A Fine Moral System


From Vol. III of Ireland: Its Scenery, Character, etc. by Mr and Mrs Samuel Hall (1843):
‘In the county Tyrone, and within a distance of little more than three miles from Strabane, is to be found one of the most interesting establishments it has ever been our good fortune to visit in any country. We have inspected manufactories of much greater extent than the “Sion Mills” but have never witnessed with greater gratification the practical and efficient working of a fine moral system…’





‘The mills are situated on the river Mourne, which rushes along with a rapid and continued current, and is about one of the best water powers in Great Britain, the supply being not only large but constant. About eighty-horse power is now employed to drive eight thousand spindles; yet but a small portion of the water is necessary for the purpose. Instead of the hot furnace, long chimneys, and dense smoke, rendering still more unhealthy the necessarily close atmosphere of manufactories devoted exclusively to the spinning of flax and tow into linen yarn, there is a clean, handsome, well-ventilated building, where nearly seven hundred of a peasantry, which, before the establishment of this manufactory, were starving and idle—not from choice but necessity—are now constantly employed; and the air is as pure and as fresh as on the borders of the wildest prairie, or the boldest coast…’





‘The bare fact of such a population being taught industrious habits, and receiving full remuneration for their time and labour, is a blessing; but not the only one enjoyed by this favoured peasantry: agricultural labour is not neglected, because five out of the seven hundred are women and girls—creatures who, but for the spirit and enterprise of the Messrs. Herdman, (to whom, and the Mulhollands of Belfast, Tyrone is indebted for this establishment) would be found cowering over the embers of their turf fires, or begging along the waysides for morsels of food. But this system of social order and social industry is not, as we have said, the only advantage enjoyed at Sion Mills. Cottages, of simple construction, but sound and comfortable, have been built for the workmen and their families; a school is established, and to the Sunday-school the Messrs. Herdman themselves attend, taking the greatest interest in educational progress of their workpeople, and distributing motives to improvement, lavishly and judiciously. Nor are they behind London in the idea, that “the people” may derive benefit from the introduction of more refined tastes into the business of every-day life. The traveller’s ear is refreshed, if he pass along during the long evenings of winter, or the bright cheerful ones of summer, by the music of a full band; and instead of the saddened hearts and saddened features he has been led to suppose inseparable from the crowded factory, he hears a chorus of cheerful voices, or the echoes of dancing feet.’


Herdmans Flax Spinning Mill, Sion Mills, County Tyrone. Opened 1835, closed 2004, gutted by arsonists 2016. 

 

Brought to Book


In September 1753 Michael O’Reilly wrote from Dublin to the Roscommon-based antiquarian Charles O’Conor ‘I think a man should read books as he eats victuals; surfeits of either cannot be digested; and too many books as too many dishes will cause surfeit.’ The problem for O’Reilly, as for many readers today, was that more volumes were being produced than could be consumed: the market seemed to be ahead of supply. Toby Barnard’s newly-published Brought to Book: Print in Ireland 1680-1784 examines the history of publication here during this period. Barnard notes the steady rise in work being brought out. In the 1680s the average number of new titles published in Dublin was 52: by the 1790s that figure had risen to 480. For a long time Irish authors preferred, if possible, to publish in England, the understandable expectation being that they would thereby earn more and reach a larger audience. Furthermore, because the British government’s Copyright Act of 1710 did not apply to Ireland, authors who published here enjoyed no legal entitlement to payment for their work. While this had an impact on the development of Irish publishing, ultimately the drive towards an indigenous industry was too strong to be resisted.


Barnard notes how many of the books produced here were local editions of work already successful in other countries. Initially interest in books about Ireland attracted little interest, one dealer noting that such volumes were ‘very little noticed by them whom they did most concern.’ But with the passage of time, increased communication and greater awareness of the need to improve the state of the country, work of Irish subject matter increased in appeal – and sales. Then as now, criticism was not always well-received: the English agronomist Arthur Young was much admired when he wrote about his own country – the Dublin Society made him an honorary member in 1771 – but drew a less favourable response when he turned his attention to matters Irish: the first edition of his Tour of Ireland had to be published in London when insufficient subscribers could be found here. Contrary to what is often thought and despite the Penal Laws, devotional books for Roman Catholics were published in Ireland from the 1720s onwards, albeit under a suppositious mainland European imprint. The first work in the Irish language known to have been produced in Dublin for Catholic readers appeared in 1736: intended as an aid for other members of the clergy, it was a series of sixteen sermons by Bishop Gallagher of Raphoe, County Donegal. By the end of the period covered, books such as Charlotte Brooke’s The reliques of Irish poetry (1788) were both recording and celebrating the nation’s ancient culture. As Barnard points out ‘the venerable was valued as evidence of the complex culture in an earlier Ireland.’ The course of this transition is traced in his own book, illustrating how complex cultures also existed here during the early modern period.


Brought to Book: Print in Ireland 1680-1784 by Toby Barnard is published by the Four Courts Press.