CELT document E800002-019

The Valuation of Ireland

Thomas Osborne Davis

Whole text


The Valuation of Ireland

The Committee of 1824 1 was but meagrely supplied with evidence as to foreign surveys. They begin that subject with a notice of the Survey of England, made by order of William the Conqueror, and called the Doomsday Book. That book took six years to execute, and is most admirably analysed by Thierry.

The following is their summary account of some modern surveys:—

‘ln France the great territorial survey or cadastre has been in progress for many years. It was first suggested in 1763, and after an interval of thirty years, during which no progress was made, it was renewed by the government of that day, and individuals of the highest scientific reputation, MM. Lagrange, Laplace, and Delambre, were consulted with respect to the best mode of carrying into effect the intention of government. Subsequent events suspended any effectual operations in the French cadastre till the year I802, when a school of topographical engineering was organised. The operations now in progress were fully commenced in 1808. The principle adopted is the formation of a central commission acting in conjunction with the local authorities; the classification of lands, according to an ascertained value, is made by three resident proprietors of land in each district, selected by the municipal council, and hy the chief officer of revenue. “In the course of thirteen years, one-third only of each department had been surveyed, having cost the state £120,000 per annum. At the rate at which it is carried on, it may be computed as likely to require for its completion a total sum of £64,680,000, or an acreable charge of 8 3/4 d.” The delay of the work, as well as the increase of expense seem to have been the result of the minuteness of the survey, which extends to every district field—a minuteness which, for many reasons, your committee consider both unnecessary and inexpedient to be sought for in the proposed Survey of Ireland.’ (Committee Report.)

‘The survey of Bavaria is of modern date, but of equal minuteness. It is commenced by a primary triangulation, and principal and verification bases; it is carried on to a second triangulation, with very accurate instruments, so as to determine “all the principal points; the filling up the interior is completed by a peculiar species of plane table; and in order to do away with the inaccuracies of the common chain, the triangulation is carried down on paper to the most minute corners of fields.” The map is laid down on a scale of twelve inches to the mile, or one-five-thousandth part of the real size: and as it contains all that is required in the most precise survey of property, it is used in the purchase and sale of real estates.’ (Committee Report.)


‘The cadastre of Savoy and Piedmont began in 1729, and is stated to have at once afforded the government the means of apportioning justly all the territorial contributions, and to have put an end to litigations behveen individuals, by ascertaining, satisfactorily, the bounds of properties.’ (Committee Report.)

‘The Neapolitan survey under Visconti, and that of the United States under Heslar, are both stated to be in progress, but your committee have not had the means of ascertaining on what principles they are conducted.’ (Committee Report.)

The committee adopted a scale for the maps of six inches to a statute mile, believing, apparently with justice, that a six-inch scale map, if perfectly well executed, would be minute enough for buyers and sellers of land, especially as the larger holdings are generally townlands, the bounds of which they meant to include. And, wherever a greater scale was needed, the pentagraph afforded a sufficiently accurate plan of forming maps to it. They, in another point, proposed to differ from the Bavarian Survey, in omitting field boundaries, as requiring too much time and expense; but they stated that barony, parish, and townland boundaries were essential to the utility of the maps. They also seemed to think that for private purposes their utility would much depend on their being accompanied, as the Bavarian maps were, by a memoir of the number of families, houses, size, and description of farms, and a valuation. And for this purpose they printed all the forms. The valuation still goes on of the townlands, and classes of soil in each. The Statistical Memoir has, unfortunately, been stopped, and no survey or valuation of farms, or holdings as such, has been attempted. We would now only recall attention to the design of the Committee of 1834 on the subject.

They proposed to leave the whole Survey to the Board of Ordnance, and the Valuation to Civil Engineers.

The Valuation has been regulated by a series of Acts of Parliament, and we shall speak of it presently.

The Survey commenced in 1826, and has gone on under the superintendence of Colonel Colby, and the local control of Captain Larcom.


