Table of Contents


Contact Information

A Description of the Irish in Seville
Merchants of the Eighteenth Century

By Manuel Fernández Chaves and Mercedes Gamero Rojas

Translated by David Barnwell and Carmen Rodríguez Alonso


The authors offer a survey of the presence of the Irish on the Atlantic Coast of the south of Spain, focusing on their commercial activities during the eighteenth century, specifically the case of Patricio O’Conry and Juana Keating.  


This work is based on a wider study that the authors are carrying out on the role played by foreign merchants in eighteenth-century Spain. The first phase covered a number of the families of Flemish merchants; in this study we seek to deal with some of the defining characteristics of Irish merchants.

Information on the Irish presence in the city of Seville is fairly sketchy compared to that on other colonies formed by British subjects on the Iberian Peninsula, among which Cádiz, Málaga and Bilbao are most prominent. Sources used up till now do not allow for a comprehensive understanding of the volume of trade between Seville and other places; caution is therefore advised when judging the importance of this trade. The gradual silting of the (Guadalquivir) river made it navigable only to vessels of shallow draught, usually Dutch or Swedish. Even these vessels in dry years found it difficult to travel beyond Puebla del Río, and for that very reason the moorings there came to be used frequently. Water-borne traffic used the following route: a Spanish vessel - often a kind of sloop known as a ‘balandra’ - would bring cargo from Seville to either Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Cádiz or Puerto de Santa María. The load would then be transferred at one of these three ports to a ship with greater draught - usually a foreign vessel - destined for a port outside Spain. The entire process was overseen by a merchant based at the port and by the ship’s mate. 

This practice is what restricts our information about merchandise sent from Seville, or imported through that city, if we only follow vessels’ point of origin and destination. For this reason we have turned to the slow and often haphazard study of paperwork and legal documentation. The twenty-four surviving official documents we have traced - promissory notes, reports of losses of ships or damage, demand notes, sales of products, powers of attorney, bankruptcies, wills, inventories of goods, dowries, sales and rentals of furniture, together with other written material, permit us to draw as accurate a profile as possible of the situation of Irish people in the city of Seville. In general, however, this documentation does not permit us to state the volume of trade or the category of merchandise involved. This problem was highlighted in García-Baquero’s now classic study, and the difficulty has been recognised in other work (García-Baquero 1988: 479, Lario de Oñate 2000: 123). At any rate, using indirect evidence it is indeed possible to offer a preliminary outline of commercial activity. 

From this it is clear that Irishmen, together with their English coreligionists, formed part of Seville’s trade with the rest of Europe. This trade was of a lesser extent than the trade with America, but was nevertheless of consequence in supplying those primary materials that were needed for industry and food consumption in the countries to the north. The Irish colony in Seville was of lesser size than the very powerful Flemish community or the extensive French community. Its presence dates at least from the sixteenth century (Martín Murphy 2002: 487-489), although it was during the eighteenth century that it reached its zenith, in spite of Seville’s then declining importance as a trading city. 

The tradition of commercial interchanges with England in fact can be traced to the Anglo-Castilian treaty of 1254, very shortly after the reconquista of Seville from the Moors. We have no information on Irishmen settled in the city until towards the end of the fifteenth century. The nature of the trade was to remain unchanged for centuries: wool, wine, oil, soap, cereals, leathers and furs exchanged for goods such as textiles, wheat and fish. There is evidence of trade with Ireland at this time - wine for fish (Ladero Quesada 1980: 98-99. Childs 1978).

The growth of the volume of English manufactures is closely linked to the corresponding increase in the export of high-quality Castilian wool. As is known, England was able to increase its production of wool, though of inferior quality, by feeding its sheep on the abundant grass yielded by its well-watered pastures. While the production of high-quality wool in England decreased, there was an increase in demand for high quality fabrics. This obliged English manufacturers to look elsewhere for their supply and to come to Spain in search of what was then the finest wool available in Europe. More than half the wool exported by Castile left through the port of Bilbao in the eighteenth century, and wool exports increased even more to satisfy the demand of countries such as Holland and France (Bilbao, Fernández de Pinedo 1986: 343-359). 

The great success story of Castilian wool, it appears, is above all something that evolved in the eighteenth century. In 1795 Castilian wool sent to England represented 60% of the total volume exported, a large increase compared to the previous period. More interesting still is England’s loss of interest in importing Irish wool. At the beginning of the century this represented 90%, while by the 1740s it amounted to only half the wool imported. Demand in England switched decisively towards raw material of higher quality (Bilbao 1998). This circumstance, together with difficulties occasioned by the heavy tax on the export abroad of articles of Irish wool that was imposed by the Anglo-Irish parliament in 1698, and the further tax the English parliament imposed in the same year on the import of Irish goods to England and Wales, caused many Irish merchant families to emigrate for economic reasons. These joined the Wild Geese, who a generation earlier had gone into exile following the military defeats at the Boyne in 1690 and Aughrim in 1691 and the repression that followed these defeats (O’Beirne Ranelagh 1999: 74-76). 

The role of the Irish in Spanish trade with Europe: A survey of the Eighteenth Century

If there is one city in which the Anglo-Irish colony was important it is Cádiz, headquarters of the monopoly trade with the Americas and Spain’s main port in the eighteenth century. There they formed one of the most influential commercial colonies of the eighteenth century, after the French and the Spaniards, although with a much larger volume of earnings on an individual basis (García Fernández 2005: 32-34). The Irish were the dominant section of the Anglo-Irish community, probably because they enjoyed preferential treatment as compared to their English coreligionists, even though they too were subjects of His Britannic Majesty. For example, they did not have to participate in the registration of foreigners, such as was carried out in 1791 and 1794. This was because ‘the Irish settled in these Kingdoms must be allowed hold and maintain the privileges awarded them which give them parity with natural-born Spaniards... in which regard once settled in these kingdoms they are accepted as Spaniards and do enjoy the same rights according to the decrees that have been issued’ (Lario de Oñate, 2000: 100, 124-130, 132-133, 137). The Irish benefited from their situation by being able to avoid restrictions, and the conflicts between the two kingdoms of Spain and England, and to carry on business with fewer impediments than the English. 

In the town of Huelva, a small foreign merchant colony also settled. It became the only customs point for the coast of Huelva Province, the county of Niebla and the greater part of the Andévalo region, and thus constituted a distribution centre for the towns in these areas (Lara Ródenas, Peña Guerrero 1991). Foreign trade was dominated by the Irish, who exported cereal, cork and wine (González Cruz 1991), and maintained close relations with Cádiz. The first Irish to settle in Huelva were Thomas and Pablo White or Blanco, brothers of Guillermo Blanco, who had settled in Seville, and also related to other Blancos resident in Cádiz. Coupled with these was the Archdekin or Arcediano family (Gozálvez Escobar 1991: 271-292), from Waterford, and the Waddings from Carrick. These families engaged primarily in the wholesale and retail trade and in shipping.

1 - 2 - 3 - 4


Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2007

Online published: 6 September 2007
Edited: 07 May 2009

Fernández Chaves, Manuel and Mercedes Gamero Rojas, 'Description of the Irish in Seville: Merchants of the Eighteenth Century' in Irish Migration Studies in Latin America, 5:2 (July 2007), pp. 106-111. (www.irlandeses.org), accessed .


The Society for Irish Latin American Studies

 Copyright Information