James Stafford
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Desolation and abundance
Poverty and the Irish landscape, c. 1720–1820

James Stafford examines an ongoing conversation spanning the eighteenth into the nineteenth centuries, wherein competing visions of economic progress in Ireland gave rise to rival imaginaries of a well-ordered countryside. Following the dispossession of the Catholic aristocracy, the ‘new English’ ruling class rested their hopes of civilising the native population on encouraging a shift from grazing to tillage. The barbarous modes of life endemic to pasturage, it was thought, would give way to the industry, prosperity and passivity exemplified by the English peasantry. When the turn to tillage took off in the 1770s, however, it took a different path from that taken in England. The emergence of the so-called ‘cottier system’—whereby tenants rented cabins and a small plot of land to grow potatoes—was heralded by some commentators as a bright new dawn. For the potato provided a sure and nourishing subsistence, while rendering the labourer’s condition impervious to the price hikes that so often disturbed civil peace in the English countryside. Yet this ‘celebratory narrative’, too, came under attack at the beginning of the nineteenth century, as some critics pointed to its tendency to stifle enterprise by encouraging the labourer to be content with a bare subsistence and to encourage ‘surplus population’.

‘The want of trade in Ireland,’ claimed the English diplomat and author Sir William Temple in 1673, ‘proceeds from the want of people.’ This, he went on,

is not grown from any ill qualities of the climate or air, but chiefly from the frequent revolutions of so many wars and rebellions, so great slaughters and calamities of mankind, as have at several intervals of time succeeded the first conquest of this kingdom in Henry II’s time, until the year 1653. Two very great plagues followed the two great wars, those of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, and the last; which helped to drain the current stream of generation in the country.1

In depopulating the country, Ireland’s seventeenth-century wars of religion had frustrated the vast natural potential suggested by its ‘native fertility of the soil and seas’ and ‘situation so commodious for all sorts of foreign trade’.2 Had it not been for the ‘numbers of the British, which the necessity of the late wars at first drew over … the country had by the last war and plague been left in a manner desolate’.3 Nearly a century and a half later, in a letter to David Ricardo, Robert Malthus complained of the opposite problem. Population was growing too rapidly: ‘greatly in excess above the demand for labour’. If Ireland’s rulers were ‘to give full effect to the natural resources of the country’, the land had to be cleared of its excess people and consolidated into large, modern farms. It was necessary, Malthus concluded, that ‘a great part of this population should be swept from the soil into large manufacturing and commercial Towns’.4

How was the image of Irish poverty transformed from one of desolation to one of abundance? Since it straddles the awkward gap between the economic thought of the Enlightenment and that of the ‘liberal’ or ‘laissez-faire’ nineteenth century, the question has rarely been asked. Malthus’ dramatic impact on British, and subsequently European, economic thinking is usually taken as an explanation in and of itself; one in which the Principles of Population (1798) successfully challenged the ‘populationist’ consensus of the Enlightenment. Yet the variable that concerned both Temple and Malthus was not simply the raw numbers of Ireland’s people, but their distribution over the island’s territory – what Temple called the ‘number of people in proportion to the compass of ground they inhabit’.5 Both wrote as observers not just of Ireland’s people but of its landscape, sandwiching observations on the island’s potential for prosperity between remarks on its natural endowments of ‘fertility’ and ‘a ‘commodious situation’ and the condition of its woods and fields.6

Their contrasting observations indicate something fundamental about how poverty was conceptualised in the Enlightenment: viewed, as it frequently was, from the passing carriages and brief perambulations of the travelling gentlemen who wrote about it. In an era free from statistical constructions of wealth and poverty like Gross Domestic Product, the visual aspect of a ‘country’ was a vital means of evaluating its poverty or prosperity, to be freely combined with those statistical measures that were available: in the case of Ireland, population figures derived from patchy hearth tax returns, the value of land (calculated as multiples of annual rental) and indications of consumption based on revenues from customs and excise. Poverty could thus be experienced as a spatial and aesthetic problem, to be set against competing visions of flourishing rural landscapes, more pleasing to the eye as well as to the patriotic and Christian conscience.

This problematic, as this chapter will show, was particularly acute in the eighteenth-century Irish Kingdom, a polity that was unique in Western Europe: both in terms of the scale and scope of demographic and agrarian change that took place in the course of the eighteenth century, and the peculiar valence of rural poverty for its Anglican, ‘Anglo-Irish’ ruling class, who founded their governing legitimacy in a project of disciplining and reforming both the visual aspect of the Irish countryside and the living conditions of its (largely Catholic) inhabitants. In common with other chapters in this volume, the present contribution makes the case that poverty was a central – if not the central – concern of Irish political-economic thought in the eighteenth century, long before the revolutionary crisis of the 1790s and the rise of Malthusianism. It was not just a grounds for articulating an Anglican paternalism, but the locus of a three-sided conflict between the Anglo-Irish governing elite, a Catholic landed gentry recovering from the conquests of the seventeenth century and British reformers of Irish Empire, who were increasingly concerned, from the last quarter of the eighteenth century, with the condition of the island’s ‘labouring poor’. Malthus’ call for Ireland’s population to be ‘swept’ into the towns was thus offered as sharp rejoinder to an existing Irish discourse on poverty, in which the conversion of Irish land from pasture to tillage signified the successful economic stewardship of the Irish Kingdom by its Anglican ruling class. Their vision of Irish prosperity – one of a dense and evenly distributed rural population, capable of combining wage labour on commercial grain farms with subsistence potato agriculture – was in turn a response to the depopulation and pastoralism of seventeenth and early eighteenth-century Ireland, which was blamed not only on the devastation wrought by the seventeenth century’s wars of religion, but on the distorted terms of Ireland’s integration into networks of European and colonial trade in the early eighteenth century.

The idea of poverty in a European colony

Ideas of poverty in Ireland tracked, therefore, the layered, many-sided structure of colonial government in a polity that had long been shaped by political and legal contestation over the ownership and uses of agricultural land. They similarly reflected the fluidity and instability of political and social authority in a society that had been completely transformed by an unusually aggressive and comprehensive program of conquest and colonisation. The political and landed elite of eighteenth-century Ireland were the beneficiaries of the dispossession of an older, Catholic aristocracy, part Gaelic, part Anglo-Norman, through successive waves of plantation, expropriation and settlement.7 Unable to position themselves as straightforward inheritors of Ireland’s medieval history and institutions, these ‘New English’ had frequently rested their novel claim to rule on ‘improvement’, rescuing the Kingdom from the ‘barbaric’ customs of Gaels and ‘degenerate’ Anglo-Normans.8 The attractiveness of ‘improvement’ as a justification for conquest and colonisation persisted through the religious wars of the seventeenth century into the age of Enlightenment. When, in 1738, Samuel Madden, an Anglican priest, landowner and writer, wrote to encourage his peers to dedicate their time and money to the promotion of Irish ‘manufacture and tillage’, he addressed them as ‘landlords … masters of Families … Protestants … descended from British ancestors’.9

