Wednesday 21 August 2019

Ireland reliant on shipping and stout for employment

H&W and Guinness dominated, writes Fergus Cassidy

Harland & Wolff employed almost 9,500 people between 1907 and 1912, when the Titanic was completed.
Photo: Getty Images
Harland & Wolff employed almost 9,500 people between 1907 and 1912, when the Titanic was completed. Photo: Getty Images

In the 30 years up to the outbreak of the First World War, world trade grew by 40pc. Economies were growing fast, driven by huge changes in railroads, refrigeration and steamships.

By 1913, European countries accounted for 80pc of world trade. Forty years earlier, Britain was the sole economic superpower, accounting for almost one-third of global manufacturing output.

Even though competition, especially from Germany, France and USA, saw its share of world trade beginning to erode in the early 1900s, it remained an economic giant. Industrial expansion, along with population growth, meant that in 1913 Britain accounted for 17pc of all global imports and remained the largest shipbuilder in the world.

The Irish economy was small compared with Britain, with a Gross Domestic Product of around 6pc of the British total. Agriculture was the mainstay, with output twice that of industrial manufacture. In 1911, 846,000 people worked in agriculture and food, and 401,000 in industry, with most of that output based in the north-eastern part of the island, and Dublin. Shipping, linen, food, drink, brewing and distilling were the products of industry.

Outside Dublin, manufacturing was directed at the home market, in areas such as railway engineering, construction, printing and flour milling. From around 1850 small, craft-based manufacture lost out, as observed by Tom Kelly walking around the Francis Street area of Dublin in 1909: "Today they are nearly all gone... Boot-making, brogue-making, clay pipe-making, tobacco and snuff manufacture, the making of hair cloth and curled hair, tabinet [a type of silk] and poplin weaving, hosiery and sock weaving, velvet making, nail-making, soap-boiling, whip-making...

"I looked through last year's Directory to see what it had to tell, and this is what I found: In Francis Street 60 of the houses are marked tenements and 14 ruins. In the Directories of 60 and 50 years ago, industries predominated in this area - today it is tenements."

Mechanisation accounts for some of the decline but globalisation was also a significant factor. Faster transport enabled products like American and Canadian grain, Argentine beef, Australian mutton, and New Zealand butter to be sold abroad.

In 1907 Belfast was Ireland's major industrial city accounting for two-thirds of exports. Its population grew from 100,000 in 1851 to 400,000 in 1914.

Founded in 1861, the Harland and Wolff shipyard - the largest in the world - employed almost 9,500 people between 1907 and 1912, when the Titanic was completed. The linen industry was also mainly northern-based. From the late 1700s to 1914 it was Ireland's premier industry and primary industrial export. In 1907, it employed 71,761. Food production included bacon-curing, grain-milling and biscuits. There were about six biscuit factories in the country, where up to 9,500 people were employed. Jacob's in Dublin was by far the largest, employing more than 3,000 in 1907.

The output from brewing trebled between the 1850s and 1914, of which about 40% went abroad. Guinness was the largest brewery in the world by 1914 and accounted for about two-thirds of all Irish output. The combined output of Cork-based Murphy's, and Beamish and Crawford, was only one-eighth of Guinness. More than 20 other breweries supplied mainly to local markets.

In October 1915, a newspaper article headlined: 'A New Industry for Dublin', announced "a new and important industry for Dublin. Messrs Pigott and Co, of Grafton street… have informed the Gaelic League that their firm is about to establish a piano-making industry in Dublin. The war has stopped the importation of pianos from Germany."

Money talk: Pounds, shillings, farthings and half-crowns...

The Irish pound was abolished in 1826 and replaced with sterling (symbolised by £.s.d, pounds, shillings, pence). The £ derived from the first letter of libra, the Latin for pound weight, as 240 coins could be minted from a pound of silver. The s. and d. also have Latin origins - s from solidus, and d from denarius, both Roman coins.

One pound was divided into 20 shillings, and each shilling into 12 pence, making 240 pence to the pound. Coins in circulation were: farthing (quarter penny); halfpenny; penny; threepence, sixpence, shilling, florin (two shillings), half-crown (2s 6d) and ten shillings.

They were written as a mixed sum, such as 3s.6d, or 3/6 (three shillings and six pence), and spoken as "three and six". In slang, a pound was called a quid, a shilling was called a bob, thrupence or thrupenny bit (3d), and a tanner (6d).

The Free State government tasked a committee, headed by WB Yeats, to design new coins which featured animals, such as a hare (3d), wolfhound (6d) and horse (half-crown), and were introduced in 1928.

Irish Independent

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