In the later eighteenth century, at the start of the European industrial revolution, the buildings which housed the machinery for the new processes of spinning and weaving, and the warehouses which contained the finished goods, were built of traditional materials in brick or stone, like rows of houses three or four storeys tall with a doorway at one end. As the mechanisation of production increased, new means were found to transport the finished goods. In Ireland a canal system was established throughout the country in the 1790's, and a little later, from 1832, railway lines began to connect the major towns.

Though the Irish ports were important for trade and the export of agricultural produce - and Cork had a special role in the provisions trade to the West Indies - Belfast is the only significant industrial city developed throughout the Victorian age as the centre of the Irish linen industry and of Irish shipbuilding. The buildings, devised in the nineteenth century, to meet the needs of industry made use of new materials, such as cast iron, fireclay tiles and glass bricks and pioneered new structures intended to be secure against fire and to provide for the workers' safety and health.

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