Given that the entire landed class of the country had been extirpated, resettled and replaced within living memory, it is unsurprising that eighteenth-century Irish Anglicans were able to conceive of a variety of ambitious, even utopian, ‘projects’ for the transformation of their society.10 It was Ireland’s shifting position in imperial and European trading networks, however, that produced a further, dramatic transformation in its human geography in the second half of the eighteenth century. As the export of beef and butter to the British Empire’s Caribbean slave colonies went into decline following the War of American Independence, land use in the east and south changed rapidly. Grasslands were turned to fields of wheat, oat and barley, and grain exports, supported by a system of internal bounties and a growing network of canals and turnpike roads, overtook linen as a source of foreign earnings.11 The population, fed overwhelmingly by the potato, expanded rapidly from mid-century, more than doubling by 1800.12 Land hunger pushed settlement to expand into the western uplands of the island, characterised by ‘rundale’ cooperative farming and the proliferation of ‘lazy bed’ potato cultivation. The French Revolutionary Wars, which isolated Britain from Baltic grain supplies at a moment of maximum demographic and financial stress, meanwhile provided a further impetus to tillage in the south-eastern agrarian core, leading one Irish politician to assert that ‘Ireland is capable of becoming the granary of Great Britain’.13

It was the eastern and southern agrarian core of Ireland, as opposed to the linen and smallholding economy of Ulster, or the cooperative farming of the western uplands, that witnessed the most dramatic changes in land use, and which consequently assumed an outsized importance in the economic thinking of both Irish and British elites. While this attention was partly predetermined by their relative proximity to Dublin, and their accessibility as compared to the far west, it was also because these regions were central to the new agrarian and demographic regime that emerged in eighteenth-century Ireland, and which would endure down to the catastrophic famines of 1845–1851. As demand for land pushed a growing population westwards, the eighteenth-century tillage boom created the conditions for the Malthusian vision of Irish poverty that would do so much to shape British thinking on poverty and agriculture in Ireland – and beyond. Yet it also fulfilled, in crucial respects, the ambitions of those earlier generations of Anglo-Irish settlers, who had believed tillage and proto-industry to be the indispensable means of pacifying and ordering the Irish interior, under Protestant and British tutelage. To understand the transformation of ideas of poverty in Ireland in the age of Enlightenment, therefore, we must reconstruct the dynamic interaction between rival imaginaries, both British and Anglo-Irish, of a well-ordered countryside.

The remainder of this chapter will consider first the emergence of tillage and rural population as a marker of ‘improvement’ meaningful to Ireland’s Anglo-Irish governing class. It will then consider how the remaining Catholic gentry of the Irish Kingdom used this Protestant language of improvement to challenge post-conquest laws that restricted Catholic property holding. It will then explore how, in the era of the American and French Revolutionary Wars and the parliamentary Union of 1801, Anglo-Irish and British writers analysed the rise of the potato and the ‘cottier’ system as indexes of the Irish Kingdom’s growing prosperity in a new imperial division of labour in which it could serve primarily as an agricultural producer for Britain’s growing industrial cities. Finally, focusing on Malthus and a lesser-known agrarian writer, the Quaker land agent Edward Wakefield, it will explore how it was that the new rural dispensation created by the combination of Anglo-Irish ‘improvement’ and British demand came to be scorned by the new schools of demography and political economy that came to prominence in post-war Britain. The potato, for both men, guaranteed bare life, but at the cost of the varied diet, labour and social contact promised by Britain’s wheat- and meat-fuelled ‘commercial society’. The stage was set for the Victorian projects of social engineering that would ultimately empty the nineteenth-century Irish countryside of its ‘superabundant’ inhabitants in the wake of the Great Famine of 1845–1852.

Luxury and pastoralism

The distinction between a sedentary agricultural civilisation, which made private property possible and sovereign authority necessary, and an ungovernable, nomadic pastoralism, had been central to English ideologies of empire since the earliest medieval incursions into Ireland. In his View of the State of Ireland (1595), a dialogue on Irish colonisation that was still widely read in eighteenth-century Ireland, the Elizabethan official and poet Edmund Spenser had complained that the rebelliousness of the country could be traced by its inhabitants’ attachment to the raising of cattle:

look into all Countreys that live in such sort by keeping of Cattle, and you shall find that they are both very barbarous and uncivil, and also greatly given to War. The Tartarians, the Muscovites, the Norwegians, the Goths, the Armenisans, and many other do witness the same. And therefore since now we purpose to draw the Irish from desire of War and Tumults, to the love of Peace and Civility, it is expedient to abridge their great Custom of hardning, and augment their Trade and Tillage and Husbandry.14

What made the Jacobean settlement of Ireland different to its medieval predecessors, the New English attorney general Sir John Davies wrote in 1613, was the determination with which the Irish Kingdom had been ‘reduced to shire-ground’.15 For as long as English settlement had been restricted to Dublin and its environs (the ‘Pale’) and ‘Brehon law’ prevailed throughout the island, the Irish had failed to ‘plant any gardens or orchards, inclose or improve their lands’ or ‘live together in settled villages or towns’. With the imposition of English ‘sovereignty’ and the extension of English law to the Irish interior, the foundations for ‘peace, plenty and civility’, the end goals of a ‘perfect conquest’, had finally been laid.16 Over a century later, the Scottish jurist and historian John Millar attributed the ‘limited appropriation of land’ in pre-conquest Ireland to the persistence of ‘pastoral manners’, under which the old Irish ‘without confining themselves to fixed residence […] wander, with their cattle, from place to place’.17 The colonial division of civilised settler from barbarous nomad was recast in the terms of Enlightenment stadial history.

As Ian McBride has recently argued in a pathbreaking reconstruction of the contexts for Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal (1729), however, the eighteenth-century Anglo-Irish passion for tillage was rooted in something more than a generic preference for sedentarisation as a tool of colonial governance. What preoccupied Swift and his fellow Irish Anglican churchmen, in a decade marked by famine and increasing emigration to Britain’s north American colonies, was the recurring problem of what Davies had called ‘degeneracy’: the tendency of Ireland’s colonisers to recreate the ‘barbarous’ social structures they had supposedly extirpated among the native population and their own antecedents in the labour of settlement.18 Absent the full introduction of agricultural techniques modelled on those of the south-east of England, the work of colonisation would never be completed. ‘I have often wondered,’ the Irish Whig Robert Molesworth wrote in a tract of 1723

when I consider how long it is since this Kingdom of Ireland has been united and annexed to the Crown of England, and the English customs, as to Habit, Language, and Religion, have been encouraged and enjoyn’d by Laws how it comes to pass, that we should be so long a time, and so universally Ignorant of the English manner of managing our Tillage and Lands as we now are; or if we formerly knew them, how we came to fall off from that Knowledge and the Practice of it to such a degree, that the English Tenants who pay double the Rent to their Landlords for their Acres (which are much shorter than the Irish Acres) are able notwithstanding to supply us with Corn at a moderate price.19

Early eighteenth-century Ireland might no longer be a land of nomads, but Swift and his contemporaries feared that fertile land in the south and east of the country was increasingly being turned to sheep and cattle grazing, making vagrants and rebels of Irish farmers, diminishing tithe revenues, and increasing the country’s susceptibility to famine. The booming trade in beef, butter and raw wool, commodities vital to the maintenance of Britain’s slave colonies in the Caribbean and its domestic textile industries, was held by Swift and others to place an unacceptable strain on arable farming in the Irish west and south. The colonial equation of tillage with civilisation was here joined to a humanist critique, traceable to Thomas More, of the social devastation wrought by the expansion of grazing. Ireland’s unbalanced pattern of trade, agriculture and industry fed the luxury consumption of a small elite while condemning the land and its people to poverty and desolation. ‘There is no country in Europe’, observed one of the founders of the Dublin Society, the merchant Thomas Prior,

which produces, and exports so great a Quantity of Beef, Butter, Tallow, Hydes and Wool, as Ireland does; and yet our Common People are very poorly Cloath’d, go bare-legged half the Year, and very rarely taste of that Flesh meat, with which we so much abound; we pinch ourselves in every Article of Life, and export more, than we can well spare, with no other Effect or Advantage, than to enable our Gentlemen and Ladies to live more luxuriously abroad.20

