Tuesday, 11 May 2021

The History of Hop Growing in Ireland - Part 2: The 19th Century

In the last post we looked at the 17th and 18th century and how much growing of hops was taking place in Ireland, especially in the middle years of the 1700s. Much of this was driven, or at least aided, by the Dublin Society in their efforts to establish home industries to replace imports. We also saw mentions of hop growing dwindle significantly as we headed towards the 19th century so let us take it from that point and see if there was a revival for that much misrepresented plant in this country.

1801 - There is a mention of duty to be paid on importation of hops from Ireland into Great Britain in Steel's Tables of the British Custom and Excise Duties published in that year and also in a Parliamentary register the previous year which would lead us to believe there was still some hop growing in the country or at least the potential to do so.

1801 - A Mr. R. Smyth wrote to the Dublin Society regarding his espalier-trained hops that he was growing on half a rood (one eight of an acre) of his father's land in Kells Co. Meath, which he used in his own ale - via Transactions of the Dublin Society, Volume 2, Part 1 1801

1806 - A London newspaper reports that a duty of two-pence halfpenny per pound weight was resolved to be imposed on Irish hops by a committee in the House of Commons in England, it was passed a couple of weeks later. There are many other mentions of this bill too which again would make you think there was some trade between Ireland and Britain, unless they were just covering themselves in case there was a resurgence in the growing of hops on this island.

1816 - The Dublin Society were offering a premium of 1 shilling per barrel for beer brewed with Irish hops for private use or sale.

1833 - A John Pendergast from Inistioge in Kilkenny wrote to an English paper putting forth the idea of the landed gentry starting hop farms in Ireland to give more work to those living on their estates and to free said gentry 'from the enormous dead weight the heretofore has existed upon their well-known beneficence.' (!) It was reprinted a Dublin newspaper where the editor poured scorn on the idea that the gentry of Ireland would be interested in such a plan. Mr. Pendergast also suggested that an Irish acre would produce 26 cwt of hops at 7 pound 12 shillings per cwt. In response to the above letter 'a Kent Radical' responded to say that there is an act of parliament which prohibits any one in Ireland from owning a hop farm larger than a quarter or perhaps half an acre. I cannot find any such legislation but maybe it is hidden somewhere or is combined into some much older act I am unaware of that prevented Catholics from owning any more land for crops that was necessary to feed themselves?

1835 - Under the headline ‘Irish Hops’ a Belfast newspaper states that The Commission of Revenue Inquiry recommended that Irish grown hops should pay a similar rate of duty as those grown in England. (There are also mentions of duties on ‘Irish hops’ in 1843, 1845 and 1846 in various parliamentary records.) Once again this would indicate that hops were possibly still being grown somewhere on the island and in enough quantities to warrant discussion in parliament.

1849 - A report in an Irish newspaper in April via The Globe of the vessel ‘Erin's Queen’ arriving in London from Belfast with 18 packets of hops. Is this the first export of Irish hops to England? Probably not but it is the first record I can find. It would certainly have been going against the flow of hops coming the opposite direction so it would seem to be a noteworthy occurrence.

1849 - An English newspaper report of ‘The Citizen’ arrived in the Thames in May from Dublin with 27 (20 quoted elsewhere) pockets of hops from Ireland, which it appears was – unsurprisingly - not a common occurrence.

1849 - A Mr. Samuel Burke of Thomastown, Kilrush in Co. Clare sowed and acre and a half of hops. It was said to be a novelty 'in that part of the country.’

1849 - An English newspaper carries a mention under the title 'Irish Hops' of a vessel arriving in the Thames from Belfast in October carrying 5 pockets of hops that states that they are 'the produce of Ireland' and that 'this is the first arrival of this article from the sister country' - but as we saw above there were earlier shipments.

1849 - A mention in a London Newspaper in December of bales of hops arriving into England 'some time since' from an Irish port and that this was 'of some interest' and that there had been a further arrival of several bales on a ship called the ‘Cannaught[sic] Ranger’ from Sligo and Derry, and this was the 'second importation of the kind from the sister country' which again may be a little off the mark.