The following has been its progress:—First, a base line of about five miles was measured on the flat shore of Lough Foyle, and from thence triangular measurements were made by the theodolite and over the whole country, and all the chief points of mountain, coast, etc., ascertained. How accurately this was done has been proved by an astronomical measurement of the distance from Dublin to Armagh (about seventy miles), which only differed four feet from the distance calculated by the Ordnance triangles.

Having completed these large triangles, a detailed survey of the baronies, parishes, and townlands of each county followed. The field books were sent to the central station at Mountjoy, and sketched, engraved on copper, and printed there. The first county published was Derry, in I833, and now the townland survey is finished, and all the counties have now been engraved and issued, except Limerick, Kerry, and Cork.

The Survey has also engraved a map of Dublin City on the enormous scale of five feet to a statute mile. This map represents the shape and space occupied by every house, garden, yard, and pump in Dublin. It contains antiquarian lettering. Every house, too, is numbered on the map. One of its sheets, representing the space from Trinity College to the Castle, is on sale, as we trust the rest of it will be.

Two other sets of maps remain to be executed. First— maps of the towns of Ireland, on a scale of five feet to a mile. Whatever may be said in reply to Sir Denham Norrey's demand for a survey of holdings in rural districts does not apply to the case of towns, and we, therefore, trust that the holdings will be marked and separately valued in towns.

The other work is a general shaded map of Ireland, on a scale of one inch to the statute mile. At present, as we elsewhere remarked, the only tolerable shaded map of Ireland is that of the Railway Commission, which is on a scale of  p.149 one inch to four statute miles. Captain Larcom proposes, and the Commission on the Ordnance Memoir recommend, that contour lines should be the skeleton of the shading. If this plan be adopted the publication cannot be for some years; but the shading will have the accuracy of machine-work instead of mere hand skill. Contours are lines representing series of levels through a country, and are inestimable for draining, road-making, and military movements. But though easily explained to the eye, we doubt our ability to teach their meaning by words only.

To return to the townland or six-inch survey. The names were corrected by Messrs. Petrie, O'Donovan, and Curry, from every source accessible in Ireland. Its maps contain the county, barony, parish, townland, and glebe boundaries, names and acreage; names and representations of all cities, towns, demesnes, farms, ruins, collieries, forges, limekilns, tanneries, bleach-greens, wells, etc., etc.; also of all roads, rivers, canals, bridges, locks, weirs, bogs, ruins, churches, chapels; they have also the number of feet of every little swell of land, and a mark for every cabin.

Of course these maps run to an immense number. Thus, for the county of Galway there are 137 double folio sheets, and for the small county of Dublin, 28. Where less than half the sheet is covered with engraving (as occurs towards the edges of a county) the sheet is sold, uncoloured, for two shillings, sixpence; where more than half is covered the price is five shillings.

In order to enable you to find any sheet so as to know the bearings of its ground on any other, there is printed for each county an index map, representing the whole county on one sheat. This sheet is on a small scale (from one to three miles to an inch), but contains in smaller type the baronies and parishes, roads, rivers, demesnes, and most of the information of general interest. This index map is divided by lines into as many oblong spaces as there are maps of the six-inch scale, and the spaces are numbered to p.150 correspond with the six-inch map. On the sides of the index maps are tables of the acreage of the baronies and parishes; and examples of the sort of marks and type used for each class of subjects in the six-inch maps. Uncoloured, the index map, representing a whole county, is sold for two shillings, sixpence.

Whenever those maps are re-engraved, the Irish words will, we trust, be spelled in an Irish and civilised orthography, and not barbarously, as at present.

It was proposed to print for each county one or more volumes, containing the history of the district and its antiquities, the numbers, and past and present state and occupations of the people, the state of its agriculture, manufactures, mines, and fisheries, and what means of extending these existed in the county, and its natural history, including geology, zoology, etc. All this was done for the town of Derry, much to the service and satisfaction of its people. All this ought to be as fully done for Armagh, Dublin, Cork, and every other part of Ireland.