While Prior’s attack on the graziers centred on the manner in which their profits were supposedly sucked out of Ireland by the absentee expenditure of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy in their London townhouses, others decried its tendency to degrade the visual aspect of the countryside. In his Querist (1735–1737), a remarkable piece of monetary philosophy which argued for the total reorientation of Ireland’s economy from ‘foreign’ to ‘domestic’ trade, George Berkeley suggested that it was ‘a sure Sign or Effect of a Country’s thriving, to see it well cultivated, and full of inhabitants’. A ‘great Quantity of Sheep-walk’, by contrast, was ‘ruinous to a Country, rendering it waste, and thinly inhabited’.21 Here, Berkeley’s location in County Cork, the centre of the eighteenth-century Irish provisioning trade, undoubtedly influenced his analysis. Luxury in a poor country, Berkeley observed, left Ireland trapped in an entirely retrograde trade pattern, exporting beef and butter in return for foreign luxuries. Irish luxury consumption was ‘madness’, the result of a ‘poor nation’ seeking to imitate the fashions of richer ones. Pastoralism was incapable of supporting or employing the majority of its population. Berkeley set out on an impassioned line of reasoning in the Querist:

Q147 Whether a Woman of Fashion ought not to be declared a public Enemy?

Q148 Whether it not be certain, that from the single Town of Cork were exported, last Year, no less than 107,161 barrels of beef, 7379 barrels of Pork, 13,461 Casks, and 85,727 Firkins of Butter? And what hands were employed in this Manufacture?

Q149 Whether a Foreigner could imagine, that one half of the People were starving, in a Country which sent out such Plenty of Provisions?

Q150 Whether an Irish Lady, set out with French Silks, and Flanders lace, may not be said to consume more Beef and Butter than Fifty of our labouring Peasants?

Q151 Whether nine Tenths of our foreign Trade be not singly to support the Article of Vanity?.22

The purpose of Berkeley’s proposed monetary revolution, which would see an Irish paper currency backed by a mixture of land and gold and silver goods donated by the wealthy of the Irish Kingdom, was to promote employment and ‘industry’ among the Irish poor. The sparseness of rural habitation under the rule of the graziers was part of a general aversion to industry that left land unimproved, and the diets and consumption of the poor sharply constrained, even as the rich profited.

In the introduction to the first English translation of Melon’s Essai Politique sur la Commerce (1736), a major intervention in the early eighteenth-century European debate on commerce and luxury, the Irish merchant and economic writer David Bindon emphasised that Melon’s qualified defence of luxury in a French context could hardly be applicable to Ireland’s circumstances.23 In the ‘Principles’ of his Essai, Melon had set out a clear hierarchy of human needs. Bread – and therefore corn – was of the ‘first necessity’; ‘wine, salt, linen and the like’ were of the ‘second necessity’ and ‘silk, sugar and tobacco’ were of ‘luxurious necessity’. Luxury could be defined as ‘necessary’ because it was required to sustain the industry of countries that had reached a position of ‘superfluity’ and ‘superabundance’ in the first two types of commodities.24 ‘Workmen, will not be employed about Works for Luxury, until there be enough of the Commodities of second Necessity; and, in like manner, they will not be employed about these, until the Products of absolute Necessity, be fully supplied.’25 Envious prestige consumption was a necessary spur to industry above a certain level of subsistence.26 In order to fulfil this vital function for an advanced economy, however, luxury had to be founded on domestic production. ‘Luxury ought not to be confounded with the wearing of Indian goods, prohibited by the Council of Trade’, warned Melon.27

Ireland’s retrograde pastoral trading pattern, Bindon argued, meant that this ideal order of necessities had been confused in Ireland. The luxury of the elite was sustaining the kingdom’s poverty, instead of inspiring its industry. ‘What our Author saith of Luxury, may be perfectly right with respect to France’, he said. But ‘the Luxury of Ireland consisteth in the Consumption of the Products of foreign Lands … the Degrees of Necessities are so ill distinguished, that we run in to the most extravagant Luxuries, at the same Time that there is a constant Scarcity of Corn, and of other Things of absolute Necessity’.28 The great problem of pastoralism, Irish writers agreed, was that it granted wealth without promoting the kind of broad-based industry or social discipline that would render the island’s population both prosperous and governable. Bindon condemned the ‘lazy method of employing large Tracts of Land in grazing of Cattle, which prevaileth in the most fertile Provinces’, demanding ‘more active kinds of Husbandry’ carried out on smaller arable farms.29 ‘The chief Articles of Export from Ireland,’ he went on,

are the Products of Land with very little additional Value from the Labour or Industry of Man. The Wealth of the Kingdom is engrossed into the Hands of a few very opulent Landlords, overgrown Farmers, and other Persons, who neither labour nor exercise any Industry, that contributeth to encrease the Riches of the nation.30

Like Melon and the economic thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment, the early eighteenth-century school of Irish improving political economists were disparaging of sweeping moralistic condemnations of material well-being as a force for the enervation of political or military virtue. The alternative to a regime of luxury and laziness, which sacrificed the education of the Catholic poor into English habits of industry to the self-interest of the landed aristocracy, was an agricultural regime of small arable farms and as much textile weaving as British restrictions on the export of Irish manufactures would permit. Prior speculated that ‘our Gentlemen’ might be brought to once again reside in Ireland either through a tax on absenteeism, or through the equalisation of fortunes brought about by the application of partitive inheritance (‘gavelkind’) to the largest Protestant estates. ‘‘Tis true Policy,’ he claimed,

and would tend much to the Benefit of remote Provinces, if Property were more equally divided among the Inhabitants; large overgrown Estates are generally consumed, either abroad or at the Capital, and may be reckon’d as so much Tribute, in Effect, drawn from the Provinces; while small Fortunes are spent in the Place where they arise, with more Virtue, and Advantage to the Country.31

Berkeley, for his part, asked his readers ‘whether large Farms under few Hands, or small ones under many, are likely to be made most of? And whether Flax and Tillage do not naturally multiply Hands, and divide Land into small Holdings and well improved?’32

Property and the Catholic question

Anglo-Irish improvers were divided on the question of how to sufficiently discipline a Catholic tenantry into the best practices of English agrarianism. Molesworth complained that ‘every Tenant does with his Farm as he pleases … and that is what his Laziness, his Ignorance, or Dishonesty prompts him to, without regard to Covenants’. Not possessed of the capital to improve farms themselves, tenants sublet to ‘cottagers’ or ‘partners’ who vandalised the land: ‘they plow up three Parts of four of the Land, without regard to Seasons or Manuring. They sow false Crops, Pill-fallow, break Fences, cut down Quicksetts and other Trees, for Fireing, or to mend their Carrs, spoil Copses, dig their Turf irregularly in Pitts and Hay.’ ‘No tenant,’ Molesworth argued, should posess ‘a greater Farm than he and his own Family or Servants can manage and wield after a husbandly Manner, with his own Stock and Subtance; without his Letting any part of it off to others.’33 Keeping tenants on a tighter leash, through shorter leases, was the principal means available to Irish landlords for the promotion of agricultural improvement, which was itself a sufficient motivation to encourage patriotic landlords to forego the exploitation of good tenants by excessive rents. ‘If there be any Landlord so griping as to turn an old improving good Tenant out of his Farm, at the expiration of his Lease,’ Molesworth cautioned, ‘let him suffer under the Obloquy of his Country.’34

