On 19 August 1862 the Irish Times markets report included this:
Athlone Market, August 16th. The following are the rates: oats 14s to 14s 6d per barrel; hay per ton 26s to 33s; straw 1s 7d to 1s 9d per cwt; potatoes 4d to 5d per stone; beef 7d to 8d per lb; mutton 6d to 8d; veal 5d to 7d do; lamb 6s 0d to 8s per qr; geese each 1s 6d to 2s 0d per pair [no, I don’t understand it either]; ducks 1s 2d to 1s 6d; fowls 1s 0d to 1s 6d; butter 8d to 9d per lb; eggs 6d to 7d per dozen; bacon (Irish) 7d to 9d per lb; American 5d to 6d.
Fish rather scarce: trout 6d per lb; pike 2d per lb; bream 1s per dozen; perch 1s per doz; eels 2s to 4s per dozen.
The weather during the past week has been, on the whole, favourable to the growing crops which look very well in this neighbourhood. Potatoes, especially, are an excellent and abundant crop.
Being anxious to increase the economic benefits of inland waterways, I determined to make a fish stew, using only freshwater fish. Accordingly, I emailed Inland Fisheries Ireland [IFI] to ask where I could buy a selection of freshwater fish. Answer came there none, which made me wonder why the state paid IFI almost €28.5 million in 2014 (the latest year for which accounts are available). If fishing isn’t producing food, then the maggots are being drowned for entertainment, as foxes are hunted for sport, and I don’t see why the state should subsidise it (or, of course, other recreational activities like football, small farming or Irish Rail).
Anyway, thanks to the virtues of private enterprise and the wonders of free trade, I was able to produce a stew using trout, pike, carp, zander, smoked eel and crayfish. But what a pity that it would have been so much easier a hundred and fifty years ago.
By the way, if you’re wondering why American bacon was on sale in Athlone, and cheaper than Irish bacon, Andy Bielenberg explains in Ireland and the Industrial Revolution: the impact of the industrial revolution on Irish industry 1801–1922 Routledge, London 2009 that
While most Irish bacon was exported to Great Britain, to sustain this trade Ireland increasingly consumed cheaper American bacon in the second half of the nineteenth century.
You might be interested in the attached re the mirror image of the bacon industry in Limerick and its international success. It is downloadable, but I happen to have it as a pdf file.
I think I once learned that before agricultural protectionism (1922? 1932? the Economic War?), Irish consumers got cheap poor quality imported food (specifically meat) while the better stuff went for export. Hence the early importance of railway lines from the productive golden vale to the ports, specifically Limerick-Waterford.
I may have mentioned another source of distraction to you before but will repeat it anyway:
Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of Ireland 1837 is the very well-known source for local history but I came across the Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland 1846. This is less known but much more comprehensive though its quality for individual counties varies. [Not all breakdown sheep numbers by breed]. Most small towns seemed to have a mill, a brewery and often an iron works. There is an electronic republication by Eneclann. It helps to explain old buildings still used for milling etc. I suspect that business history of the post-canal pre-railway period gets less attention (or maybe less publicity) than it deserves.
Best wishes for 2017 I look forward to more gems from you. Antoin
On the cheap meat, I don’t understand why the American producers didn’t sell it to Britain and put the Irish producers out of business: I can’t imagine that the British proletarian palate of the nineteenth century was any more likely to select for quality rather than price than that of modern folk here or there. And I am interested that America should have been exporting bacon so early.
I read a newspaper report (I do not have the reference to hand) of a meeting of folk along the Limerick-Waterford railway line. One pig producer reckoned that the railway, even partially completed, would be worth £5 a pig to him, as the pigs would lose much less condition on the way to the port.
I have the ParlGaz in searchable electronic form, as well as Lewis: I think I bought both from Eneclann, and a few other important sources too.
I think that all Irish business history gets too little attention: it falls into a gap between national, economic, engineering and local history, and doesn’t necessarily sit easily with the conclusions of those specialisms.