Minerals and Mining

Ireland was unfortunate in that it could not compensate for the diminishing woodland with alternative mineral discoveries and developments. This created a particular problem for the small iron-smelting industries. In the seventeenth century charcoal furnaces had been founded throughout the country, but these had virtually vanished by the late 1780s. As early as 1699 the House of Commons was considering a petition from the Dublin smiths on the scarcity of iron ‘by reason of the small quantity thereof that is made here, but also that the little that is made is so extraordinary dear, and so very bad’.

The blacksmiths were the jacks-of-all-trades, from shoeing horses to making pans. They requested an act to encourage the importation of pig-iron, pointing out that this would benefit not only them but the kingdom at large, by preventing the destruction of the remaining woods. Later in the century the Royal Dublin Society (founded in 1731 and incorporated in 1750), which was the channel for many parliamentary grants, offered premiums for both charcoal and bark substitutes, but satisfactory alternatives eluded them.