Arthur Dobbs, an Antrim landholder and MP who was another of the founding circle of the Dublin Society, took precisely the opposite view. It was the Anglo-Irish landlords themselves, he cautioned, rather than their head tenants, who were responsible for the disordered state of Irish tillage. ‘Short leases of 21 years’, Dobbs argued, were a great ‘discouragement to Improvements’, since they gave tenants little incentive to invest labour or capital in their farms while encouraging ‘extravagant’ landlords to let out land at rack-rents. The agents of absentee noblemen, Dobbs warned, were the greatest offenders. ‘Industry and Improvements go very heavily on, when we think we are not to have the Property in either’, Dobbs observed. ‘What can be expected then from Covenants to improve and plant, when the Person to do it, knows he is to have no Property in them?’ The solution was not to follow Molesworth in pursuing the ever-tighter discipline of tenants through shorter leases, but to convert existing leases into a lifelong, renewable tenancies, in which the size and subdivision of the plot were strictly regulated, but the incentives to improvement maximised.35 It was through the creation of a free ‘yeomanry’, not a more disciplined and precarious tenantry, that the ordered and settled rural landscape sought by the promoters of Irish tillage could be brought into being:

What an Improvement such Tenures would procure to the Kingdom, every one at first View may observe. Here would be a fixt property in a Farm, sufficient to find employment for a large Family in improving it to the utmost. Then all lands capable of Improvement would be inclos’d, fenc’d, drain’d, manur’d, till’d or planted with every thing to the best advantage … The whole Country would appear like a regular Plantation or Garden, by the industry and frugality of the People: And Nature would seem always to smile.36

Dobbs’ speculations about the relationship between the security of tenure and the productivity of tillage land raised uncomfortable questions about the sectarian property settlement that was the dominant feature of Irish landed society from the seventeenth century down to independence. Following the expropriation of Ireland’s Catholic aristocracy in the seventeenth century, the Anglican-dominated Parliament at Dublin had passed a series of statutes – collectively referred to as the ‘Penal Laws’ – that aimed to restrict the Catholic majority’s access to public worship, civil or military officeholding, arms, property and credit.37 The 1704 ‘Act to Prevent the Further Growth of Popery’ was central to the eighteenth-century Irish debate on the of Irish tillage and the restraint of pastoralism. Under the terms of the act, Catholics were barred from inheriting from Protestants, acquiring land by purchase, or leasing land for more than thirty-one years. Land in Catholic hands was subject to the same law of ‘gavelkind’ – mandatory partitive inheritance – endorsed by Prior in his List of the Absentees of Ireland. The purpose of the provision was facilitate the breakup of Catholic estates and their sale into Anglican hands. The first male Anglican convert within a Catholic landed family was permitted to claim an estate in its entirety, rendering his siblings and parents his tenants; Protestant ‘discoverers’ of illegal Catholic land purchases, meanwhile, could be awarded the property themselves.38

Prior, Dobbs and Berkeley had tacitly acknowledged the confessional politics buried just beneath the surface of controversies over agrarian improvement in their responses to the crises of the 1720s. Prior’s endorsement of ‘gavelkind’ for Protestants, like Dobbs’ demand for lifetime tenancies, signalled an underlying dissatisfaction with the terms of the 1704 Act. Berkeley, meanwhile, had argued in more general terms that any prosperity ‘exclusive of the Bulk of the Natives’ would be illusory, arguing that an Irish paper money scheme would distribute economic ‘power’ to ‘each Member’ of a ‘well govern’d state … according to his just Pretensions and Industry’ while vindicating the political, moral and religious leadership of the Anglican church.39 It was evidently difficult to reconcile a patriotic and inclusive rhetoric of improvement – requiring not just the acquiescence but the active support of a majority Catholic population – with the colonial and sectarian realities of Irish politics.

This tension within the Anglican discourse of improvement was seized upon by the increasingly confident Catholic movement for reform or abolition of the Penal Laws. While much of the energy of the Catholic Committee founded in 1756 by the Roscommon landlord and antiquarian Charles O’Connor of Belangere was focused on rebutting the charge that Catholics could not be loyal subjects to a Protestant king, arguments for reform also drew on the same critique of pastoralism that had animated the economic writings of Anglican improvers a generation earlier. In his Case of the Roman Catholics of Ireland (1755), O’Connor claimed that the Penal Laws lay at the root of Ireland’s recurring currency and subsistence crises, producing a national economy that was excessively skewed towards pastoral agriculture.

Like Swift and Berkeley, O’Conor argued that prosperity that lacked a secure basis in tillage was illusory. In good years, it ‘furnished us with the Specie to purchase the Luxuries, and even the Corn of other countries’, but could not do so when export markets turned against Ireland. O’Conor blamed Ireland’s continuing dependence on corn imports on laws limiting the length of Catholic tenures. ‘It is evident to Demonstration,’ he argued, ‘that such an Occupation as the Improvement of Land is no Way suited to a transient and insecure interest, but that the wasteful Method of pasturage is so.’ Partitive inheritance and the conferral of estates on Protestant descendants prevented wealthier Catholics – whether merchants or land agents – from fixing their property in land. The Penal Laws, O’Conor warned, ‘tempt them, above all other People, to quit a Country with which they have but little Connexion, and retire into some other with the Prospect of a more benign Climate, and a more ascertained Property’.40

In a 1771 pamphlet published to coincide with a later push for reform of the penal statutes, O’Connor’s close associate, the historian and physician John Curry, similarly claimed that the insecurity of property and tenures by the Penal Laws created a pervasive aversion to improvement and a consequent preference for pasture among Catholic landholders. In an obvious reference to Edmund Spenser, Curry quipped that it was the ban on Catholics purchasing landed property that had ‘converted our Popish landholders, into a huge tribe of graziers, like our Scythian ancestors’.41 Curry was an acute observer of ‘Whiteboy’ agrarian violence in during the 1760s, arguing that it represented a set of specific economic grievances around the competition for potato plots rather than a fixed disposition to revolt among the Catholic peasantry.42 In his writing on the Penal Laws, he repeated longstanding criticisms of the social dislocation produced by the expansion of pasture: ‘these Graziers have no intereft in the culture of land, they expel the poor labourers into mountains, into towns, and into the neighbouring kingdom […] the wives and children of the greater part infest every quarter of the island, in the shape of naked beggars’. Taming the disorder of the Irish countryside required the security of tenure necessary to convince Catholic tenants to invest in turning their ‘waste’ pasture to fertile tillage land.43

A ‘great manufacture’

By the time Curry was writing in the 1770s, Ireland was on the cusp of the turn to tillage that would reshape its demography, human geography and political economy in the era of the French and American revolutionary wars. Tithe returns and estate records from Cork and South Munster – a region in which grazing, cattle fattening and tillage had long co-existed on fertile soils – show a decisive increase in grain production in the last quarter of the eighteenth century.44 Yields per acre remained constant even as population expanded and cultivation expanded onto more marginal land, encouraged by the increasingly systematic use of lime, sand and manure as fertilisers. Crop rotations became more sophisticated and prowess in ploughing a competitive sport.45 Some areas, such as County Wexford, were repeatedly praised by observers for their commitment to new agricultural techniques.

