The principal towns of Ireland are all seaports depending upon trade. From Londonderry on the north to Cork in the south they face away from the main Atlantic. This is because the major part of Irish trade has always been with England and Scotland, and sometimes with France. Not only is the west coast very stormy, but also it is far from the parts of Ireland where the climate permits the largest population. Moreover, Ireland has had little in the way of goods that could be sold across the Atlantic. Ireland's new political independence, to be sure, is reflected in a perceptible increase of trade with foreign countries, but the economic relationship with England is too close to be much changed. For this reason the towns along the western coast, despite their splendid harbor facilities, remain small and show no sign of becoming important. Limerick at the mouth of the Shannon, Ireland's principal river, is the chief of these, along with Galway and Sligo.
On the east and southeast coast lie the three largest cities-Cork, Dublin, and Belfast--but Cork is small. Little Cork with its outport of Cobh, is essentially Irish. Cork is still primarily a commercial center, though pharmaceuticals and computer industries have been coming in of late.
Dublin, the Irish capital, with more than a million people, was originally an English settlement. The relatively dry climate has always been a great advantage agriculturally. Because of its location facing England, Dublin early became the main Irish harbor. Its advantages as an outlet of the productive central lowlands have been increased by canals connecting with the River Shannon. Hence it is not surprising that Dublin has long been the political and cultural center of Ireland. Its industries are based on global pharmaceutical, information and communications technology companies.
Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland. It was originally a Scotch settlement and owes its growth largely to industrial enterprises. The linen industry and ship-building have advanced Belfast from a small town to a great city. On a small scale, Londonderry, the most northern port, has also profited from the industrial development, besides being the commercial center of the northern region.