The Evolution of A Microcredit Institution: The Irish Loan Funds, 1720 - 1920
We introduce the Irish loan funds, a set of independent but regulated microcredit societies, which in the mid-nineteenth century were lending to 20% of Irish households. Their institutional evolution is traced from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. This system was remarkably successful at transferring capital to the "industrious poor" on a large scale over a long period. We argue that its structure conferred many advantages on the funds, enabling them to mitigate informational problems and allowing sufficient flexibility for the institution to survive even the Great Famine. Empirical analysis confirms their sensitivity to external economic factors and their role in promoting diversification.
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