The principal causes for rising production, however, lay outside the control of improving landlords. Market integration within Ireland was enabled by the expansion of a system of turnpike roads capable of sustaining the bulk transport of wheat, barley and oats, as well as lime and sand for manuring. At the same time, industrial take-off in Britain, as well as repeated wartime distortions of European grain markets, boosted demand for Irish grain.46 The commercialisation of tillage generated, in turn, new settlement patterns around the large wheat farms of the south and east of the island. Farmers and labourers increasingly lived apart, with the latter occupying cabins with accompanying potato gardens, living from a combination of the wages they could earn and the potatoes they could grow.47 Given the demands on their labour time and the pressure, it is unsurprising that these ‘cottiers’ increasingly chose to plant ‘lumper’ varieties that required little additional work to cultivate and could be planted and harvested throughout the year.48 The versatility and resilience of the potato was such that it enabled mass migration to the upland west of the country, where land unsuited to commercial tillage could nonetheless be used to grow potatoes through cooperative ‘rundale’ farming, comparatively free from the attentions of landlords and agents. On the eve of the famine, it was these marginal uplands, rather than the fertile south and east of the island, where population density was greatest. Consumption of milk, cheese and oats, mainstays of the Irish diet across much of the country down to the end of the eighteenth century, went into a precipitous decline. ‘By the 1830s, one-third of the Irish population relied on potatoes for over ninety per cent of their calorie intake.’49

The rise of tillage fulfilled the reforming ambitions of early eighteenth-century Irish improvers. Yet the simultaneous emergence of cottierism and the potato as a primary means of organising labour and supporting population presented a striking paradox for observers of Ireland’s increasingly dynamic agrarian economy. Ireland was turning to tillage, but it was not, in the process, replicating an English path to ‘improvement’, like that desired by older reformers like Molesworth or Dobbs. The proliferation of cottier subtenancies represented a different kind of ‘proletarianisation’ of agricultural labour to the enclosure and live-in service that was reshaping rural life in arable regions of England by the last decades of the eighteenth century.50

The association of Irish cottierism and the potato diet with poverty – so self-evident to British observers like Malthus by the 1820s – was by no means straightforward for earlier observers of Ireland’s rural economy. The poor housing and clothing of Irish cottiers was frequently discussed and sensationalised in texts like Richard Twiss’ Tour of Ireland in 1775 (1776).51 Yet it was not clear to more careful observers of Ireland that this necessarily meant the ‘labouring poor’ were worse off than their English counterparts. In his Wealth of Nations (1776), Adam Smith observed that the potato was a much more efficient crop than wheat, rice or oats for the production of ‘nourishment’. ‘The strongest men and the most beautiful women perhaps in the British dominions,’ Smith claimed, ‘are said to be … from the lowest rank of people in Ireland, who are generally fed with this root. No food can afford a more decisive proof of its nourishing quality, or of its being peculiarly suitable to the health of the human condition.’52 In his Tour in Ireland (1780), the English agrarian reformer Arthur Young had cast a similarly sceptical eye over any automatic assumption that Ireland’s emergent cottier economy condemned farm labourers to a low standard of living. ‘I found upon various occasions,’ Young remarked,

that some gentlemen in Ireland are infected with the rage of adopting the systems as well as the shoes of England: with one party the poor are all starving, with the other they are deemed in a very tolerable situation, and a third, who look with an evil eye on the administration of the British Government, are fond of exclaiming at poverty and rags as proofs of the cruel treatment of Ireland.53

The payment of agricultural labour with land and potatoes, Young argued, was an inevitability in Ireland until such time as ‘a great increase of national wealth has introduced a more general circulation of money’.54 It was by no means clear, however, that payment in cash wages, which could be frittered away on vices and luxuries, was really preferable to the steady and nourishing diet afforded by the potato. Irish ‘idleness’ was attributable to political oppression, not the enervating effects of a potato diet. Indeed, the relative insulation of Irish peasants from the market price of grain made them more obedient and pliable than their English counterparts: ‘In England complaints rise even to riots when the rates of provisions are high, but in Ireland the poor have nothing to do with prices; they depend not on prices, but crops of a vegetable very regular in its produce.’ In the absence of the purchasing power afforded by cash wages, meanwhile, the labouring poor were far less liable to fall into the kind of vice and corruption that caused English poverty. ‘Do we not see numbers of half-starved and half-cloathed families owing to the superfluities of ale and brandy, tea and sugar?’, Young asked of his English readers. ‘An Irishman cannot do this in any degree; he can neither drink whiskey from his potatoes, nor milk it from his cow.’55

Young’s remarks were not intended as an unqualified defence of cottier subtenancies. In keeping with the overall argument of the Tour, they sought to correct British ignorance about Ireland while undermining an Irish rhetoric of patriotic complaint about the poverty inflicted by imperial restrictions on the Irish Kingdom’s foreign trade.56 During the revival of Irish political economy and demography that followed the Kingdom’s ‘legislative independence’ from Britain in 1782, however, the potato-fed subtenant became the hero of a celebratory narrative of demographic and economic growth under the custodianship of a sovereign Irish Parliament. In a paper read to the newly established Royal Irish Academy in 1789, the Anglo-Irish MP and revenue commissioner Gervaise Parker Bushe surveyed with satisfaction the rapid growth in Irish population enabled by the potato. Taking William Petty’s New Anatomy of Ireland (1672) as his baseline, Bushe sought to calculate the Irish population of his own day by combining an estimate of total households – suggested by the records of collectors of the Irish ‘hearth tax’ – with qualitative observations of the mode of living among Irish ‘peasants’ that could provide a rough guide to the likely number of inhabitants in each household.’

‘We may contemplate with pleasure the progress of Irish prosperity’, Bushe observed at the outset of his investigation.57 In the time of William Petty, Ireland had been a ‘country of pasturage’, with houses too shoddy for the large multigenerational families – complete with servants – who could be accommodated now that ‘tillage was becoming very general’.58 In these areas, Bushe observed with satisfaction, the ‘peasants … generally marry young; and potatoes being their general food, they are under no apprehensions of being unable to support their children; perhaps too for children there is no food so good’.59 The greater quality, but also the greater expense, of housing meant that numerous young couples often continued to live with their parents, using any savings to acquire more land rather than expand their dwellings. This was a mark, Bushe claimed, of the ‘industrious’ nature of the Irish peasant ‘where tillage has taken root’. Peasants’ choices not to invest in building larger or sturdier houses, dictated by the insecurity of tenures and the rapacity of middlemen, could not refute the ample evidence of a healthy and rapidly growing population.

