Sun . 19 May 2019

Town commissioners

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Town commissioners were elected local government bodies established in urban areas in Ireland in the 19th century Larger towns with commissioners were converted to urban districts by the Local Government Ireland Act 1898, with the smaller commissions continuing to exist beyond partition in 1922 The idea was a standardisation of the improvement commissioners established in an ad-hoc manner for particular towns in Britain and Ireland in the eighteenth century The last town commissioners in Northern Ireland were abolished in 1962, while in the Republic of Ireland the remaining commissions were renamed as town councils in 2002


  • 1 Lighting of Towns Act, 1828
  • 2 Municipal reform 1840
  • 3 Towns Improvement Ireland Act 1854
  • 4 Townships established by local acts
  • 5 Changes in the 1870s
    • 51 Towns governed under the 1854 Act
    • 52 Towns governed under the 1828 Act
    • 53 Towns and Townships under Special Acts
    • 54 Towns governed under the Municipal Corporations Act
  • 6 Changes in 1899–1901
  • 7 Town Commissioners in Northern Ireland
  • 8 Town Commissioners in independent Ireland
    • 81 List of Town Commissioners in Ireland 1922–2002
  • 9 Sources
  • 10 References

Lighting of Towns Act, 1828edit

The first town commissioners were established by the Lighting of Towns Ireland Act, 1828 9 Geo IV c82 This was "adoptive" legislation, which ratepayers in the various boroughs could choose to enact in their community As the existing borough corporations were ineffective as local authorities the act came into force in sixty-five towns William Neilson Hancock explained the act in 1877 thus:1

The first clause repealed a number of Acts of Parliament, those of 1765, 1773, 1785, and 1796 Those were all temporary Acts of the Irish Parliament, and the British Parliament in 1807 renewed all of them for 21 years, and that renewal came to expire in the year 1828 It was then renewed for one year for that Session of Parliament to allow legislation to take place Those Acts are all founded upon the vestry system of management of towns Some of the large towns had by local Acts got lighting and other matters under vestries in the parishes, and all those Acts were founded upon the idea of extending the vestry system to the management of towns; but the vestries never made the way in Ireland which they did in England, because there was no poor law The basis of vestries being so popular in England, being on account of the poor law administration There was no poor law in Ireland until 1838, and the vestries had no real basis to rest on; and in 1828 they were in a most unpopular portion, because the agitation which overthrew them in 1833 sic; the Tithe Commutation Act 1838 by the extinction of what is called parish cess, the same as the church rates in England, was just at its height 1828 was within five years of the total extinction of Irish church rates, to that they had become quite unpopular and unmanageable bodies

Thomas Larcom of the Irish Ordnance Survey wrote of the commissioners in 1846:2

The boundaries of their assessments are very vaguely defined Sometimes a mile, or half a mile around the town, or from its centre; sometimes the whole or part of the parish An attempt was made to survey them for the Ordnance Maps, but they could not be ascertained with sufficient precision

Municipal reform 1840edit

In 1840 the majority of Irish boroughs were abolished by the Municipal Corporations Ireland Act 1840, and the commissioners established by the 1828 act became the only local council The town commissioners were recognised as successor to the borough, retaining corporate property and the municipal coat of arms Any town with property of more than £100 that lost its borough corporation, but had not adopted the 1828 Act, was to establish "Municipal Commissioners" There was, in fact, only one town to which this applied: Carrickfergus in County Antrim

Towns Improvement Ireland Act 1854edit

The Towns Improvement Ireland Act 1854 17 & 18 Vict c103 allowed electors of populous places to choose to establish town commissioners This enabled many newer communities that had never had municipal status to gain local government bodies Many of the towns governed by the 1828 act replaced this with the new legislation as it provided the commissioners with greater powers

Townships established by local actsedit

A number of towns took a different route to establish local authorities in their areas, by having private acts passed in parliament These acts established "townships" with defined boundaries, defined the powers of the commissioners, gave them powers to make rates, named the first members and provided a procedure for subsequent elections The majority of townships were formed in the rapidly growing suburbs of Dublin To gain further powers or adjust their boundaries the township commissioners had to apply for a further act of parliament

Changes in the 1870sedit

In 1872 the Local Government Board Ireland was formed One of its duties was to consider applications for the formation of commissioners under the 1854 act, and for alteration of the areas of existing local government towns The board issued annual reports on its activities, detailing the finances and condition of the various municipalities under its control

In 1878 Ireland was divided into sanitary districts, with all commissioners in towns with a population of more than 6000 becoming urban sanitary authorities The Local Government Board had the power to designate additional towns with commissioners as sanitary districts

