Torn by the wars of the seventeenth century, the country had developed little infrastructure. One of the more positive aspects of colonial nationalism was the desire to strengthen the Irish economy by building an effective system of roads and canals and by direct encouragement of manufacturing industry. Most Irish MPs were also JPs and members of the grand jury of their respective counties. This, and the fact that they rode to parliament, visiting their friends en route – Irish inns were deplorable – ensured that they had an intimate knowledge of the country and its needs. Throughout the eighteenth–century, horseback was the quickest and most flexible method of travel; for instance, the bar rode on circuit throughout the century. As grand jurors the MPs supervised the upkeep of existing roads and the building of new ones.

From the beginning of the century there was evidence of a growing desire to provide the country with an adequate communications system. By the 1730s and 1740s acts for the encouragement of roads were a major feature of parliamentary legislation. For instance, eight statutes for the improvement of roads were passed in the 1731–2 session of parliament, and ten in each of the two following sessions, 1733–4 and 1735–6. Thereafter the many statutes were usually to finance and repair existing roads. Unlike most of Western Europe, Ireland had not benefited from the road–building proclivity of the Romans. Consequently Ireland's system of inland communications had to be developed either anew or from rudimentary bridle paths or foot tracks, often with detours to avoid intruding on a powerful landlord's estate.

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By the 1730s stage–coaches were operating regular services from Dublin to Cork, Waterford, Drogheda and Kilkenny. Gradually these services extended northwards to Newry; on 13 August 1752 the first stage–coach set out from Dublin to Belfast, but a regular Dublin–Belfast service was not established until 1788 and there was no regular service to Sligo through the eighteenth–century. A stage–coach carried ten people inside and rather more on top. Not surprisingly, luggage was strictly limited and anything above 20 lb was likely to be surcharged as excess baggage. The coach was drawn by six horses, and the journey to Belfast, just over 100 English miles, took three days. Similarly the service was extended westwards to Athlone, and by the end of the century there was a network of coaches throughout the country.

Although at the beginning of the century the road system was 'rudimentary', by 1778 George Taylor and Andrew Skinner could produce Maps of the Roads of Ireland, which appeared in a revised edition in 1783. It was intended for gentlemen and for government departments such as the Revenue Board and the Barrack Board, all of which supported the authors. Its sketch maps show the routes from one town to another and their distances, as well as points of interest along the way and the houses of the subscribers.

In 1700 the population was small, and throughout the eighteenth–century there were few sizeable inland centres of population, although economic development was reflected in a great increase in the number of fairs and markets. Even today Ireland's largest towns are on the coast. Road–building was encouraged both centrally by parliament and locally by the Grand Juries, sometimes so enthusiastically that the tenantry, who had to pay the county tax or cess, rebelled, as happened in some Ulster counties in 1769. Further encouragement for road–building came from the development of passenger transport and, towards the end of the century, the postal services.

In a pre–industrial and early industrial society water travel and transport were always preferable, and the only way of transporting large and heavy merchandise. Ireland's ports, while varying in quality, were adequate to the demands on them at the beginning of the century. In the course of the century they were improved and a system of canals, or inland navigation, intended for the cost–effective carriage of heavy or bulky goods was established.

The most successful of these was the Newry Canal. Its success was accidental for it was built to carry coal from Lough Neagh, which proved uneconomic, so in the event it carried linen, with British coal and other goods as back–cargo. It opened in 1742 and was among the earliest commercial canals in the British Isles. In general the success of the canals was limited, as the trade for which they were intended did not always materialise. The financing of the turnpikes and particularly the canals involved an important combination of public support and private enterprise, though this tended to be vitiated by inadequate resources spread between too many projects, temporary enthusiasm and lack of commercial viability.