Bushe’s assessment of the demographic benefits of the turn to tillage were echoed and amplified in a larger and more substantive work of Irish demography written by another Patriot politician, the Cork MP Thomas Newenham, at the height of the Napoleonic boom in Irish grain exports.60 Newenham offered a rhapsodic account of the shift away from grazing and towards more civilised, and productive, tillage agriculture.61 By increasing opportunities for agricultural employment, this had reduced the tide of emigration out of Ireland and facilitated rapid population growth. Irish farming was more labour intensive than its English equivalent; a factor that Newenham, following Adam Smith, identified as crucial to the promotion of population. The efficiency of the Irish staple diet of potatoes and oats ensured a relative absence of scarcity. It had been the stubborn persistence of wheat consumption among the newly settled Anglo-Irish, Newenham claimed, that had produced the famines of the early eighteenth century.62 Ireland’s modern population, by contrast, had attained a high level of density without succumbing to the vices of urbanisation. ‘Instead of England being competent to maintain a greater proportionate population than Ireland,’ Newenham asserted,

we shall find that, independently of the acknowledged superiority of the latter, with regard to natural and general fertility of soil, the nature of the food on which the great majority of its inhabitants habitually subsist … render it competent to support an infinitely more dense population than the former.63

Tillage, Newenham claimed, should be considered ‘an immense manufacture’; it was a civilising process that had driven Ireland’s ascent from a predominantly pastoral economy in the course of the eighteenth century.64 Echoing Spenser’s association of pastoralism with rebellion, he regarded seventeenth-century Ireland as having been in the ‘shepherd state, which, next to the hunter state, disposes and qualifies a people most for war’.65 Even in a modern age of commerce, a society focused on rural grain production was more likely to be stable and prosperous than one in which urban workers formed a growing, and increasingly dangerous, political constituency:

In places where extensive manufactories are established, and those engaged in them crowded together, the morals of the people are less pure; principles hostile to the public peace are more easily propagated; and contingencies, calculated to excite popular clamour, are more to be apprehended, than is the case in those districts, where, however dense the population, the people are assiduously employed in the culture of the land. Such, for the most part, is the actual condition of the people of Ireland, and it deserves to be considered whether it would not be much more prudent to direct the attention of the Irish to agriculture, than to manufactures for export.66

The Anglo-Irish had long regarded manufacturing for export as a means of raising Catholic living standards and defusing social tension. The potato held the key to the cultivation of grain as a ‘manufacture’. As an efficient primary staple crop that could readily be consumed by subsistence farmers on small plots of land, it ensured that grain was available to export to Britain, in return for the manufactured goods and luxuries that were imported into Ireland. ‘As there exists, and is likely to exist,’ he observed, ‘a great void in the British corn-market, which must be supplied from some quarter or other; it seems eminently conducive to the welfare of Britain that the tillage of Ireland be seasonably improved and extended.’ The Irish peasantry’s reliance on the potato ensured that while in ‘other countries’ grain was a ‘mere necessary of life: here, it is rather an exportable manufacture, by the foreign vent whereof, those who labour in preparing it for market are enabled to purchase that article of food which they have been in the habit of using’. The combination of tillage and the potato was the key to the achievement of a novel kind of Irish prosperity, defined not by the luxury, vice and manufactures of an increasingly urban Britain, but by the steady industry and flourishing population of a teeming, intensively cultivated Irish countryside.

The potato and the poor law

For some observers in the early decades of the nineteenth century, Ireland’s peculiar path to a tillage revolution represented a stable form of prosperity that contrasted favourably with the disruptions wrought by enclosure and estate consolidation in English agriculture. Robert Fraser, a Dublin Society surveyor who had earlier undertaken comparable investigations of Devon and Cornwall, noted approvingly that the flourishing small-scale agriculture of Wexford was analogous to ‘that state, in which England was in the middle of the last century’: before enclosures, clearances and the growth of manufacturing towns had destroyed the country’s capacity to feed itself.67 Even in Britain itself, participants in the increasingly fraught debate over reform of the English poor law cited Ireland as an example of a society that had contained and managed rural poverty more successfully than England, where rising poor rates and the near constant dependence of rural populations on the parish for labour and subsistence were beginning to cause serious resentment among the gentry.68 Poverty, observed Young’s friend and fellow English improver John Christian Curwen in the British Commons in 1817, was a thoroughly subjective experience. ‘We hear perpetually of the wretched state in which the Irish peasant is doomed to exist … accustomed, as we are, to see a more liberal distribution of the comforts of life among the lower orders’, Curwen observed. Yet ‘those who have the courage to examine more minutely into the condition of this hardy race, and to judge by their own feelings, and by ours, may draw conclusions very opposite’.69 The virtue and comparative independence of the Irish peasant meant that ‘amidst all his wants and sufferings’, his condition was ‘far superior to the unhappy victim of pauperism in this country’. The ‘envy and jealousy’ engendered among the English poor by their dependence on the parish had destroyed their capacity to participate in the ‘social affections’ that Curwen, following William Paley, regarded as the essence of ‘happiness’.70

Curwen’s remarks on Ireland were a preface to the case he made for a universal levy on the earnings of the poor to fund their own relief, something which he believed would both educate them into greater foresight and reduce the poor rates.71 The threat the Irish model posed to English poor law reformers convinced of the rectitude of Robert Malthus’ new theory of population, however, was that the combination of potatoes and paternalistic schemes for the accommodation of the rural poor in cottages – measures advocated by Young, among others, as a solution to the crisis of the Old Poor Law – would produce immiseration on a grand scale.72 Malthus’ attention was turned briefly to Ireland in 1808–1809 when, reviewing Newenham’s works, he attributed the rapid increase in Ireland’s population and the dependency on the potato as a lingering legacy of the political oppression of the Penal era, which had prevented the Irish poor from acquiring the self-respect to demand wheaten bread – an evidently superior foodstuff – as the customary basis of their diet.73

It was another compendious Irish travel account, authored by Edward Wakefield, an English Quaker land agent, that marked the vital intellectual turning point that led nineteenth-century British economists to anathemise the potato and cottier tenancies in their treatments of the problem of Irish poverty.74 Wakefield’s Account offered a radically pessimistic view of the Irish agricultural boom. While English demand was leading to increased output, farms remained small and undercapitalised. Cottier tenures were becoming more, not less, prevalent as Ireland became more thoroughly integrated into the British economic system. Worse, leading Irish improvers – Wakefield cited the examples of the Limerick physician Samuel Crumpe and the Cork land agent Horatio Townshend – seemed not to have noticed that this labour-intensive, undercapitalised form of agriculture betokened stagnation at a low level of social complexity. Their fetishisation of tillage was profoundly mistaken:

So far from believing, that it would be beneficial to the kingdom to convert the rich grazing lands of that country into corn fields, I freely confess, that better arguments in favour of this change than I have yet heard must be adduced, before I can be convinced of its utility. When the scheme of dividing the land into small allotments, which would cramp circulation, and oblige every man to produce for himself, and to be satisfied with a bare subsistence, without any surplus, is considered in all its consequences, it will be found, that instead of making the state of agriculture more flourishing, it will have a quite contrary effect.75

Where Young had understood cottier tenure as a side effect of Irish poverty, Wakefield regarded it as one of its central causes. His Account privileged agricultural productivity over mere population, arguing that Ireland’s utility to the empire would be increased if its numerous peasant smallholdings were converted into well-capitalised tenant farms on the English model. Arthur Young’s Political Arithmetic (1774), rather than his Irish Tour, provided the crucial inspiration for this argument, which recalled Young’s position in the English population controversies of the 1770s. In the fevered atmosphere of the American crisis, Young had dismissed Richard Price’s dire warnings that enclosures and estate clearances were depopulating the countryside and destroying the military virtue of the old English yeomanry. Efficient modern agriculture enabled capital investment and economies of scale, which, combined with a growing manufacturing population, would ultimately render the nation more resilient in war and more flourishing in peacetime. ‘My politicks of classing national wealth before population, needs no exception’, Young declared.76