The commissioners recommend that the geology of Ireland (and we would add natural history generally) should be investigated and published, not by the topographical surveyors nor in counties, but by a special board, and for the whole of Ireland; and they are right, for our plants, rocks, and animals are not within civil or even obvious topographical boundaries, and we have plenty of Irishmen qualified to execute it. They also advise that the statistics should be entrusted to a statistical staff, to be permanently kept up in Ireland. This staff would take the census every ten years, and would in the intervals between the beginning and ending of each census have plenty of statistical business to do for parliament (Irish or Imperial) and for public departments. If we are ever to have a registry of births, deaths (with the circumstances of each case), and marriages, some such staff will be essential to inspect the registry, and work up information from it. But the history, p.151 antiquities, and industrial resources, the commissioners recommend to have published in county volumes. They are too solicitous about keeping such volumes to small dimensions; but the rest of their plans are admirable.

The value of this to Ireland, whether she be a nation or a province, cannot be overrated. From the farmer and mechanic to the philosopher, general, and statesman, the benefit will extend, and yet so careless or so hostile are ministers that they have not conceded it, and so feeble by dullness or disunion are Irishmen and Irish members, that they cannot extort even this.

We now come to the last branch of the subject— the Valuation.

The Committee of 1824 recommended only principles of Valuation. They were three, viz.:—

‘Paragraph 1. A fixed and uniform principle of valuation applicable throughout the whole work, and enabling the valuation not only of townlands, but that of counties to be compared by one common measure. Paragraph 2. A central authority, under the appointment of government, for direction and superintendence, and for the generalisation of the returns made in detail. Paragraph 3. Local assistance, regularly organised, furnishing information on the spot, and forming a check for the protection of private rights.’ (Committee Report.)

Accordingly, on the 5th of July, 1825, an Act was passed requiring, in the first instance, the entry in all the grand jury records of the names and contents of all parishes, manors, townlands, and other divisions, and the proportionate assessments. It then went on to authorise the Lord Lieutenant to appoint surveyors to be paid out of the Consolidated Fund. These surveyors were empowered to require the attendance of cess collectors and other inhabitants, and with their help to examine, and ascertain, and mark the “reputed boundaries of all and every or any barony, half barony, townland parish, or other division or denomination of land,” howsoever called. The Act also inflicted penalties on persons removing or injuring any post, stone, or other mark made by the surveyors;  p.152 but we believe there has been no occasion to enforce these clauses, the good sense and good feeling of the people being ample securities against such wanton crime. Such survey was not to affect the rights of owners; yet from it lay an appeal to the Quarter Sessions.

This, as we see, relates to civil boundaries, not valuations. In May, 1820, another Act was passed directing the Ordnance officers to send copies of their maps, as fast as finished, to the Lord Lieutenant, who was to appoint “one Commissioner of Valuation for any counties”; and to give notice of such appointment to the grand jury of every such county. Each grand jury was then to appoint an Appeal Committee for each barony, and a Committee of Revision for the whole county. This Commission of Valuation was then to appoint from three to nine fit valuators in the county, who, after trial by the Commissioner, were to go in parties of three and examine all parts of their district, and value such portion of it, and set down such valuation in a parish field book, according to the following average prices.—

Scale of Prices

‘Wheat, at the general average price of 10s. per cwt., of 112 lbs.; Oats, at the general average price of 6s. per cwt., of 112 lbs.; Barley, at the general average price of 7s. per cwt., of 112 lbs.; Potatoes, at the general average price of 1s. 7d. per cwt., of 112 lbs.; Butter, at the general average price of 69s. per cwt., of 112 lbs.; Beef, at the general average price of 33s. per cwt; of 112 lbs.; Mutton, at the general average price of 34s. 6d. per cwt., of 112 lbs.; Pork, at the general average price of 25s. 6d per cwt., of 112 lbs.’ (Parish Filed Book)

That is, having examined each tract—say a hill, a valley, an inch, a reclaimed bit, and by digging and looking at the soil, they were to consider what crop it could best produce, considering its soil, elevation, nearness to markets, and then estimating crops at the foregoing rate, they were to say how much per acre the tract was, in their opinion, worth.


