The Napoleonic Wars (1793–1815) created boom conditions. Insulated from the continent-wide conflict, Ireland’s agricultural sector, which exported meat and increasingly grain, benefited from escalating food prices. Landowners converted pasture to tillage to become Britain’s ‘bread-basket’, using ‘cottier’ tenant farmers and ‘conacre’ labourers, who subsisted on high-yield potato crops on progressively smaller landholdings. The end of the wars produced economic malaise. Continental competition hit Ireland’s grain exports, and its pre-industrial cotton and linen cottage-based manufacture. In Ulster, the ‘Linen Triangle’ rose to the challenge through increased mechanization. Coupled with the success of its shipyards, Belfast became the most dynamic Irish city from the 1820s, while Dublin stagnated following the loss of its Parliament after the Act of Union (1801). Famines (1817, 1822 and 1831) led to rising rural unrest, and agitators like the ‘Molly Maguires’. The formation of the Irish Board of Works (1831) aimed to modernize the country’s backward infrastructure.
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