The Environment

More immediately successful were the agrarian and environmental improvements that, as the agrarian revolution gathered momentum, became a serious as well as a fashionable occupation for many landowners. An example is the number of statutes passed encouraging the planting of trees. At the beginning of the eighteenth–century Ireland was relatively treeless and, until the enclosure movement began to progress, hedgeless. Not only were trees aesthetically pleasing but as wood was the basic material, used, much as plastic is today, for everything from building to water pipes, it was an essential commodity. The numerous statutes reflect both concern and ineffectiveness. They attempted to impose quotas to be planted and to protect the saplings in their infancy, for the flexible sapling had many uses in an agrarian community.

Improving landlords encouraged their tenants by precept and by awarding prizes for outstanding achievements. This reforming zeal was symbolised by the foundation of the Dublin Society in 1731.


The Dublin Society was a microcosm of the interests of the MPs and their ambitions for the development of the country. In this respect the breadth of the society's interests and undertakings was almost incredible. For instance, it gradually established the National Museum, the National Library, the College of Art, the Veterinary College and the Botanic Gardens. It also encouraged trade, industry and agriculture in a variety of ways, including operating silk and woollen warehouses, paying the manufacturers on a commission basis. Those who conducted successful experiments of potential national utility were rewarded with highly prized medals, citations and premiums. Parliament used the society as a vehicle for distributing grants for various social and economic purposes. The Dublin Society enjoyed the support of successive viceroys, notably Lord Chesterfield, who procured its Royal Charter in 1750.

Significantly, the society's early meetings were held in the rooms of the Philosophical Society in Trinity College, thereby linking it with the intellectual traditions of Molyneux (1425), Molesworth (1419) and the philosopher George Berkeley. It moved to the committee room in the new Parliament House and met there until February 1757, when it moved into its own premises in nearby Shaw's Court. The esteem in which the society was held and its centrality to Irish life are shown by John Foster's (0805) reaction to the famous agronomist Arthur Young. When Young came on his tour, Foster wrote to his friend John Baker Holroyd complaining of Young's hasty and rigid approach, adding that he had intended 'to have exerted myself with the Dublin Society to pay him proper compliment etc.'.

An interest in architecture, both public and private, grew as the century progressed. This was encouraged by the consolidation of the peace after 1715. The Parliament House undoubtedly gave stimulus to an interest that had earlier shown itself in the Royal Hospital at Kilmainham and the handsome Jacobean Library of Trinity College, while Speaker Conolly's (0460) great Palladian mansion at Castletown gave a similar impetus to private building. The gentry began to emulate each other in erecting, decorating and furnishing splendid country houses in suitably landscaped settings.

Great houses were usually built in one of three styles: Jacobean at the beginning of the century, Palladian in the middle and Gothic towards the end. These house styles overlapped depending on the conservative or progressive outlook of their owners, one house, Castle Ward, was equally divided between the Gothic taste of Lady Bangor and the Palladian determination of her husband! In the decorative arts, a cross–fertilisation of Irish, European and British traditions provided impressive benefits. As the century progressed many developed an interest in gardens and a passion for collecting rare and exotic botanical plants. For instance, Peter La Touche of Bellevue (1207), MP for Co. Leitrim, and Chief Baron Foster (0804) had famous gardens and conservatories, theme gardens were also in vogue – Frederick (Michael) Trench (2108) created a 'romantic' garden in Queen's county.

Others had an interest in Irish antiquities, language and literature, most notably Henry Flood (0762), who left substantial bequests to Trinity College for the study of the Irish language and its literature. It was this interest and enthusiasm that led to the foundation of the Royal Irish Academy in 1785. By the middle of the century, the social life of Dublin, particularly during the biennial parliamentary season, encouraged the building of town houses. Speculators, including MPs such as the Deputy Vice–Treasurer, Luke Gardiner (0841), began to develop the city into its wide, elegant streets and squares. Dublin city's reputation for elegance was largely the work of the Wide Streets Commissioners appointed by the Irish parliament.