Charitable Loan Societies In County Kilkenny
Edward J Law (2015)
In the eighteenth century, before the advent of a regulated banking system, borrowing money was a difficult undertaking for all but those with good security. Individuals on the lowest rung of the trading ladder found it difficult to advance without a modicum of trading capital.
In Kilkenny city the existence of this need for small loans was recognised and catered for by the more prosperous citizens. In 1770, following the lead of Dublin, Cork and Waterford, they established a fund, called the Charitable Loan, from which small sums were advanced for repayment within a year. The loans, made at little or no interest, were for sums not exceeding £5, and were repayable weekly at the rate of 6d in the pound. One can imagine that these modest loans, obtainable with the minimum of formalities, were the major source of capital for many of the small shop-keepers and traders of the city. Often the first step of aspiring traders was to take a stall at the weekly market, moving as means permitted to a rented shop. A loan of £5 might enable them to build up their stock-in-trade until they became sufficiently established to move up a step to a nearby shop.
In 1806 the Charitable Loan reported that from its refounding in 1792 it had loaned over £8,500 and had lost not one shilling by bad debts. Part of the reason for this success would have been due to the close connection which the financiers had with the recipients of loans. Many of those who provided the funds, the merchants and gentry, lived in and around the city and would know those to whom money was being lent. They would know their reputations and avoid those who were more likely to spend the money on drink or gambling than progressing their business.
The closeness of the two parties to such schemes led in the first half of the nineteenth century to the founding of loan funds in other towns around the county. The Killamery Benevolent Loan Society was established by the Dowager Marchioness of Ormond. At Gowran a similar society was funded partly by moneys advanced by Lady Dover, William Bayley and William Tighe, and partly by money borrowed at 5%. As they had to pay interest they also needed to charge it, but because part of their fund was interest free they would have been able to take a lower percentage than the market rate.
When the Callan Benevolent Loan Society stated in 1840 that it had over £1,000 out in loans the report enthused about the additional number of pigs, horses and cows that had been kept in Callan since its establishment. Clearly they were suporting the small farmers of the area as well as small shop-keepers. Thomastown Loan Fund, in operation in 1846, continued in existence down to about 1900.
There is evidence of other loan funds in Kilkenny city in the first half of the nineteenth century. The Ormonde Charitable Loan Society may have had the patronage of the Butler family, whilst the Kilkenny Citizen’s Club was probably the moving force behind the Kilkenny Citizen’s Loan Fund, which may have been specifically directed at the Catholic tradesmen and women of the city.
There were also in Kilkenny, Loan Societies directed at meeting particular needs of the poorer citizens, such as the Blankets Loan Committee, a body which existed also in Castlecomer, that provided blankets and took repayments at 10d per week. A Clothing Loan Committee, again mirrored at Castlecomer, supplied coats and cloaks on a similar basis. A more unusual fund was that founded in 1821 to aid poor persons who frequented Ballyspellan Spa, near Johnstown, during the fashionable season.