Wakefield urged Ireland’s assimilation to this English logic of commercial diversification and agricultural investment. The potato, Wakefield claimed, was a food best suited for farm animals; it had been known to produce ‘desspepsia [sic.]’ and ‘fluxes’ among the Scottish peasantry.77 More damaging still were the stifling psychological and civilisational confines of subsistence agriculture. In Ireland, Wakefield claimed, the ‘division of labour is scarcely known’. In this ‘degraded state of society’, there was a ‘want of encouragement to every species of ingenuity’. The nature of the ‘cottier system’ was to

approximate man to the state of the savage, where the insulated being is obliged to supply himself by his own labour … yet, I have been told, “these people are happy, they have every thing within themselves”. They may enjoy the bliss of insensibility, but they are many degrees removed from that exalted happiness which gives man his proper dignity, and which always prevails in a country where the arts and moral improvement, keep an equal pace.78

Wakefield argued for a new spatial imaginary of Irish society, challenging Newenham’s account of the even distribution of population across a densely populated countryside. ‘One of the principal causes of the miserable state of society in Ireland,’ he claimed, ‘arises from the manner in which the country is peopled. In the interior, there are no cities or large towns to give employment to the surplus hands.’79 In spite of the ‘great wretchedness among the poor, in crowded and manufacturing towns’, English urbanisation represented a superior alternative to Irish stagnation. Food for the English towns was ‘obtained by the produce of labour fairly brought to market’; if the cities were drained and their population returned to the land, ‘no greater quantity of food would be created; and the whole industry of this part of the community … would be lost in a general cessation from labour’.80 If Ireland under the control of eighteenth-century Anglo-Irish had been remodelled as a laboratory for labour-intensive agrarianism, it would, under the conditions created by the Great Famine and championed by the British economists who followed Wakefield, be returned to the pastoral, sparsely populated island encountered by Swift, Berkeley and Dobbs at the start of the eighteenth century.81

An end to paternalism?

Wakefield’s condemnation of cottier tenancies served to sharply illustrate the gap between the ‘improvement’ desired by eighteenth-century Anglo-Irish agrarian writers and the ‘savage’ conditions of a life characterised by ‘bare subsistence’. Much of nineteenth-century Irish politics would be shaped by rival projects of social engineering to end cottier tenancies and replace them either with large, well-capitalised farms – on an English model – or free peasant smallholdings, on precedents suggested by both Ulster and post-revolutionary France.82 The potato failures of 1845–1852 were ruthlessly exploited by a succession of British politicians as an occasion to bring about the insertion of the stagnant, isolated Irish peasantry perceived by Wakefield into the civilising circuits of the wage labour and commercial society. By the later nineteenth century, the sharp reduction of Ireland’s population by starvation and emigration had created conditions under which ‘strong’ tenant farmers – often producing beef, cattle and dairy products for export to Britain – could form the backbone of a political coalition dedicated to the redistribution of Irish property to those who farmed it.83 The nationalist politics of land reform were frequently and self-consciously opposed to the devastating precedent set by the Famine and its attendant estate clearances. Both paradigms of agrarian change, however, represented attempts to chart a route out of the apparent economic and political cul-de-sac of the cottier system, which fatally severed subsistence from property relations in ways offensive to both British liberal and republican-nationalist conceptions of political economy. The cottier system, as we have seen, was not the natural condition of a timeless Irish peasantry, but rather the product of the lopsided development undergone by the Irish Kingdom in the second half of the eighteenth century. In producing a densely peopled and cultivated landscape, Irish population growth seemed to betoken an end to the poverty of desolation created by the seventeenth century’s wars of religion, only to give rise to another: one of (over)abundance, understood by Malthus, Wakefield and their later followers as a proliferation of bare life at the edges of subsistence. This represented a failure of the civilising mission in Ireland, because it did not create in Irish subjects the capacity to engage in the complex forms of labour and consumption that defined personal autonomy in a mature ‘commercial society’. As such, these early nineteenth-century critiques should be read not as radical departures from earlier, eighteenth-century ideas about Irish poverty. Instead, they served to expose the gap that existed between earlier Anglo-Irish aspirations to the ‘improvement’ of the Irish landscape and population and the distinctive, unruly and even threatening agglomeration of rural population that resulted from the demographic, economic and ecological juncture of the late eighteenth century. Ideas of poverty in Ireland were formed in a crucible of political contest between different local and imperial elites, within a context of dramatic – and ultimately fatal – economic and agrarian transformations.


