Isaac Weld Statistical Survey of the County of Roscommon, drawn up under the directions of the Royal Dublin Society Dublin 1832
The trade in eggs, the value of which for export, according to Mr. Williams, now amounts to £500 a day paid by England to Ireland, is carried on with considerable vivacity at Lanesborough and also at Tarmonbarry. The eggs are collected from the cottages for several miles around, by runners, commonly boys from nine years old and upwards, each of whom has a regular beat, which he goes over daily, bearing back the produce of his toil, carefully stowed in a small hand-basket. I have frequently met with these boys on their rounds, and the caution necessary for bringing in their brittle ware with safety seemed to have communicated an air of business and steadiness to their manner, quite unusual to the ordinary volatile habits of children in Ireland. I recollect one little bare-footed fellow explaining that he travelled daily about twelve miles Irish. His allowance, or rather his gain, was one shilling upon every six score of eggs brought in, the risk of purchase and carriage resting entirely upon himself.
The prices vary from time to time at different periods of the year, but they are never changed without previous notice to the runners. In the height of the season, the prices at Lanesborough were from 2s. 6d. to 4s. per 120; but towards winter they rise to 5s. The eggs are packed in layers with straw, in such creats as are commonly used for the conveyance of earthen ware. Each creat will hold about 84 hundred of six score, that is, 10,080, the first cost being from £10 10s., to £16 16s. per creat. These are sent forward, on speculation, to Dublin, or occasionally at once to the English market, and a profit of £4 or £5 per creat, is considered a fair remuneration; sometimes it is more, sometimes less, and there is risk in the trade.
From Lanesborough the creats are sent overland to Killashee, the nearest place on the line of the Royal Canal, and forwarded by the fly trading boats to Dublin. At Tarmonbarry I saw several cars coming in laden with creats of eggs, from the neighbouring districts on each side of the river. The dealers at Lanesborough with whom I conversed whilst in the act of packing their creats, seemed quite surprised at my question, whether they ever used any artificial means of preserving the eggs, and could scarcely credit the account I gave them, of the possibility of preserving their freshness for a considerable time, by simply anointing them with any unctuous substance, such as butter or lard. But in this process the whole of the egg must be carefully covered, and it should be done soon after the laying.
Mr. Williams appears to have been misinformed, (an unusual circumstance with him,) when he inserted the following passage in his pamphlet, p. 23, Note, anno 1831.—” There cannot be a more striking proof of the backward state of trading intercourse on the Shannon, than that the articles of poultry and eggs are as yet unknown as a source of profit to the peasantry, and in extensive districts peculiarly favourable to their production. The importance of eggs alone as an article of export is considerable. As their produce no way conduces to rent, but being the result of the care and attendance of the females, the return goes to the purchase of conveniences and articles of dress.”
A shopkeeper in New Ross Co. Wexford told me that he helped his father to sort eggs into trays of 2 Dozen eggs. His father collected the eggs from the producers as he travelled with his shop around the countryside. He then sold on the sorted eggs to a wholesaler. His margin per 24 eggs in 1930’s was 1d per tray. 240 trays for £1.00. This was before the Mahon tribunal was set up.
That’s interesting; thanks, Mark. These links between the producer (farm, egg-rearer or whoever) and the eventual buyer are, I think, not much written about but essential to understanding the historical (and present) economy. bjg