Geographies of Pawnbroking in pre-Famine Ireland

Profit, Precarity and Impoverishment 1787-1824


  • Ray O'Connor Geography Department, UCC



While pawnbroking had a long history in Ireland it was not until the second decade of the nineteenth century that pawnshop numbers increased dramatically and the geography of pawnbroking shifted radically. This paper provides a detailed account of this changing geography. It outlines where the money that funded the expansion of pawnbroking originated. Unlike other businesses, pawnbrokers paid significant bonds to enter the trade and were legally required to provide three substantial independent sureties. To quickly recoup these initial costs and become profitable, pawnshops opened only in settlements where a significant demand for short-term credit existed. The ongoing decline of Ireland’s textile industries, the post-Napoleonic price collapses for agricultural commodities after 1815, the collapse of private banks in 1820 and a significant potato famine in the summer of 1822 combined as catalysts that caused a rapid expansion of pawnbroking between 1817 and 1824. As living standards deteriorated, pawnbrokers migrated into new settlements exploiting new poverties and the growing need for credit. This paper tracks the diffusion of pawnshops between 1787 and 1824 to provide new understandings of the geographies of deteriorating living standards, impoverishment and increased levels of economic precarity in the immediate post-Napoleonic period.




How to Cite

O’Connor, R. (2023). Geographies of Pawnbroking in pre-Famine Ireland: Profit, Precarity and Impoverishment 1787-1824. Irish Geography, 55(2), 99–123.