From this Parish Field Book the Commissioner was to make out a table of the parishes and townlands, etc., in each barony, specifying the average and total value of houses in such sub-divisions, and to forward it to the high constable, who was to post copies thereof. A vestry of twenty-pound freeholders and twenty-shilling cesspayers was to be called in each parish to consider the table. If they did not appeal, the table was to stand confirmed; if they did appeal, the grand jury committee of appeal, with the valuation commissioner as chairman, were to decide upon the appeal; but if the assessor were dissatisfied, the appeal was to go to the committee of revision. The same committee were then to revise the proportionate liabilities of baronies, subject to an appeal to the Queen's Bench. The valuation so settled was to be published in the Dublin Gazette, and thenceforward all grand jury and parish rates and cesses were to be levied in the proportions thereby fixed. But no land theretofore exempt from any rate was thereby made liable. The expenses were to be advanced from the consolidated fund, and repaid by presentment from the county.

It made the proportionate values of parishes and townlands, pending the baronial survey and the baronial valuation, to bind after revision and publication in some newspaper circulating in the county; but within three years there was to be a second revision, after which they were to be published in the Dublin Gazette, etc., and be final as to the proportions of all parish or grand jury rates to be paid by all baronies, parishes, and townlands. It also directed the annexation of detached bits to the counties respectively surrounding them, and it likewise provided for the use of the valuation maps and field books in applotting the grand jury cess charged on the holders of lands, but such valuation to be merely a guide and not final. From the varying size and value of holdings this caution was essential.


Under this last Act the valuation has been continued, as every reader of the country papers must have seen by Mr. Griffith's Notices, and is now complete in twenty counties, forward in six, begun in two, and not yet begun in Cork, Kerry, Limerick, or Dublin.

Mr. Griffith's instructions are clear and full, and we strongly recommend the study of them, and an adherence to their forms and classifications, to valuators of all private and public properties, so far as they go. He appointed two classes of valuators—Ordinary Valuators to make the first valuation all over each county, and Check Valuators to re-value patches in every district, to test the accuracy of the ordinary valuators.

The ordinary valuator was to have two copies of the Townland (or 6-inch) Survey. Taking a sheet with him into the district represented on it, he was to examine the quality of the soil in lots of from fifty to thirty acres, or still smaller bits, to mark the bounds of each lot on the survey map, and to enter in his field book the value thereof, with all the special circumstances specially stated. The examination was to include digging to ascertain the depth of the soil and the nature of the subsoil. All land was to be valued at its agricultural worth, supposing it liberally set, leaving out the value of timber, turf, etc. Reductions were to be made for elevation above the sea, steepness, exposure to bad winds, patchiness of soil, bad fences, and bad roads. Additions were to be made for neighbourhood of limestone, turf, sea, or other manure, roads, good climate and shelter, nearness to towns. The following classification of soils was recommended:—

Arrangement of Soils.

