Thursday, 6 May 2021

The History of Hop Growing in Ireland - Part 1: The 17th & 18th Century

Historically, hops were not grown in Ireland ...”

Or so says an online encyclopaedia entry on hops, and although some people know this was not true, the sentence is so often repeated in similar words that I thought it would be best to do a little more myth-busting to highlight that hops were grown in this country in various quantities and were certainly used in commercial brewing.

This is the first of a three-part series on the history, mentions and other snippets pertaining to hop growing in this country, where I will prove for once and for all that we have been growing hops in this country for probably the last 400 years at least in varying amounts and with various degrees of success, albeit not on the same scale as the bigger hop growing countries.

In this first article I will cover the 17th and 18th century and will be doing so in a chronological timeline which might help other who are interested in the subject or need to reference it – I only ask that you credit me and my website if you use any of my research.

So, where do we start – the first date I can find mentioning actual hops is from the first half of the 17th century…

 

1632 - A quote in an article in The Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, Volume 17 first published in 1830 and quoting an earlier source says that hops, along with other crops, were introduced to Ireland in 1632 'and grew very well.' Not exactly a verifiable source but it is certainly very conceivable that hops would have made there way here by this time, if not before.

1689 - The Calendar of Ancient Records of Dublin from this year and published in 1895 states that 'Flemish hops by retail not to exceed eighteen pence per pound. And English and Irish hops not to exceed two shillings and three pence per pound.’ This price fixing exercise mentions the term Irish hops as distinct from Flemish or English ones, so is this an indicator of a reasonable crop being grown here? Perhaps not but it is a worthy reference...

1699 - A mention of ‘a duty on Irish Hops’ in this year in a version of The Continuation of Mr. Rapin's History of England from the Revolution to the Present Times by an N. Tindal and published in 1761. This duty could of course be covering the possibility of hops being grown here and exported but it certainly hints at there being a trade in Irish hops.

Pre-1727 - A comment from an English parliamentary discussion published in an English newspaper in 1886 says that 'In the reign of George I [1714-1727] a duty was imposed on Irish hops...' This might be confusion with an act passed in 1711 that prohibited the importation of hops into Ireland from anywhere except England but could equally refer to the above mentioned earlier duty. It is worth noting here that some of these references are looking back at events in the past so their accuracy must be questioned a little.

1729 - In his publication on the trade in this country John Carteret asks why we cultivate so little hops in Ireland given the huge quantity we import, and he states that we could raise good hops in the southern part of the country. He also says, 'that with some it has succeeded well', which would let us believe that there is a certain amount of production. He also claims that the issue of the lack of hop growing lies with the want of hop-poles as 'there are so few plantations or trees to be met with' that produce suitable hop-poles in Ireland.

1729 - In the same collection as above from that year Arthur Dobbs in his Essay on the Trade and Improvement of Ireland makes similar comments. He mentions that hops have been 'tried in several more northern counties with tolerable success.' He also goes on in some detail regarding the benefits of growing hops for both trade and employment.

1733 - The Dublin Society published a book of instruction on hop cultivation. From the tone of this volume it appears that hops were not very common or plentiful here at this time, but certainly known. It also points out that hops were quite expensive to import and gives details of potential returns and instructions on raising poles for support, harvesting and packaging. (The images both top and bottom of this post are from this book.)

This is probably a good time to mention the Dublin Society who feature heavily in the coming years. It was founded in 1731 and its remit was to encourage new trade and enterprise and in doing so create more local industries to replace imported goods, and therefore create more employment here too. To aid in this it created what it termed ‘Premiums’ or rewards for those who achieved certain criteria of volume, application or excellence of certain Irish goods and produce. Its name was changed to the Royal Dublin Society in 1820, and most Irish people would be familiar with the acronym RDS.)

