The Industrial Revolution and the expansion of the British Empire conspired to accelerate trade and growth in the 1800s. North-east Ireland was transformed as a result.
National Museums NI industrial collection contains a wide range of engineering and linen-related material from this period, charting Ulster’s growth from a largely agrarian to industrial society. Linen was the biggest sector, but others prospered too. The collection includes artefacts from the rope making, engineering, tobacco, tea, and soap industries. It illustrates the development of technology too, in the progression from steam and paraffin, to diesel and petrol fuels.
The 1800s made Belfast. It grew from about 20,00 people to almost 350,000 over the course of the century, as the new industries pumped wealth into the economy. It briefly eclipsed Dublin as Ireland’s largest city. This rapid expansion had social costs. Men and women poured in from the countryside seeking industrial work. Many lived in back-to-back terraced houses, and the poorest struggled to survive. The Great Famine of the 1840s made the gulf between rich and poor all too apparent. Trade and exports continued to boom, even as starvation took hold and thousands emigrated. Our collection holds famine tokens and cooking pots from this period.
Our Domestic Life collection holds a variety of items that offer a glimpse into everyday life in 1800s Ulster. Cradles, pine kitchen dressers, and spinning wheels were once valuable and much-loved items. Religious and cultural pieces embody the hopes and diversions of ordinary people living through extraordinary times.