‘All soils may be arranged under four heads, each representing the characteristic ingredients, as—2. Argillaceous, or clayey; 2. Silicious, or sandy; 3. Calcareous, or limy, 4. Peaty. For practical purposes it will be desirable to sub-divide each of these classes:— Thus argillaceous soils may be divided into three varieties, viz.— clay, clay loam, and argillaceous alluvial.  p.155 Of silicious soils there are four varieties, viz.—sandy, gravelly, slatv, and rocky. Of calcareous soils we have three varieties, viz.—limestone, limestone gravel, and marl. Of peat soils two varieties, viz.—moor, and peat or bog. In describing in the field book the different qualities of soils, the following explanatory words may be used as occasion may require:— Stiff—Where a soil contains a large proportion, say one-half, or even more, of tenacious clay, it is called stiff. In dry weather this killd of soil cracks and opens, and has a tendency to form into large and hard lumps, particularly if ploughed in wet weather. Friable—Where the soil is loose and open, as is generally the case in sandy, gravelly, and moory lands. Strong—Where a soil contains a considerable portion of clay, and has some tendency to form into clods or lumps, it may be called strong. Deep—Where the soil exceeds ten inches in depth the term deep may be applied. Shallow—Where the depth of the soil is less than eight inches. Dry—Where the soil is friable, and the subsoil porous (if there be no springs), the term dry should be used. Wet—Where the soil or subsoil is very tenacious, or where springs are numerous. Sharp—Where there is a moderate proportion of gravel, or small stones. Fine or Soft—Where the soil contains no gravel, but is chiefly composed of very fine sand, or soft, light earth without gravel. Cold—Where the soil rests on a tenacious clay subsoil, and has a tendency when in pasture to produce rushes and other aquatic plants. Sandy or Gravelly—Where there is a large proportion of sand or gravel through the soil. Slaty—Where the slaty substratum is much intermixed with the soil. Worn—Where the soil has been a long time under cultivation, without rest or manure. Poor—Where the land is naturally of bad quality. Hungry—Where the soil contains a considerable portion of gravel or coarse sand, resting on a gravelly subsoil; on such land manure does not produce the usual effect. The colours of soils may also be introduced, as brown, yellow, blue, grey, red, black, etc. Also, where applicable, the words steep, level, shrubby, rocky, exposed, etc., may be used.’ ()

Lists of market prices were sent with the field books, and the amounts then reduced to a uniform rate, which Mr. Griffith fixed at two shillings, sixpence per pound over the prices of produce mentioned in the Act.

Rules were also given for valuation of houses, but we must refer to Mr. Griffith's work for them.

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Title (uniform): The Valuation of Ireland

Author: Thomas Osborne Davis

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Date: 2009

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Editions of this text and other writings by Thomas Davis

  1. Angela Clifford, Godless colleges and mixed education in Ireland: extracts from speeches and writings of Thomas Wyse, Daniel O'Connell, Thomas Davis, Charles Gavan Duffy, Frank Hugh O'Donnell and others. Belfast: Athol, 1992.
  2. Charles Gavan Duffy (ed.), Thomas Osborne Davis, The patriot parliament of 1689, with its statutes, roles and proceedings. 1893.
  3. Sir Charles Gavan Duffy (ed.), Thomas Davis, the memoirs of an Irish patriot, 1840–1846. 1890.

