Statistical Survey of the County of Clare, 1808

By Hely Dutton

Chapter V - Section 14

State of manufacturers—whether encreasing

ALL the linen manufactured in this county is used for home consumption, and is generally coarse and of low price. A small quantity of coarse diapers for towels is made, and generally sold at fairs and markets; also canvas for sacks and bags is sold in the same manner. Some judgement may be formed of the extent of the manufacture, when it is known, that there are but three small bleach-greens in the county; one at Ennis, one at Donass, and one at Ballyhonege. I do not think the genius of the country seems to lead that way; they are much more inclined to pursue the woollen manufacture. Flax-seed is usually procured from Limerick, and almost all imported from America; since the commencement of the war Dutch seed could not be procured, to which a decided preference would be given. American seed may be easily distinguished by its brown colour, whilst the Dutch has a greenish cast; the cause of this preference is not known nor easily accounted for; the colour of the American seed proceeding from their permitting their flax to stand longer than the Dutch, one would imagine, that the produce of ripe seed would be superior to that of the unripe, but there is always a good deal of whim in these opinions. The only reason they assign for this preference is, that the Dutch does not produce flax with spotted stalks, but I am inclined to think this is mere supposition. Most poor people save their own seed, and it is equal to any they can buy. When the flax is pulled, after beating off the seed-pods, it is immediately watered in stagnant pools, but too often in the river Shannon; at the proper period it is spread to dry, and then usually brought into the house, where it remains until October or November, when men, who travel through the country for this purpose, finish the process by breaking, scuthching, and hackling, and leaving it ready for spinning. The women then frequently give it what they call a cloving, which is performed by a small instrument, called a cloving-tongue, and makes the flax soft and silky; to produce this effect, they also beetle it well. A small quantity of yarn as fine as four dozen is manufactured near Ennis, but the quantity is so trifling as not to deserve the name of a manufacture. Spinning-wheels are made in various places; the common sort sells for 6s. each; those made in imitation of North-country wheels for about half a guinea; the first sort answers very well for any thing under three dozen yarn, but for finer the other is necessary; if the price was as low as that of the common kind, they would be preferred, as the women say, that from the greater circumference of the wheel they are more easily turned, and do not require such quick repetitions of pressure by the foot. Wheels for spinning woollen yarn usually sell for about five or six shillings. A good quantity of coarse woollens called frize are made chiefly for home consumption.

At Corrofin and Innistymon considerable quantities of coarse yarn stockings are sold every market day; they are not as fine as those made in Cunnamara in the county of Galway, (thanks to the Leicester sheep,) but are much stronger, and fitter for soldiers and those, who prefer strength to beauty: they are brought in large quantities to Dublin and the North by dealers, who attend at these towns every market day. Since the introduction of Leicester sheep, called by the old women the Dexters, the wool of Burrin and other rocky districts, that was formerly proverbially fine, has become coarse; consequently the manufacture has kept pace with it, and, instead of producing stockings equal in goodness and fineness, and much cheaper than those imported from Wales, they now seldom exceed 2s. per pair. Bindon Blood, Esq. lately of Riverston, introduced the South Down breed of sheep, as likely to bring back the wool to its former fine staple; the first cross alone between these and the native sheep has produced wool nearly as fine as South Down. As yet the breeders of that part of the county do not see the advantage of the cross; judging only by the eye, they think them too small, and the bone too fine, not considering, that a sheep, covered with wool seven or eight inches long, must appear much larger than one, whose wool is only two. A hogget ram of each breed was weighed by Mr. Blood; the eye would judge the new Leicester to be at least 50 lbs. heavier than the South Down, for, besides the greater length of wool, it was in higher condition, being fed on the best ground near the house, whilst the South Down had just come from a very poor pasture in Burrin; yet to the astonishment of a new-light breeder very much prepossessed against the South Down, the new-light sheep weighed only 10 lbs. more than the South Down, and the wool of the last was worth at least 10s; the gentleman, who was present, was so convinced, that he has purchased several breeding ewes from Mr. Blood, and intends to encrease his stock on his ground in Burrin. I would not be understood to mean, that this breed would be the most beneficial on every kind of soil; I only wish to press the matter at present on the minds of those breeders, who possess large tracts of ground producing a short scanty bite.

