Irish post-famine boom put it ahead of Germany

Winner of this month’s Bizarre Headline Award, this article (requires registration or subscription for readers outside Europe) begins with the apparently startling revelation that:

“IRELAND was the seventh richest country in the world in 1870, according to new research. Far from being the economic backwater that is commonly portrayed in history books, the country enjoyed a boom in the late 19th century on a par with the modern Celtic tiger.”

This conclusion arises from the work of two academics, Frank Geary and Tom Stark. They claim:

“However, the Irish economy did go backwards after independence and picked up again only in the 1960s. ‘Ireland always does well when she goes into something bigger,’ said Stark. ‘It did well out of the union with Britain; the famine was a massive blip. It took off again when Ireland joined the European Union. Smaller countries must be joined to larger groups.'”

It should be noted, however, that Belfast and it’s hinterland was the only significantly industrialised part of Ireland and as such was involved in the Mid-Victorian industrial boom in a way that cannot be said of any other part of the island. This may go some way also to explain the economic falling back that took place immediately after independence. It goes on:

“After the famine, employment in Ireland fell dramatically and up to 1m people emigrated. There was a 29% decline in the labour force between 1861 and 1911. Most academics say this emigration accounts for the rise in Irish output per worker and compare it with a similar improvement in the living standards of Europe after the black death.”

Geary and Stark dispute this:

“…arguing that new technology and the construction of plants and machinery can explain the Irish performance. Ireland got a rail network and developed a factory-based textile industry after the famine. Its shipbuilding in the late 19th century was the fastest growing of the UK shipbuilding regions.”