Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Smuggling and Contraband: News from Irvine, Episode 3

Following on from my two previous posts, Billy Kerr from Irvine has sent me a chapter entitled The Contrabandists from the book "Royal Burgh of Irvine" by Arnold McJannett (1933). The amount of stories about the links that the town had with Ulster are just staggering. Here are a few highlights:

• in 1667 the Scottish government banned the importation of cheap beef, meal and corn from Ireland. Fines and confiscations were the penalty for anyone caught. "Commissioners" were appointed to guard the west coast of Scotland - a coastline which had just two custom-houses, at Ayr and Irvine.

• in April 1672 the curate of Kilbirnie, Archibald Beith, was sentenced to be beheaded in Edinburgh following an attack he led on a ship which had sailed from Ulster, during which Beith shot dead two of the crew. However, the Episcopal authorities intervened and Beith was spared - but was banished to Rothesay.

• John Reid, an Irvine merchant, traded across the North Channel with three ships - the Ann of Lairne, the John of Portrush and the Swift of Rodwatter. He managed to dodge the fine print of the taxation laws by landing goods the day before heavy taxes were introduced.

• In October 1687 a large importation of goods from Carrickfergus was offered on first refusal the people of Irvine, before being sold to commercial traders.

• Rock salt was imported from Larne to Irvine to preserve supplies of meat and fish.

• In July 1681 a theatrical company from Ireland travelled to Scotland to perform a play before the Duke and Duchess of York (the later King James II), but had their costumes impounded as the law prohibited the importation of laced clothes. The restrictions were heightened later that year to also prohibit "silver and gold threed, silver and gold lace, fringes or tracing, all buttons of gold and silver threed all manner of stuffs and ribbans"

The extent of smuggling between the two coastlines was enormous - "Almost the whole community betook to smuggling... many a farm house in Ayrshire possessed underground accommodation, almost as extensive as the buildings visible above ground, which was used as depots for the run goods."