Ireland’s modern surveying methods have roots that go all the way back to Cromwellian times.

Example of a Registry of Deeds memorial.

Boundary surveying of properties in a European context is intimately connected with the development of state cadastres. Ireland in modern times has eschewed the term ‘cadastre’, although State administration in the area of land and property management has all the components of a cadastre operating to a high level of quality.

The Down Survey
Ireland’s first comprehensive mapping project came in the first half of the seventeenth century. This sprang directly from the Cromwellian Settlement. To carry out this vast project of confiscation accurate mapping was required, and what might be described as Ireland’s first cadastre was carried out between 1656 and 1658 by Sir William Petty. The survey was known as the Down Survey, because the measurements were plotted down on paper. The survey involved producing mapping at scales relevant to various administrative land divisions, the most important being parishes and baronies. At their most detailed, maps were plotted at a scale of 40 perches to one inch (1:7,920). Against each land parcel were noted the name and religion of the landowner, the area of the parcel, and whether the land was of good quality or not. An insight into the surveyors’ working conditions at this time might be of interest to present-day surveyors unhappy with their lot. The job specification alone tells a story: surveyors must be “such as were able to endure travaile, ill lodging and dyett, as also heates and coldes, being also men of activitie, that could leap hedge and ditch, and could ruffle with the severall rude persons in the country, from whome they might expect to be often crossed and opposed”.
Being crossed and opposed was no idle fear. During October 1655 alone, eight surveyors were killed in the course of their work by those opposed to the aims for which their surveying was intended.1

Ordnance Survey first edition six-inch map.

Registry of deeds
Following the Down Survey we must wait a little over 50 years for the next major event in Irish land survey and registration. In 1708 the Registry of Deeds was established. This registry provided for the lodgement of memorials, i.e., records of deeds, which comprised the date of the deed, its nature, the details of the parties to the deed, and a description of the property. The purpose of the Registry was to provide chronological precedence to a lodged deed, i.e., a guarantee that the deed so registered would stand against any other deed registered at a later time or not registered at all.
Birth of ordnance Survey Ireland In 1824 the Ordnance Survey of Ireland (OSi) was established and given the task of mapping the entire country at a scale of six inches to one mile (1:10,560). This survey was completed in 1846, making Ireland the first country in the world to be mapped to such a degree of detail at so large a scale. Although the original concept was to provide mapping for land valuation and land taxation purposes only, it was decided early in the process that the survey should result in a fully detailed topographic map. Later in the 19th century, detailed mapping at a scale of 1:2,500 was completed for most of the land area of Ireland.2

Griffith Valuation and Land Registry
The next milestone on the road to a comprehensive cadastre was the Griffith Valuation. Although Griffith was appointed as Commissioner for Valuation in 1827, it wasn’t until the completion of the Ordnance Survey’s six-inch mapping that the work of valuation could begin, as the six-inch map was the cartography base on which the survey of valuation would be spatially referenced. The initial valuation survey involved townlands only (as indeed had the preceding Down Survey).
This was completed in the 1840s. A more detailed valuation survey of tenements on a land parcel basis was commenced in 1853 and completed in 1865. This survey formed the basis for the taxation of land in Ireland and the Valuation Office (VO) continues this role until the present day.
In 1892 the Irish Land Registry was established. Unlike the already-existing Registry of Deeds, which registered only the existence and precedence of documents, the Land Registry registered individual owners’ title to property and provided a State guarantee to that title. The key title document was the folio, which comprised three sections recording, respectively, the details of the property, the details of the tenure and ownership, and the details of any burdens on the property. The folio was coupled with parcel mapping based on a large-scale ordnance survey background.

Parish map for the Barony of Duleek (Down Survey).

Modern systems

Towards the end of the 20th century, the EU Common Agricultural Policy brought about the need for an agricultural land use database managed by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
A further major cadastral component came at the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century, in the form of a comprehensive and standardised address database developed by OSi and An Post (GeoDirectory) and further enhanced by the postcode initiative of Eircode. Another embellishment arrived on the taxation front in the form of the Residential Property Price Register managed by the Property Services Regulatory Authority.
The last link in this chain of development is the merging of the three major components
of a cadastre – cartographic base (OSi), valuation (VO), and property registration (the Property Registration Authority of Ireland – PRAI) – into a single agency: Tailte Éireann.
It is clear that Ireland has all the components of a fully functioning and sophisticated cadastre comparable to any of the major continental cadastres, except that for our own idiosyncratic reasons we hesitate to describe it as such.

1. Prendergast F. The Down Survey of Ireland. Survey Ireland 1997; 14: 43-52.
See also the Trinity College Dublin website on the Down Survey project –
2. For a detailed history of the work of the Ordnance Survey of Ireland in the nineteenth century, see Andrews, J.H., A Paper Landscape: The Ordnance Survey in Nineteenth Century Ireland. Oxford, 1975.

Muiris de Buitléir
Geomatics Professional Group Committee member, and SCSI representative to The Council of European Geodetic Surveyors