Towns governed under the 1854 Actedit

There were 76 such towns in 1881:

  • Arklow, County Wicklow
  • Athy, County Kildare
  • Ardee, County Louth
  • Athlone, County Roscommon and County Westmeath
  • Antrim, County Antrim
  • Aughnacloy, County Tyrone
  • Bagenalstown, County Carlow
  • Balbriggan, County Dublin
  • Ballymena, County Antrim
  • Ballymoney, County Antrim
  • Belturbet, County Cavan
  • Ballyshannon, County Donegal
  • Banbridge, County Down
  • Bangor, County Down
  • Ballybay, County Monaghan
  • Ballinasloe, County Galway and County Roscommon
  • Ballina, County Mayo
  • Boyle, County Roscommon
  • Carlow, County Carlow
  • Callan, County Kilkenny
  • Clonakilty, County Cork
  • Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary
  • Cashel, County Tipperary
  • Cavan, County Cavan
  • Cootehill, County Cavan
  • Coleraine, County Londonderry
  • Carrickmacross, County Monaghan
  • Castleblayney, County Monaghan
  • Clones, County Monaghan
  • Cookstown, County Tyrone
  • Castlebar, County Mayo
  • Dundalk, County Louth
  • Dromore, County Down
  • Enniscorthy, County Wexford
  • Ennis, County Clare
  • Fermoy, County Cork
  • Gorey, County Wexford
  • Gilford, County Down
  • Holywood, County Down
  • Killiney and Ballybrack, County Dublin
  • Kells, County Meath
  • Kinsale, County Cork
  • Keady, County Antrim
  • Killarney, County Kerry
  • Longford, County Longford
  • Lismore, County Waterford
  • Larne, County Antrim
  • Lisburn, County Antrim and County Down
  • Lurgan, County Armagh
  • Letterkenny, County Donegal
  • Limavady, County Londonderry
  • Loughrea, County Galway
  • Maryborough, Queen's County
  • Mountmellick, Queen's County
  • Mullingar, County Westmeath
  • Midleton, County Cork
  • Naas, County Kildare
  • Newbridge, County Kildare
  • Navan, County Meath
  • New Ross, County Wexford
  • Nenagh, County Tipperary
  • Newtownards, County Down
  • Parsontown, King's County
  • Portadown, County Armagh
  • Rathkeale, County Limerick
  • Roscommon, County Roscommon
  • Skibbereen, County Cork
  • Strabane, County Tyrone
  • Tullamore, King's County
  • Trim, County Meath
  • Templemore, County Tipperary
  • Thurles, County Tipperary
  • Tipperary, County Tipperary
  • Tandragee, County Antrim
  • Tuam, County Galway
  • Westport, County Mayo

According to the 1878 report of The Local Government Board, the 1854 Act was adopted in Strandtown, County Antrim on 25 February 18783 However the town is not listed in later reports, and was subsequently incorporated into the borough of Belfast

Towns governed under the 1828 Actedit

Only 11 towns were still governed by the act:

  • Armagh, County Armagh
  • Bandon, County Cork
  • Downpatrick, County Down
  • Dungannon, County Tyrone
  • Fethard, County Tipperary
  • Mallow, County Cork
  • Monaghan, County Monaghan
  • Omagh, County Tyrone
  • Tralee, County Kerry
  • Wicklow, County Wicklow
  • Youghal, County Cork

Towns and Townships under Special Actsedit

There were 14 towns with commissioners formed under such legislation:

  • Blackrock, County Dublin
  • Bray, County Wicklow
  • Clontarf, County Dublin
  • Dalkey, County Dublin
  • Drumcondra, County Dublin
  • Enniskillen, County Fermanagh
  • Galway, County Galway
  • New Kilmainham, County Dublin
  • Kingstown, County Dublin
  • Newry, County Armagh and County Down
  • Pembroke, County Dublin
  • Queenstown, County Cork
  • Rathmines and Rathgar, County Dublin

Towns governed under the Municipal Corporations Actedit

Only one town had established Municipal Commissioners following the 1840 Act:

  • Carrickfergus, County Antrim

In addition to these 102 towns there were 11 boroughs, making 113 towns and cities with some form of local government on Ireland For completeness, the boroughs were

  • Belfast
  • Clonmel
  • Cork
  • Drogheda
  • Dublin
  • Kilkenny
  • Limerick
  • Derry
  • Sligo
  • Waterford
  • Wexford restored 1846

Changes in 1899–1901edit

The Local Government Ireland Act 1898 created a new type of local council the urban district governed by an urban district council All town commissioners that were sanitary authorities became urban district councils In addition the Local Government Board were given the power to constitute any other local government town with a population of more than 1500 as an urban district, although the ratepayers could petition to prevent the application of this section of the act

The effect of this was that the number of towns with commissioners was greatly reduced By 1902 74 urban districts had been formed, leaving only 30 towns still governed under the 1854 act The two towns still operating under the 1828 act, Monaghan and Wicklow, were automatically promoted to the 1854 act by section 41 the 1898 act4 These towns formed part of the surrounding rural district also created by the Local Government Act for nearly all local government purposes, compared with the urban district councils, who enjoyed considerable powers Over the next few years the number varied as some towns became urban districtsand other communities adopted the act of 1854

Town Commissioners in Northern Irelandedit

Following partition in 1922, four towns with commissioners situated in the six counties of Northern Ireland The number was reduced to three in 1925 when Downpatrick became an urban district The remaining town commissioners were dissolved in 1959 and 1962, their functions being transferred to the rural district council:

  • Antrim, County Antrim, dissolved 1962
  • Aughnacloy, County Tyrone, dissolved 1959
  • Gilford, County Down, dissolved 1959

Town Commissioners in independent Irelandedit

In the Irish Free State and later the Republic of Ireland, town commissioners continued to exist until 2002 The 1854 act was still occasionally used to create new local government towns

The Local Government Act 1925 enabled existing town commissioners to dissolve themselves and for urban district councils to downgrade themselves to commissioners

Where commissioners ceased to exist, their duties were taken over by the county council However, the town still had a legal existence and separate rates were levied in its area, and the county council had to prepare accounts as commissioners for the town An example was Newcastle West in County Limerick, whose commissioners were dissolved in 1941, but who received a grant of a coat of arms by the Chief Herald of Ireland in 1980 – the grant being to "Limerick County Council for the Town of Newcastle West" In 1994 all such towns were finally abolished, by Section 62 of the Local Government Act 1994 1

The Local Government Act 2001 redesignated town commissioners and urban district councils as town councils from 1 January 2002

List of Town Commissioners in Ireland 1922–2002edit

  • Ardee, County Louth
  • Balbriggan, County Dublin
  • Ballybay, County Monaghan
  • Ballyshannon, County Donegal
  • Bandon, County Cork
  • Bantry, County Cork
  • Belturbet, County Cavan, downgraded from Urban District 1950
  • Boyle, County Roscommon
  • Callan, County Kilkenny, dissolved 1940
  • Cootehill, County Cavan, downgraded from Urban District 1950
  • Droichead Nua or Newbridge, County Kildare
  • Edenderry, County Offaly
  • Gorey, County Wexford
  • Granard, County Longford, downgraded from Urban District 1944
  • Greystones, County Wicklow, created 1984
  • Fethard, County Tipperary, dissolved 1936
  • Kilkee, County Clare
  • Leixlip, County Kildare, created 1988
  • Lismore, County Waterford
  • Loughrea, County Galway
  • Mountmellick, County Laois
  • Muine Bheag or Bagenalstown, County Carlow
  • Mullingar, County Westmeath
  • Newcastle West, County Limerick, dissolved 1941
  • Passage West, County Cork
  • Portlaoise, County Laois
  • Rathkeale, County Limerick, dissolved 1926
  • Roscommon, County Roscommon, dissolved 1927
  • Shannon, County Clare, created 1982
  • Tramore, County Waterford, created 1948
  • Tuam, County Galway


  • Local Government in Ireland, Desmond Roche, Dublin 1982


  • Webb, John J 1918 Municipal government in Ireland, mediæval & modern Dublin: Talbot Press pp 182–185; 240–243; 253–256; 260–262; 276–278 
  1. ^ Select Committee on Local Government and Taxation of Towns Ireland 11 July 1876 Report from the Select Committee together with the proceedings of the Committee, minutes of evidence and appendix Sessional papers HC 352 pp 2, question 3 
  2. ^ Larcom, Thomas 1847 "Memorandum On the Territorial Divisions of Ireland" Correspondence relating to measures for relief of distress in Ireland Board of Works Series, July 1846 - January 1847 Command papers 50 764 p 3 
  3. ^ Local Government Board for Ireland 1878 "Local Government Ireland Acts; Provisional Orders, &c" Sixth Annual Report with appendices Command papers C2116 pp 31–32, §25 
  4. ^ Webb 1918, pp242–243

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