Urban Amenities

Ireland’s overwhelmingly rural nature, despite its sharply rising population, was clearly illustrated by the 1835 Report of the Commissioners Inquiring into Municipal Corporations, who found only four towns with a population above 33,500: Dublin (265,316), Cork (100,716), Limerick (66,554) and Belfast (53,287).

The earliest towns in Ireland were Viking foundations, but these and subsequent municipalities had developed along English lines and operated under a variety of individual royal charters granted from the twelfth to the seventeenth centuries. In 1699 a visitor to Dublin gave a succinct account of the position of most, probably all, major Irish corporations when he commented that ‘this is a city powerful in its Privileges, but weak in its Exchequer, empty in its churches but full in its prisons.’

Throughout the eighteenth century Dublin was the centre of the social, economic, political and administrative life of the kingdom. Irish towns primarily provided goods and services for rural communities. Conversely, in the case of the larger towns, the agrarian practices of the surrounding countryside adjusted to meet the urban demand for milk, vegetables and other agricultural produce. Most sizeable towns had a multiplicity of small enterprises operating for surrounding largely self-contained regions.