At the start of the 19th century, Irish soldiers formed a considerable proportion of the British army, and by 1830, there were more Irish than English soldiers in the army. Irish regiments served in many parts of the world, and also had a role in maintaining law and order in Ireland. Ireland became one of the first parts of the United Kingdom to have a police force, when Sir Robert Peel set up the Peace Preservation Force (PPF) in 1814. The four provincial areas of the County Constabulary were merged to form the Irish Constabulary in 1836, and Queen Victoria honoured the police with the title "Royal Irish Constabulary" (RIC) in 1867, partly in recognition of their role in suppressing a rising by the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB).
The Napoleonic wars caused a boom in the Irish economy and an increase in the value of exports. However, the end of the war in 1815 brought a corresponding slump in prices. A crisis in the woollen industry in England in 1825 led to goods being sold at ruinous prices, accelerating the decline of the woollen industry in Ireland. The cotton industry in Ulster failed to keep up with trends towards steam weaving, and by 1838, only 6 cotton mills were left in Belfast. However, wet-spinning of flax had been introduced in Belfast and mass produced linen was able to compete successfully in the textile market. By 1842, the railway line from Belfast had been extended to Portadown, and the Victoria channel had been cut to make the port much more suitable for large ships.
Competition from the cotton industry pushed down the wages of weavers in rural areas. In the 1841 census, over half of the families in Ulster fell into the poorest category, which included agricultural labourers, impoverished weavers and holders of farms of less than five acres. The failure of the potato crop in 1845 and 1846 brought tragedy to families already living on the edge of subsistence, in spite of the efforts of local relief committees, the government and charities. In 1847, diseases such as typhus and relapsing fever claimed more victims. It is estimated that over 200,000 people (about 9% of the population) died in Ulster as a result of the potato famine, and about the same number emigrated.
In 1850, the Irish Tenant League was set up to call for a custom called "Ulster tenant-right" to be given the force of law. Many Protestant and Catholic tenant farmers joined the League campaigning for fair rents, free sale (actually a payment made by the new tenant to the previous tenant) and fixity of tenure. A number of Land Acts were passed at Westminster from 1870 onwards, culminating in the Wyndham Act of 1903. Landlords were encouraged (with a bonus) to sell entire estates when three-quarters of the tenants agreed. The Wyndham Act in particular brought about a revolution in land ownership, with millions of pounds being advanced by the government and paid back by tenants as land annuities over a period of 68½ years.
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