Published online by Cambridge University Press: 27 January 2022
A complex, triangular relationship existed between Ireland, Britain and France that structured eighteenth- and nineteenth-century debates over the vicissitudes of empire in Ireland. The significance of this relationship, I have suggested, was not reducible to the military threat France occasionally posed to British rule. It lay instead in the influence of Franco-British rivalry and emulation exerted over the political economy of empire, and in the manner this was interpreted by contemporaries in Ireland, Britain and Europe. The threat, and the example, of France inspired British and Irish efforts to reform and consolidate empire, alongside Irish attempts to escape from it. In Ireland, political thinkers across Europe saw not just a land of religious dissension and emergent ‘nationality’, but a vital case study in the workings of mercantile power politics, and in the consequences of the persistence of aristocratic inequality in an era of commercial growth and agrarian transformation. The government of Ireland was not, therefore, a narrowly Irish problem. It lay at a vital intersection between contemporary understandings of commerce, empire and international order.