1736 - In the Dublin Society's Weekly Observations published in 1737 there is a letter - one of many - that mentions beer made with 'Irish Hops and Irish Malts.' The writer goes on to say that in this country 'we are not arrived to any great perfection in the culture and management of hops; nevertheless, the year 1736, gave us sufficient proof that in a good season we may be supply'd [sic] from among ourselves with that valuable commodity.' The writer then goes on to extol the virtues of said Irish hops by comparing them with Kentish and Worcester hops and finding them equal of better. (He goes on to discuss boiling times and bitterness of hops - and hop stalks!)

1737 - Another writer in the same publication as above gives extremely detailed directions on 'the raising of hops in red bogs' in two letters, where he had 'reared them with most success' for the previous 15 years. He appears to have sold the hops as he says that 'the profit has for many years fully answered my expense.' This may be the first mention of commercial reward for a crop of hops in Ireland. Those 'red bogs' - seemingly - could not be reclaimed or used like 'black bogs', so they were ideal for the venture. He also mentions that these 'Bog-Hops' (His name for them …) were less prone to 'swarms of insects which too often infest our upland hops', implying that hops were being grown on other sites in the country.

1740 - A newspaper article from 1963 states that hop growing in Ireland goes back to about 1740 and the main centres were Offaly, Laois, North Tipperary and Kilkenny but it gives no references and so must be treated with caution, as it was being reported more that 200 years after the time, although it could be based on the  Dublin Society reports that follow ...

1741 - A ‘Premium’ or reward is offered by the Dublin Society for '200lb weight of the best hops of Irish growth for that year’. - via The Gentleman's Magazine(This award appears to have started in at least 1740 from snippet sources elsewhere online ...)

1741 - In December of this year the members of the Dublin Society met in Market House Thomas Street in Dublin to examine hops and give out premiums for the best and second-best parcels of Irish-grown hops. There were 22 candidates, so I presume 22 actual growers. 12 were judged not quite up to the standard of the 10 best, and those 10 were further examined for ‘Colour, Smell and Feeling’. They awarded first place to Mr Humphry Jones of Mullinbro in Co. Kilkenny, near Waterford and the second to Edward Bolton of ‘Brasil’ (Brazil near Swords?) Co. Dublin. ‘The judges declared that Mr. Jones’s hops were as good as they ever saw brought from Kent.’ The total quantity supplied from all the entries was 45 cwt (Over 2,250 kg?) and apart from 2 parcels all the rest were as good or better than those imported. Three other growers were singled out as next best - Anthony Atkinson from King’s County (now Offaly), Mr. Lee of Wexford and Samuel Ealy [Ely?] of Ross in County Wexford.

(The above was from a nice reference I found of a reprinted report by the Dublin Society in a newspaper from January of 1742. This and the other reports certainly shows we had a decent geographical spread of hop farms of a reasonable size – perhaps – around parts the country.)

1742 - The following year Mr. Humphry Jones again had the best parcel of 2 cwt (2 hundredweight or approximately 100kg) of hops and received an award of 20 pounds. He had grown ’65 C. 6 lb’ of hops (Is the C in this case an abbreviation for Stone? I am not sure…) Most of his hops were sold to ‘brewers in Dublin’ and that they were ‘equal in all respects to any English or Irish Hops they had ever before made use of.’, which suggests that they were of good quality and that Irish hops had been used by commercial breweries before this time.

1743 - In an 1861 reprint of a report from this year Humphry Jones again took first prize, second was Samuel Ely, Ross, Co. Wexford and third was Mr. Sutton – no address given. The same report also gives an award to Thwaite’s brewery, Dublin for using ‘10 tons’ of Irish hops in their beers, William Bererton came second using '3 tons' in his brewery. More proof that Irish-grown hops were used in Irish beers in the 18th century.

1744 - The same reprint of above gives the award in this year to Samuel Ely and second place to Ephraim Dawson (no address given) – no sign of Mr. Jones!

c. 1746-1786 - A gentleman called George Stoney from 'Grayfort, near Borrosakean' wrote to the Dublin Society in 1786 saying he had a 'small plantation' of two acres of hops laid out 40 years previously by 'an Englishman' from which he gets two hundred weight of hops. He goes on to say, 'If planting hops were carried on to proper effect, Ireland might well supply itself, and I experimentally know, that, when well cured, we may have as good as England produces. I yearly have brewed for my house upwards of forty barrels of malt, with my own hops, and my beer keeps as well, and is as well flavoured, as it would be with English hops.' - via Transactions of the Dublin Society, Volume 2, Part 1- 1801

1748 - A snippet mention in The Scots Magazine about a person needing to buy up a great quantity of 'Irish hops' - not less than 4 ton.