1 William Temple, ‘An Essay upon the Advancement of Trade in Ireland. Written to the Earl of Essex, Lord Lieutenant of That Kingdom (1673)’, in The Works of Sir William Temple, Bart, 4 vols (London, 1814), vol. iii, pp. 1–28, at p. 3.
2 Temple, ‘Advancement of Trade’, p. 4.
3 Ibid., p. 3.
4 Robert Malthus to David Ricardo 17 August 1817, The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, eds Maurice Dobb and Piero Sraffa, 11 vols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, [1817] 1973), vol. vii, p. 175.
5 Temple, ‘Advancement of Trade’, p. 2.
6 Ibid., pp. 4–5; Malthus to Ricardo 17 August 1817, Works of David Ricardo, vol. vii, p. 175.
7 Jane H. Ohlmeyer, ‘Conquest, Civilization, Colonization: Ireland, 1540–1660’, in Ian McBride and Richard Bourke (eds), The Princeton History of Modern Ireland (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016), pp. 21–47.
8 Nicholas Canny, ‘Identity Formation in Ireland: The Emergence of the Anglo-Irish’, in Nicholas Canny and Anthony Pagden (eds), Colonial Identity in the Atlantic World, 15001800 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), pp. 159–213; T. C. Barnard, Improving Ireland? Projectors, Prophets and Profiteers, 16411786 (Dublin: Four Courts, 2008).
9 Samuel Madden, Reflections and Resolutions Proper for the Gentlemen of Ireland, as to Their Conduct for the Service of Their Country, as Landlords, as Masters of Families (Dublin, 1738).
10 Deirdre Ní Chuanacháin, Utopianism in Eighteenth-Century Ireland (Cork: Cork University Press, 2015).
11 David Dickson, Old World Colony: Cork and South Munster, 16601830 (Cork: Cork University Press, 2015); Patrick Kelly, ‘The Politics of Political Economy in Mid-Eighteenth-Century Ireland’, in Sean J. Connolly (ed.), Political Ideas in Eighteenth-Century Ireland (Dublin: Four Courts, 2000), pp. 109–118 at p. 109.
12 Cormac Ó Gráda, Ireland: A New Economic History, 1780–1939 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994) pp. 5–13.
13 William Cobbett, The Parliamentary History of England from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803, 36 vols (London, 1806), vol. xv, p. 1274; Thomas, Brinley, ‘Feeding England during the Industrial Revolution: A View from the Celtic Fringe’, Agricultural History, 56:1 (1982), 328–342.
14 Emund Spenser, ‘A View of the Present State of Ireland’ in The Works of Spenser, 6 vols (London, [1595] 1750), vol. vi, p. 207.
15 John Davies, ‘A Discovery of the True Causes Why Ireland Was Never Brought under Obedience of the Crown of England, until His Late Majesty’s Happy Reign’, in Historical Tracts by Sir John Davies (London, [1613] 1786), pp. 1–227 at p. 197.
16 Ibid., p. 99.
17 John Millar, An Historical View of the English Government, From the Settlement of the Saxons in Britain to the Revolution in 1688 (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, [1803] 2006), pp. 673–674.
18 Ian McBride, ‘The Politics of A Modest Proposal: Swift and the Irish Crisis of the Late 1720s’, Past & Present, 244:1 (2019), 89–122, at 107–108.
19 Robert Molesworth, Some Considerations for the Promoting of Agriculture and Employing the Poor (Dublin, 1723) pp. 4–5.
20 Thomas Prior, A List of the Absentees of Ireland, and the Yearly Value of their Estates and Incomes Spent Abroad (Dublin, 1729), p. 32.
21 George Berkeley, The Querist, Part 2 (London, 1736), p. 12.
22 George Berkeley, The Querist, Part 1 (London, 1736), pp. 17–18.
23 Istvan Hont, ‘The ‘Rich Country-Poor Country’ Debate Revisited: The Irish Origins and French Reception of the Hume Paradox’, in Carl Wennerlind and Margaret Schabas (eds), David Hume’s Political Economy (London: Routledge, 2008), pp. 243–323.
24 Jean-François Melon, A Political Essay Upon Commerce, trans. David Bindon (Dublin, 1738), p. 5.
25 Ibid., p. 188.
26 Ibid., p. 176.
27 Ibid., p. 195.
28 David Bindon, ‘Editor’s Introduction’ in Melon, ‘Essay upon Commerce’, p. xvii.
29 Ibid., p. xi.
30 Ibid., p. xiii.
31 Prior, Absentees of Ireland, pp. 80–81.
32 Berkeley, The Querist Part 2, p. 13
33 Molesworth, Some Considerations, p. 12.
34 Ibid., p. 7.
35 Arthur Dobbs, An Essay on the Trade and Improvement of Ireland (Dublin, 1729) pp.80–81.
36 Ibid., p. 82.
37 Sean J. Connolly, Religion, Law and Power: The Making of Protestant Ireland, 16601760 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), pp. 263–264.
38 W. N. Osborough, ‘Catholics, Land and the Popery Acts of Anne’, in Thomas P. Power and Kevin Whelan (eds), Endurance and Emergence: Catholics in Ireland in the Eighteenth Century (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1990), pp. 21–56; Emma Lyons, ‘To “Elude the Design and Intention” of the Penal Laws: Collusion and Discovery in Eighteenth-Century Ireland – A Case Study’, in Kevin Costello and Niamh Howlin (eds), Law and Religion in Ireland, 17001970 (Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2021), pp. 49–75 at p. 50.
39 Berkeley, The Querist, Part 1, p. 2, pp.36–38; James Livesey, ‘Berkeley, Ireland and Eighteenth-Century Intellectual History’, Modern Intellectual History, 12 (2015), 453–473.
40 Charles O’Connor, Case of the Roman Catholics of Ireland (Dublin, 1755), pp. 56–57.
41 John Curry, Observations on the Popery Laws (Dublin, 1771), p. 30.
42 John Curry, A Candid Enquiry Into the Causes and Motives of the Late Riots in the Province of Munster: In Ireland; by the People Called White-Boys Or Levellers. With an Appendix (London, 1767).
43 Curry, Observations on the Popery Laws, pp. 31–32.
44 Dickson, Old World Colony, pp. 284–288.
45 Ibid., pp. 290–297.
46 Kevin Whelan, ‘The Modern Landscape’, in F. H. A. Aalen, Matthew Stout and Kevin Whelan (eds), Atlas of the Irish Rural Landscape, second edition (Cork: Cork University Press, 2011), pp.73–111, at pp. 80–81.
47 Ibid., p. 83.
48 Ibid., p. 93.
49 Ibid., p. 96.
50 Leigh Shaw-Taylor, ‘Parliamentary Enclosure and the Emergence of an English Agricultural Proletariat’, The Journal of Economic History, 61:3 (2001), 640–662.
51 Richard Twiss, A Tour in Ireland in 1775 (London, 1776).
52 Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, eds R. H. Campbell. A. S. Skinner and W. B. Todd, 2 vols (Indianapolis IN: Liberty Fund, [1776] 1981), vol. i, p. 177.
53 Arthur Young, A Tour in Ireland, 2 vols (Dublin, 1770–1780), vol. ii, p. 25.
54 Ibid., vol. ii, p. 32.
55 Ibid., vol. ii, p. 31.
56 James Stafford, The Case of Ireland: Commerce, Empire and the European Order, 1750–1848 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022), pp. 52–56.
57 Gervase Parker Bushe, ‘An Essay towards Ascertaining the Population of Ireland. In a Letter to the Right Honourable the Earl of Charlemont, President of the Royal Irish Academy’, The Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, 3 (1789), 145–155 at 151.
58 Ibid., 151, 153.
59 Ibid., 151–152.
60 Thomas Newenham, A Stastistical and Historical Inquiry into the Progress and Magnitude of the Population of Ireland (London, 1805); ibid., A View of the Natural, Political and Commercial Circumstances of Ireland (London, 1809).
61 Newenham, Progress and Magnitude, pp. 44–45.
62 Ibid., pp. 337–338.
63 Ibid.
64 Newenham, Circumstances of Ireland, p. 17, pp. 57–58.
65 Ibid., p 306.
66 Ibid., pp. 306–307.
67 Robert Fraser, Statistical Survey of the County of Wexford (Dublin, 1807), p. 61.
68 Peter Mandler, ‘The Making of the New Poor Law Redivivus’, Past & Present, 117 (1987), 131–157; Sarah Lloyd, ‘Cottage Conversations: Poverty and Manly Independence in Eighteenth-Century England’, Past & Present, 184 (2004), 69–109.
69 John Christian Curwen, Speech … in the House of Commons, on the 21st of February 1817, on a Motion for a Committee to Take into Consideration the Poor Laws (London, 1817).
70 Ibid., p. 55.
71 Ibid., pp. 61–65.
72 John Riddoch Poynter, Society and Pauperism: English Ideas on Poor Relief, 1795–1834 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969), pp. 91–105; T. R. Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population: The 1803 Edition, ed. Shannon C. Stimson (London: Yale University Press, 2018) pp. 446–456.
73 Stafford, Case of Ireland, pp. 200–205.
74 Edward Wakefield. An Account of Ireland, Statistical and Political, 2 vols (London, 1812); David Lloyd, ‘The Political Economy of the Potato’, Nineteenth Century Contexts, 29 (2007), 311–335.
75 Wakefield, Account of Ireland, vol. i, p. 579.
76 Arthur Young, Political Arithmetic (London, 1774), p. 288.
77 Wakefield, Account of Ireland, vol. ii, p. 716.
78 Ibid., vol. ii, p. 721.
79 Ibid., vol. ii, pp. 719–720.
80 Ibid., vol. ii, p. 720.
81 David P. Nally, Human Encumbrances: Political Violence and the Great Irish Famine (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2011).
82 Stafford, The Case of Ireland, pp. 210–253.
83 Peter Gray, ‘Famine and Land, 1845–80’, in Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish History, ed. Alvin Jackson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 545–558.
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