From private banks to credit unions: a historical geography of financial institutions in Ireland (c.1680-2001)

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O'Connor, Ray
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University College Cork
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This research examines the historical geography of financial institutions in Ireland from c.1680 to 2001. It uses financial organisations as a vehicle for generating new social, economic, political and cultural insights. The interrogation of primary and secondary sources produced a series of maps which form the basis of this analysis. Beginning with private banks in c.1680, the evolution of individual financial institutions are traced through the eighteenth century to the beginning of the millennium. Their proclivity for social and spatial selectivity is highlighted and explained. The analysis then examines how attempts were made to spread the use of money down the social order, detailing the financial institutions that developed to facilitate that process. Central to this thesis is the idea that the various types of financial institutions emerged to fulfill different purposes. While savings banks offered a safe place to deposit money for those already engaged in the monetised economy, loan fund societies sought to transition the lowest social classes from a subsistence to a monetised economy. This study reveals that both institutions had significantly different social and spatial geographies. It argues that a key factor retarding the success of these institutions in the first half of the nineteenth century was the levels of poverty among the lowest social classes who remained embedded in a subsistence economy. The decline of savings banks and loan fund societies coincided with the onset of the Great Famine in 1845. In the post-Famine period, increased levels of remittances and a declining population facilitated a transition to monetisation. However, it is argued that in this period many people straddled both subsistence and monetised economies. In the latter decades of the nineteenth century, access to credit became a singular challenge. Rural dwellers were exploited by usurious gombeen men, moneylenders and, for those within the reach of towns, pawnbrokers. Co-operative credit societies were a response to the usury and exploitation experienced by the rural poor, but this movement went into decline in the early twentieth century. It would take almost four decades after Independence for the credit union movement to take root. This delay was due primarily to the legacy of the failure of co-operative credit societies. This research explains how, after 1958, in a new industrialising, urbanising and modernising economic context, the credit union movement emerged, and how the geographies underpinning this movement both reflected and drove social, cultural and economic change.
Ireland , Private banks , Charitable and loan fund societies , Credit unions , Irish financial institutions , Savings banks , Co-operative credit societies
O'Connor, J. D. R. 2020. From private banks to credit unions: a historical geography of financial institutions in Ireland (c.1680-2001). PhD Thesis, University College Cork.