1748 - Again the Dublin Society offered a premium ‘to the person who shall produce the best parcel of hops, not less than 200 weight, of the growth of 1748’ and also ‘to the person who shall buy up for sale, the greatest quantity of Irish hops of the growth of 1748, before May 15, 1749, not less than 4 tun. [sic] and finally ‘To the person who shall make use of the greatest quantity of ditto in brewing before June 1st 1749, not less that 3 tun, but no one person shall get both said premiums.’The Scots Magazine

1749 - A newspaper report states that Darius Drake of Camlin in Wexford won a reward from the Dublin Society for planting in 1747 'seven plantation acres and tree perches' with hops 'four to a hill, and 7538 hills at 8 feet distance from one another, and that they are in a thriving condition.' At the time this was alleged to be the greatest quantity of land given over to hop production by one person in the country. Mr. Drake produced poles for other growers in the country before deciding to grow his own hops - his own plantation required between '20 and 30,000' poles. It is claimed that many of his neighbours had large plantations also, just not large enough to win this 'premium' from the Dublin Society.

1749 - The premiums for the three best parcels of hops were awarded this year to Humphrey Jones yet again, William Hamond from Ross in Wexford and Thomas Sutton from Wexford. They had 'good colour, flavour and strength.’ It was mentioned that Mr. Sutton dried his hops with both Kilkenny (Castlecomer?) coal and with charcoal, and those dried with charcoal had much better flavour!

1756 - Newspaper announcement for the reward for the best 3 parcels of hops not less than 200 weight and grown in that year.

1757 - Three bags of hops produced for a competition by the Dublin Society, each weighing 2 cwt. The best was judged to be from a Mr. Nicholas Lanigan of Co. Kilkenny, second place went to a Mr. Christopher Antisel(?) of Tipperary, and the last parcel was unclaimed. The judges declared the first two parcels of hops equal to those imported from England.

1786 - There is a brief mention in an English newspaper of the bill to regulate the importation of hops from Ireland. This might not mean Irish grown hops of course - maybe just those passing through?!

1786 - Person named Bonner had a 4-acre hop yard in Naas according to an article called 'Ancient Naas and Neighbourhood’ by T.J. de Burgh written in 1893 and published in a Kildare newspaper that year.

1797 - The Dublin Society would be offering a premium for ‘beer brewed with Irish hops of the growth of the years 1796 and 1797, for private use or sale. The claims to be made by oath before 25th March 1797’ according to Walker's Hibernian Magazine or Compendium of the previous year.

So that finishes the 17th and 18th centuries, and we can see from all of these reports and mentions, and specifically those from the Dublin Society, that there was quite a decent amount of hops being grown in this country, particularly in the middle of the 18th century. The quantities were more than likely being dwarfed by the imports from elsewhere, but there were still some notable quantities and acreage. Also, I think it is safe to assume given some of the comments above that much of it was used in commercial Irish brewing.

Why mentions of hop growing in this country appear to have become rare towards the end of the century I am not sure – it is quite possible that I just haven’t come across the Dublin Society reports. It is possible - or perhaps probable - that it was either not commercially viable or that there were a number of poor years that affected the crop and disillusioned the farmers. It is certainly something I will revisit in the future, but next up will be what was happening with Irish hops in the 19th Century.

Liam

P.S. I have purposely omitted the actual sources of exact newspaper mentions as there are quite a few and it was pain-staking research, but if anyone needs them please email or DM me and I’ll send you on the details.

(All written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and cannot be reproduced elsewhere without permission, full credit to its source and a link back to this post.)

Much of my newspaper research was with via The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk). 


No comments: