Under the Ordnance Survey Ireland Act 2001 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 the Republic 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.
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 a series of detailed maps of the entire country known as the "Discovery Series".
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, reating a unique record of a landscape undergoing rapid transformation. The resulting beautiful 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 very high degree of engineering excellence, using triangulation and with the help of tools developed for the project, most notably the strong "limelight."
The Engineer officers in charge of the operation were Lt-Colonel Thomas Colby, a long-serving Director-General of the Ordnance Survey, and Lieut Thomas Larcom. They were assisted by George Petrie, who headed up the Survey's Topographical Department which employed the likes of John O'Donovan and Eugene O'Curry in scholarly research into place-names. Captain J.E. Portlock compiled extensive information on agricultural produce and natural history, particularly geology.
This "mapping scheme" provided numerous opportunities for employment to the native Irish people, both as skilled/semi-skilled fieldwork labourers and as clerks in the subsidiary Memoir project that was designed both to illustrate and complement the maps by providing hard 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 originals can be hard to locate, can be freely reproduced.
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 An Post to gather and structure geographic data.
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.
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