Farm Ireland

Wednesday 17 January 2018

Rise of the beef barons spelled the end

Cattle being loaded at Dublin Port for export to Britain
Cattle being loaded at Dublin Port for export to Britain

Records of live cattle exports, as well as those of hides and meat, to Britain and the continent date from the medieval and early modern periods. Indeed, such was the level of livestock exports to England in the 17th century that the Cattle Acts of 1663 prohibited the trade.

Facing possible ruin, the Irish responded to this move by exporting salted beef instead.

This trade had its origins in the 16th century but took on a new lease of life in the 1700s, with exports in excess of 200,000 barrels a year not being uncommon.

However, this trade declined from the 1820s onwards when live cattle exports increased rapidly following the introduction of the steamship and the subsequent advent of the railways.

These developments facilitated the expansion of live cattle shipping to the north of England and Scotland - a trade which survived independence.

Demand for Irish store and fat cattle in Britain saw exports hit unprecedented levels by 1961, with 722,400 shipped in total.

Although the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement of 1965 envisaged the Republic supplying Britain with 638,000 stores annually, a shift towards processed beef and EEC membership meant the live cattle exports steadily declined from the early 1970s, hastening the end of the trade in Dublin.

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