The First Irish Cities: An Eighteenth-Century Transformation – A tale of 10 towns

David Dickson uses the fortunes of towns as an index to the 18th century’s grand sweep

View of Dublin, from the Magazine, Phoenix Park, 1795. Photograph: Buyenlarge/Getty

View of Dublin, from the Magazine, Phoenix Park, 1795. Photograph: Buyenlarge/Getty

In the late 1770s the quirky agricultural tourist Arthur Young reported on his visits to Ireland. “The towns of Ireland,” he observed, “have very much increased in the last 20 years.” This, for Young, could only be a positive development since urban growth was a mark of rising prosperity, bringing riches and employment. It is that remarkable flourishing of urban Ireland between 1660 and 1820 that is the subject of David Dickson’s book.

Irish historians have never experienced the torrid love affair with towns that historians in other countries have. It may be that for an older generation the Irish experience was predominately a rural one. After all, towns were usually the products of invasions – Vikings in Dublin and Waterford, Normans at Galway and Kilkenny and 17th-century planters in Belfast and Derry.

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