th century stagecoaches connected the major Irish towns with regular services between the major cities.


The Commissioners for Improving Inland Navigation were constituted in 1752. Their purpose was to promote the carrying on of inland navigation.  It was empowered to levy tolls, and later  to assist businesses in making grants to canal undertakers.  A new canals body was constituted in 1787.


The Irish Parliament placed heavy duties on the export of manufactured wool in 1697.  The English Parliament passed an act the following year prohibiting the export of Irish woollen goods which purported to bind Ireland.

Unlike the woollen industry, the linen industry contributed to international trade and was encouraged by the Imperial Government.  It benefited from the development of the English textile industry in the 18th century. The Irish administration gave considerable financial support to the establishment by Huguenot refugees of a colony in Lisburn in 1698 which did much to develop the linen industry.  They brought the skill in the production of fine linens.


By the turn of the beginning of the 18th century, hemp and flax accounted for 9 percent of Irish exports and wool accounted for 30 percent.  By the end of the century 56 percent of exports were linen related, and wool and woollen goods had fallen to 1.2 percent.  The principal linen and weaving counties were in the Northeast, from south Antrim, central and west Down and north Armagh.

Flax was labour-intensive in cultivation and usually involved an entire family.  It had to be harvested by hand.

Markets became increasingly centralised on towns in the North East. The finish or manufacture of linen was concentrated in East Ulster and was extensive around Coleraine.  A range of intermediaries were involved in the business, purchasing webs and reselling them in major markets.  Once purchased, cloth was bleached, and impurities were removed. The Linen Hall  was completed in 1728 and linen smalls from all over Ireland were brought to Dublin for sale. Linen Halls were established in Belfast and  Newry.

Linen Board

In 1709 the Linen Board was established, and funds were allocated to encourage the manufacture of linen and to oversee the industry generally.  The board provided educational support and regulatory infrastructure for all the various facets of the industry.

The Linen Board had 72 members.  Members were usually members of the house of parliament, and attendance was voluntary. The Linen Board obtained its income from the proceeds of certain customs and excise, annual  parliamentary grants and other specific grants. The Linen Board maintained agents in London to lobby for its interests.

The Linen Board established schools in spinning and other aspects of linen manufacture.  It supplied schools with spinning wheels. It paid grants to those instructing spinners. School mistresses were required to make a return to the clergyman or Justice of the Peace.  The schools were inspected.

The Linen Board appointed inspectors in the middle of the century to ensure the quality of linen brought by weavers. Quality issues arose, given the difficulty in superintending effectively a cottage industry.

By the late 18th century, linen manufacturers had become more substantial enterprises and traded directly without the aid of Linen Halls. The monopoly of the Linen Halls ended in 1782.


The cotton industry developed in Kerry and East Leinster.  Encouraged by the Linen Board the Royal Dublin Society and Linen Board provided funds to purchase spinning jennies and assist in utilizing water-powered machinery developed in England.

In 1780, an attempt was made to establish a large cotton mill in Kildare in Prosperous with the aid of a parliamentary grant.  It had been proposed to transplant 2,000 city workers.  The scheme failed despite some modest initial success.

In the late 18th the cotton industry flourished in and around Belfast.  By the turn of the 19th century 27,000 people in Belfast and its vicinity were employed in the cotton industry.


Metal mining had taken place on a relatively small scale in the 17th century but had largely vanished by the end of the 18th century.  There were a number of lead mines dating back centuries at a number of locations on the East Coast.

Small copper deposits were discovered with some small-scale copper mining.  A mine in Muckross produced some 200 tons of ore a month. Many landlords leased their mines to mining companies.

Turf was cultivated for fuel.  Forests were diminishing.  There were limited deposits of coal available.  In the late 18th century, the Castlecomer coalfield had significant output, transported to Athy and to the Grand Canal docks to Dublin by canal.  There were two coalfields in County Antrim and Coalisland which produced relatively poor quality bituminous coal.  Coal quality was relatively low, and the economics of production were unfavourable.


The iron industry was relatively small-scale dealing with local needs.  There were foundries in Belfast, Dublin, Newry and Waterford making metallic goods and tools. There were a number of smaller furnaces, smelting iron through the country largely fuelled by wood.

The most significant attempt to the establishing of a viable smelting works was in Arigna.  It was hoped to use the ore and coal.  Considerable money was invested, and a parliamentary grant was advanced.  The venture was unsuccessful and lost money.  The quality of iron ore was relatively unfavourable in terms of its ability to produce satisfactory products.


Flower milling was a significant industry with a number of large mills began to develop by the end of the 18th century.

Many towns had small-scale breweries and distilleries.  Beer tax and malt taxes were imposed, though later modified.

Wood was a  universal material used for many things including construction and manufacturing.  Legislation was passed providing for penalties interfering with them.

Legislation provided for preservation of game and salmon and created closed seasons.


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Draft Articles; The articles on this website are in draft form and are subject to further review for typographical errors and, in some cases, updating and correction. It is intended to include references to the sources of materials and acknowledgements in the final version. The content of articles with [EU] in the title and some of the articles in the section on Agriculture are a reproduction of or are based on European or Irish public sector information.

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