Important links to 19th-century business growth in Europe


IRISH QUAKER capital was involved in some of the most important business developments in Europe in the 19th century. An involvement in the Ruhr began when Michael Corr van der Maeren, an Irishman whose family moved to Belgium, teamed up with an Irish engineer, William Thomas Mulvany, who had worked for the Board of Works in combating flooding in the Shannon region.

Corr van der Maeren wanted Mulvany to help with flooding problems that were inhibiting the extraction of coal from mines in the Ruhr valley.

Capital also led to the involvement of James Perry, a Quaker and friend of the Mulvany family who was involved with the Dublin Kingstown Railway, where Mulvany had worked, and Perry had been an original investor in the Quaker-controlled Mining Company of Ireland, set up in 1824.

The three invested £1,000 in two Ruhr mines. A family, the Malcomsons, with a successful industrial empire involving cotton factories, flour mills, ship owning and ship building, contributed more capital again. The first mine, named Hibernia, was worked by Irish and Scottish miners and opened for business on St Patrick’s Day, 1855.

A second mine named Shamrock was opened and soon became one of the best-producing coal mines in the Ruhr valley. When the two mines were sold in 1873, they realised £844,000, a huge return on the amount invested.

The central role of the Ruhr valley in German and European industrial history – and its potential for creating international tensions that could lead to war – led to the foundation of the European Union.

Another historic development that involved the Irish Quaker community was the development of wireless telephony, which revolutionised world communications.

Guglielmo Marconi was born in Bologna in 1874 and was the son of an Italian estate owner and an Irish woman, Annie Jameson, from near Enniscorthy, Co Wexford. (The couple met when she was studying music in Bologna.)

Annie funded her son’s interest in the potential of Hertzian wave transmission. She introduced him to her first cousin, Henry Jameson Davis, who was based in London.

Through these connections Marconi met William Goodbody, who was at Marconi’s first English demonstration of his invention. When Marconi set up the Wireless Telegraph Signal Co, one of the initial subscribers in its shares was Manliffe Goodbody. Jameson Davis brought Marconi to Ireland the following year, where he introduced him to more Irish Quakers who also invested.

In 1902, members of the Goodbody family subscribed in a share issue for about 25 per cent of the £30,000 raised and William Goodbody became a director. The family promoted the business in the US.

The family held on to the shares until their price had long since peaked. Profits were still substantial but the money made did not percolate down to this generation, Michael Goodbody, author of his family’s history, told The Irish Times.

“It’s amazing how wealth can come and go so easily,” he said.