Irish Pre-Famine Economy 1821–41


Map Code: Ax01943

After a boom during the Napoleonic Wars, Ireland’s manufacturing industries stagnated after the Act of Union (1801). Karl Marx (in the 1860s) described Ireland as ‘an agricultural district of England (to which) it yields corn, wool, cattle, industrial and military recruits’. Nevertheless, in the 1841 census, a third of the population were engaged in manufacturing, its epicentre being the shipbuilding and linen production of the fastest growing city, Belfast. Dublin thrived from commerce, finance and housed the Guinness brewery and Jacob’s biscuit factory. Elsewhere, the post-Union abolition of protective tariffs intensified the concentration on primary export products. Beef farming, in particular, squeezed the potato subsistence based rural poor, provoking heavy emigration. The absence of coal deposits hampered Irish emulation of the mainland Industrial Revolution, while the pattern of land-ownership deterred agricultural mechanization. Despite these inhibitors, industries like glass and paper-making, sugar refining and grain-milling managed modest growth in the early 1800s.

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