I have the authority of a very eminent stocking manufacturer in Dublin to state, that, if a hall was established in some central situation, and an honest intelligent inspector appointed, and some person of capital were to embark in the business, the manufacture could be brought to such a pitch of perfection as not only to supply the whole consumption of Ireland, but to open a trade to all other parts of the world, and enable us to undersell the English and Scotch manufacturers in their own markets.*  The late Sir Lucias O’Brien attempted to establish a serge manufactory at Corrofin, but, after spending a considerable amount of sum, and making some progress, it has totally declined.

A manufactory of coatings, &c. is established at Ennis by Mr. Carney; I have seen some of his beaver coating at 11s. 4d. per yard, and think it superior to any sold in Dublin for a much higher price. He informs me, that a much finer kind of wool than either that of Burrin or Cunnamara is produced in the remote western part of this county, where it has not been improved by a cross of course-woollen Leicester sheep; it sells for a guinea per stone, when the other wools of the country sell for fifteen shillings; of what incalculable benefit would a few South Down rams be in this country, and what a blessing would the absentee landlord confer by sending over a few to his poor tenants?

Mr. O’Brien of Ennis has lately established a broad cloth and beaver manufactory, with all the modern machinery for saving labour, and manufactures about 2000 stone of wool. The two Mr. O’Keefes also work up about the same quantity into serges, which, after supplying the home demand, they send to Limerick, &c. &c. A small blanket manufactory is also established at Ennis, but wants capital to extend it to meet the demand.

Twenty years ago Killaloe had a very flourishing trade in stuffs, camblets, and serges, which employed above 150 hands; they were allowed 5s. per week by their employees for provisions: in consequence of this and the fostering care of former bishops two markets were held in the week, and well supplied; since the total annihilation of that trade, and owing to every species of neglect and contempt, there is now no market, nor any kind of trade or manufactures. A good deal of wool is brought by jobbers, and sold in the county of Galway in small quantities to women, who manufacture it into flannels and frizes; these are again purchased by perhaps the same jobbers, or those of Galway and Loughrea for about 11d. per bundle of thirty inches, and carried to the North of Ireland, where they are sold for about 1d. a yard profit.

A considerable number of coarse hats are manufactured near Skarriff; they are in great estimation all over the country, and sell at from 3s. 9d. to 5s. 5d.; they are dyed with alder bark, and twigs, and logwood, but principally the first.

A considerable quantity of kelp is manufactured on the extensive shores this county possesses; it is generally made in so careless and dishonest a manner, that the value is considerably less than that of Scotland or other countries; when it sells in Scotland for 6l. per ton, it only brings in Ireland 4l. per ton; so far are they from clearing the sea-weed from sand, shells, or any other extraneous substances, I am informed by Mr. Molony of Kiltannon, that stones of a particular kind, and technically called kelp stones, are broken small, and added to the ignited mass, forming so complete an union as not to be distinguished by the eye, when the kelp is offered for sale. I have added a piece of the stone to the Dublin Society’s museum. Ashes produced by burning weeds, thorns, briars, &c. are frequently sold; in a powdered state they generally bring 8d. per gallon; they are usually made into very hard cakes with water, about eight inches in diameter and two inches thick, weighing about 3lbs, and are sold for about 4d. each; before using they are well burned, which is nearly pursuing the chemical process for making pearl-ashes.** 

* One town alone in Scotland exports knit stockings to the amount of above 100,000l.

** I am informed by Mr. Donald Stewart, that the cultivation of the plant, that produces the barillla ashes, could be carried on in many parts of the western coast with very great advantage.

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