1850 - The vessel ‘Ranger’ arrived in London from Belfast, Dublin and Waterford in February and 'brought some packages of hops, as a portion of her cargo from the Irish metropolis, the produce of that country.’

1850 - A small note in an English newspaper in March that states - 'Irish Hops. Several additional importations of hops from Ireland have recently been noted. Hitherto the largest import has been eleven bales' so again we can see errors in reporting based on what was mentioned above. A sign that we need to be wary of what is reported in newspapers ...

1850 - Under the title 'Irish Hops' in an English newspaper in August, 17 packages arrived in London from Ireland.

Just a note on all these shipments. Although there are numerous mentions of these being Irish produced hops the doubting part of my brain thinks that maybe there were imported from elsewhere and passed of as Irish hops for financial reasons? I have no proof of this of course, but I think it may be worth considering, however unlikely it may be. For now I am taking it at face value that hops were being grown in Ireland and exported to England for use by breweries in that country – an interesting and I would image surprising turn of event to many of you!

1852 - A reference in the proceedings of the now ‘Royal’ Dublin Society regarding an exhibition mentions a donation of a ‘specimen of Irish-grown hops’ donated by a John L. Tute of Blackrock amongst other agricultural specimens.

1855 - A newspaper mention that an experiment to grow hops in Ballyteigue, Wexford by a John Stafford was successful - the reporter sounded quite surprised!

1865 - 'Hop Growing at Kingstown [DĂșn Laoghaire] - A fine specimen of this useful creeper may now be seen in front of the residence of Captain Wilcox, Royal Terrace. It is very strange that hops are not more generally nurtured in Ireland' according to the Catholic Telegraph newspaper.

1867 - Thomas Bromwich a hop grower at Temple Farm near Alton in Hampshire was advertising hop plants for sale in an Irish paper under the headline, 'Hops, Hops, for Ireland.'

1867 - A newspaper mentions a successful attempt was made to grow hops in Ireland with the hope that there might be a larger scale experiment in the near future. No further information is given.

1872-1873 - A chart published in Thom's Directory of Ireland shows no acreage for hops in these years. Similar charts towards the end of the 19th century show similar results, although there is no way of being 100% positive that the information was being recorded correctly. It also possible and probable that it was on such a small scale, perhaps just for a breweries own use that it would be unregistered.

Pre 1900? - There is a reference to hops being grown extensively on Whiddy Island in Cork in the schools collection on the DĂșchas website but no dates unfortunately so I’m assuming the period to be in the 19th century given the tone of the mention.

So by one standard this was an unexciting century for Irish hops and towards the end it appears that we had forgotten that we grew hops here at all! Once again the middle part of the century is the most interesting, as attested by those shipments of Irish hops to England. It would be nice to think that those were used in English ales – and I presume they probably were. I wonder is there any records in London or elsewhere of ale brewed with Irish hops? Somehow I doubt it…

As you can see there is quite a bit of conjecture and assumption in this based on the various newspaper reports, so as ever we need to be wary enough on what we read into those articles. Having said that there are certainly enough mentions to suggest a continuity of hop growing in the country even if it appears to dwindle at times to sparse comments.

Still, at least we appear to have been a hop exporting country – however briefly – at one time…

The last part of this trilogy will focus on the 20th century, which is a very interesting and busy time for hop growing in Ireland!


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.)

Newspaper image © The British Library Board - All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk from whom I have received permission to display here). 


The Beer Nut said...

I discovered recently there's a Hop Island in Cork harbour. I can't seem to find an explanation of its name, though. Possibly the only place in the country named after the hop plant?

Liam said...

Oh interesting, I had a quick look and could find a reference to it being called after a French Huguenot that had land on the island and taught dance so they called it 'Hop' island after him ... but that was in a 19th century book so it's a good way removed from that time - will have a better look later. It was also called Red Island and Island Roe (Rua?)...
Cheers, another rabbit hole to explore!

The Beer Nut said...

This one with literal rabbit holes.

qq said...

A quick Google has not revealed detailed stats on Irish beer production either side of the Famine, other than generalities about it being badly hit and then recovering pretty quickly, driven by Guinness' success in the export market.

But it's not surprising that Irish hops became available for export at a time when any grain was presumably being diverted from beer to desperately-needed food.