12 Jul 2012
Kieran’s Our City, Our Town, 12 July 2012
Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,
Cork Independent, 12 July 2012
Technical Memories (Part 24)
The Die of War
“The present juncture, notwithstanding the inevitable disturbance in the labour market, is favourable for active preparation for the great commercial developments resulting from the war. With the prospect of new markets it becomes essential to study the conditions for supplying them, and to adjust our methods of production and distribution accordingly” (George Fletcher, Assistant-Secretary of Technical Instruction, 20 April 1915).
In George Fletcher’s paper of 1915 (see last week) he alluded to a number of conditions, physical, geographical and social that Irish industry needed to focus upon. He pointed to the fact that the larger portion of Ireland was unsuited to the introduction of large, highly-organised industries, such as those that characterised the north of England and the north east of Ireland. The principal factors to consider were the cost of labour, the cost of raw material, the neighbourhood of markets and cost of transport, the cost of motive power, and rents.
Industrially and commercially the interests of Ireland were intimately bound up with those of Great Britain, which was by far the country’s greatest market, and as Fletcher noted what concerned one country concerned the other. On presenting information on the numbers involved in agriculture in Ireland the numbers had decreased in the late nineteenth century by nearly 100,000 and those engaged in industrial work alone decreased only by 26,000. The land under cultivation had diminished by about one half since 1851. In general, the population diminished at the same rate as the land went out of cultivation. Ireland was also without coal and iron and lacked certain other raw materials as well. According to Fletcher, it was also a regrettable fact that just as the change from tillage to cattle rearing displaced human labour so did the change from the simpler methods of production to the use of machinery. He noted though that on several occasions, the displacement due to the introduction of machinery was temporary and was followed by increased employment as factories sough to produce more.
George Fletcher flagged that the higher cost of living in cities necessitated higher wages; “The workman in the smaller towns can, with lower wages, secure greater comfort. The difference between the rates of wages will, in many cases, be sufficient to turn the balance in favour of the small town. The value of labour cannot be measured by the rate of wages alone. Low wages do not imply cheap labour”. He gave the example, that closely associated with the linen weaving industry of Ulster was the hand-embroidery of linen. The industry was essentially a home industry. It was carried on by women and girls, and yielded in the region of £250,000 per annum in wages. In times past it was considerably larger. For twenty years previously to 19195 it had declined, both as to the number of persons employed and the prices paid for work. Manufacturers were getting their linen embroidered abroad. Huge quantities of handkerchiefs were sent to Switzerland, to be embroidered on machines introduced no less than fifty years previously. As a result the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction undertook to aid in the maintenance of two schools of machine embroidery, one at Ballydougan, Co. Down and the other at Maghera, in Co. Derry.
Before war broke out, Germany was sending Ireland over a million pound’s worth of toys and games per annum. The export of such goods from the United Kingdom to Germany was of the value of £50,000. The cutting-off of the supply of nearly a million pound’s worth of toys was to Fletcher “a serious menace to domestic peace; the nursery was in danger, and immediately men’s and women’s minds were turned to producing toys”.
Before the war Ireland was importing into the United Kingdom from Germany over a million pound’s worth of glass and a further £1 ¼ million’s worth from Belgium. Experiments were being conducted in the laboratories of the Royal College of Science with a view to testing the suitability of Irish sand to make Irish glass. The first results were encouraging and awaited verification by tests on a commercial scale. To Fletcher, another great opportunity arose from the country’s leather trade. German exports to Ireland per annum amounted to over £2 million’s worth of leather. In his conclusions, George Fletcher considered that a condition essential to success was high efficiency in production and that, “the war had brought home to a large number of people truths which a year ago found only unwilling hearers”.
During World War One over two thousand Corkmen were killed, some eleven hundred of them from Cork City alone. Many of them lie buried with hundreds of thousands of other British soldiers in the cemeteries of northern France and Flanders. At the South Mall is a memorial to those Irishmen who died in the First World War. It was erected in 1925, and is one of the few example Irish examples of its type. Carved in relief on a modest limestone obelisk, sitting on a plinth, is the profile of a Munster Fusiliers soldier in full military uniform, head down, gun at rest.
To be continued…
649a. Gravestone, A Soldier of the Great War, Tyne Cot Cemetery, Belgium (picture: Kieran McCarthy)