Secondary Liteature

  1. Arthur Griffith (ed.), Thomas Davis: the thinker & teacher; the essence of his writings in prose and poetry. Dublin: Gill 1914.
  2. William O'Brien, The influence of Thomas Davis: a lecture delivered by William O'Brien, M.P., at the City Hall, Cork, on 5th November 1915. Cork: Free Press Office, 1915.
  3. Michael Quigley (ed.), Pictorial record: centenary of Thomas Davis and young Ireland. Dublin [1945].
  4. Joseph Maunsell Hone, Thomas Davis (Famous Irish Lives). 1934.
  5. M. J. MacManus (ed.), Thomas Davis and Young Ireland. Dublin: The Stationery Office, 1945.
  6. J. L. Ahern, Thomas Davis and his circle. Waterford, 1945.
  7. Michael Tierney, 'Thomas Davis: 1814–1845'. Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 34:135 (1945) 300–10.
  8. Theodore William Moody, 'The Thomas Davis centenary lecture in Newry'. An t-Iubhar (=Newry) 1946, 22–6.
  9. D. R. Gwynn, O'Connell, Davis and the Colleges Bill (Centenary Series 1). Oxford and Cork, 1948.
  10. D. R. Gwynn, 'John E. Pigot and Thomas Davis'. Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 38 (1949) 145–57.
  11. D. R. Gwynn, 'Denny Lane and Thomas Davis'. Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 38 (1949) 15–28.
  12. N. N., Clár cuimhneacháin: comóradh i gcuimhne Thomáis Daibhis, Magh Ealla, 1942. Baile Átha Cliath (=Dublin) 1942.
  13. W. B. Yeats, Tribute to Thomas Davis: with an account of the Thomas Davis centenary meeting held in Dublin on November 20th, 1914, including Dr. Mahaffy's prohibition of the "Man called Pearse," and an unpublished protest by "A.E.", Cork 1965.
  14. Theodore William Moody, 'Thomas Davis and the Irish nation'. Hermathena, 103 (1966) 5–31.
  15. Malcolm Johnston Brown, The politics of Irish literature: from Thomas Davis to W. B. Yeats. Seattle (University of Washington Press) 1973.
  16. Eileen Sullivan, Thomas Davis. Lewisburg, New Jersey: Bucknell University Press, 1978.
  17. Mary G. Buckley, Thomas Davis: a study in nationalist philosophy. Ph.D Thesis, National University of Ireland, at the Department of Irish History, UCC, 1980.
  18. Giulio Giorello, '"A nation once again": Thomas Osborne Davis and the construction of the Irish "popular" tradition'. History of European Ideas, 20:1–3 (1995) 211–17.
  19. John Neylon Molony, A soul came into Ireland: Thomas Davis 1814–1845. Dublin 1995.
  20. Robert Somerville-Woodward, 'Two 'views of the Irish language': O'Connell versus Davis'. The History Review: journal of the UCD History Society, 9 (1995) 44–50.
  21. John Neylon Molony, 'Thomas Davis: Irish Romantic idealist'. In: Richard Davis; Jennifer Livett; Anne-Maree Whitaker; Peter Moore (eds.), Irish-Australian studies: papers delivered at the eighth Irish-Australian Conference, Hobart July 1995 (Sydney 1996) 52–63.
  22. David Alvey, 'Thomas Davis. The conservation of a tradition'. Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 85 (1996) 37–42.
  23. Harry White, The keeper's recital: music and cultural history in Ireland, 1770–1970. (Cork 1998).
  24. Joseph Langtry; Brian Fay, 'The Davis influence'. In: Joseph Langtry (ed.), A true Celt: Thomas Davis, The Nation, rebellion and transportation: a series of essays. (Dublin 1998) 30–38.
  25. Joseph Langtry, 'Thomas Davis (1814–1845)'. In: Joseph Langtry (ed.), A true Celt: Thomas Davis, The Nation, rebellion and transportation: a series of essays. (Dublin 1998) 2–7.
  26. Sean Ryder, 'Speaking of '98: Young Ireland and republican memory'. Éire–Ireland, 34:2 (1999) 51–69.
  27. Ghislaine Saison, 'L'écriture de l'histoire chez la Jeune Irlande: quelle histoire pour une nation du consensus et de la réconciliation?'. In: Centre de recherche inter-langues angevin, Écriture(s) de l'histoire: Actes du colloque des 2,3 et 4 décembre 1999. (Angers 2001) 435–46.
  28. Gerry Kearns, 'Time and some citizenship: nationalism and Thomas Davis'. Bullán: an Irish Studies Review, 5:2 (2001) 23–54.
  29. Gillian M. Doherty, The Irish Ordnance Survey: History, culture and Memory (Dublin 2004).

Davis, Thomas Osborne (1910). ‘The Valuation of Ireland’. In: Thomas Davis: Selections from his prose and poetry‍. Ed. by T. W. Rolleston. Dublin and London: The Talbot Press, pp. 146–155.

You can add this reference to your bibliographic database by copying or downloading the following:

  author 	 = {Thomas Osborne Davis},
  title 	 = {The Valuation of Ireland},
  editor 	 = {T. W. Rolleston},
  booktitle 	 = {Thomas Davis: Selections from his prose and poetry},
  publisher 	 = {The Talbot Press},
  address 	 = {Dublin and London},
  date 	 = {1910},
  pages 	 = {146–155}


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  1. In that year a committee of the British parliament recommended that Ireland be mapped, to establish its townland boundaries. One of the survey's aims was to arrive at accurate land valuation. The task was to be carried out by the Ordnance Survey which had been in existance in Britain since 1791. 🢀


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