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Ordnance Survey of Ireland

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Title: Ordnance Survey of Ireland  
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Ordnance Survey of Ireland


Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSI; Irish: Suirbhéireacht Ordanáis Éireann) is the national mapping agency of Ireland and, together with the Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland (OSNI), succeeded, after 1922, the Irish operations of the United Kingdom Ordnance Survey. It is part of the public service of Ireland. The OSI have made modern and historic maps of the state free to view on their website. The OSI is headquartered at Mountjoy House in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. Mountjoy House was the headquarters, until 1922, of the Irish section of the British Ordnance Survey.


Under the Ordnance Survey Ireland Act 2001,[1] the status of the former Ordnance Survey of Ireland was changed from an executive agency of the Department of Finance to a state agency called Ordnance Survey Ireland, and ceased to be part of the civil service of Ireland. OSI is now an autonomous agency, with a remit to cover its costs of operation from its sales of data and derived products, which has sometimes raised concerns about the mixing of public responsibilities with commercial imperatives. It employs 320 staff in the Phoenix Park and in six regional offices in Cork, Ennis, Kilkenny, Longford, Sligo and Tuam.[2] OSI had sales in 2010 of €20.3 million.

The body is governed by a board appointed by the Minister for Finance.


The most prominent consumer publications of OSI are the Dublin City and District Street Guide, an atlas of Dublin city, and the Complete Road Atlas of Ireland which it publishes in co-operation with Land and Property Services Northern Ireland (formerly the Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland). The board also publishes (jointly with OSNI) a series of 1:50000 maps of the entire island known as the Discovery Series[3] and a series of 1:25000 maps of places of interest (such as the Aran Islands and Killarney national park) and the Geology of Ireland.[4]


The Irish Survey was established in 1824 along similar lines to the Ordnance Survey in Great Britain, to provide a highly detailed survey of the whole of the island of Ireland (1:10560, 6 inches to 1 mile), a key element in the process of levying local taxes based on land valuations.

From 1825–46, teams of surveyors led by officers of the Royal Engineers, and men from the ranks of the Royal Sappers and Miners, traversed Ireland, creating a unique record of a landscape undergoing rapid transformation. The resulting maps (primarily at 6″ scale, with greater detail for urban areas, to an extreme extent in Dublin) portrayed the country in a degree of detail never attempted before, and when the survey of the whole country was completed in 1846, it was a world first. Both the maps and surveying were executed to a high degree of engineering excellence available at the time using triangulation and with the help of tools developed for the project, most notably the strong "limelight". The concrete triangulation posts built on the summits of many Irish mountains can still be seen to this day.

The Engineer officers in charge of the operation were Lt-Colonel Thomas Colby, a long-serving Director-General of the Ordnance Survey, and Lieutenant Thomas Larcom. They were assisted by George Petrie, who headed the Survey's Topographical Department which employed the likes of John O'Donovan and Eugene O'Curry in scholarly research into placenames. Captain J.E. Portlock compiled extensive information on agricultural produce and natural history, particularly geology.

This mapping scheme provided numerous opportunities for employment to Irish people as skilled or semi-skilled fieldwork labourers, and as clerks in the subsidiary Memoir project that was designed to illustrate and complement the maps by providing data on the social and productive worth of the country.

The total cost of the Irish Survey was £860,000.

The original survey was later revisited and revised maps issued on a number of occasions. All of these historical maps (at least up to 1922) are in the public domain and while the originals can be hard to find, they can be freely reproduced.

The British Ordnance Survey ceased to map Ireland just before Partition in 1922. The new Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland (OSNI) officially came into existence on 1 January 1922, while the new Ordnance Survey of Ireland (OSI) came into being slightly later, on 1 April 1922

OSI was initially part of the Irish army under the Department of Defence. All staff employed were military personnel until the 1970s when the first civilian employees were recruited.[2]

In more recent times, the Ordnance Survey of Ireland replaced traditional ground surveying with mapping based primarily on aerial photography. It has also worked with the postal service, An Post, to gather and structure geographic data.

In drama

The national survey carried out between 1825 and 1846 is the focus of the 1981 play Translations by Brian Friel. The main theme is the inscription of Irish language place names in an anglicised form, using a phonetic rendering for British anglophone ears of an approximate Irish pronunciation.

See also


  • Andrews, J.H., A Paper landscape: the Ordnance Survey in nineteenth-century Ireland (Oxford, 1975).
  • McWilliams, P.S., "The Ordnance Survey Memoir of Ireland: Origins, Progress and Decline" (PhD thesis, Queen's University Belfast, 2004).
  • Report on Ordnance Memoir (1843), HC 1844 (527) xxx, 259–385.
  • An Illustrated Record of the Ordnance Survey in Ireland (The O.S.I., Dublin, and the O.S.N.I., Belfast, 1991).

External links

  • Official website of OSi
  • Official website of OSNI
  • Interactive Ordnance Survey Maps
  • Online Ordnance Survey Maps of County Clare
  • Online Ordnance Survey Maps of County Mayo
  • Online Ordnance Survey Maps of County Galway
  • Online Ordnance Survey Maps of County Sligo
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