Town commissioners

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, and abolished and replaced with municipal districts by the Local Government Reform Act 2014.

Lighting of Towns Act, 1828Edit

The first town commissioners were established by the Lighting of Towns (Ireland) Act, 1828 (9 Geo. IV c.82). This was "adoptive" legislation, which ratepayers in a borough or market town 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The first clause repealed a number of Acts of Parliament, those of 1765, 1773, 1785, and 1796.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 position, because the agitation which overthrew them in 1833 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, so that they had become quite unpopular and unmanageable bodies.

Whereas local acts appointing commissioners for particular places specified a boundary or distance inside which the commissioners' powers would be confined, no such limit was specified in the 1828 act.[2] Thomas Larcom of the Irish Ordnance Survey wrote of the commissioners in 1846:[3]

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. c.103) 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:

According to the 1878 report of The Local Government Board, the 1854 Act was adopted in Strandtown, County Antrim on 25 February 1878.[4] 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:

Towns and Townships under Special ActsEdit

There were 14 towns with commissioners formed under such legislation:

Towns governed under the Municipal Corporations ActEdit

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

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

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 act.[5]) 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:

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.

The Local Government Reform Act 2014 abolished town councils and replaced them with local electoral areas within each county council following the enactment of the Local Government Reform Act 2014 on 1 June 2014.

List of Town Commissioners in Ireland 1922–2002Edit



  • Simons, N, ed. (1829). "9 Georgii IV cap. LXXXII: An Act to make Provision for the lighting, cleansing, and watching of Cities, Towns Corporate, and Market Towns, in Ireland, in certain Cases.". The Statutes of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. 11. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode. pp. 593–609. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  • "17 & 18 Victoriae cap. CIII: An Act to make better Provision for the paving, lighting, draining, cleansing, supplying with Water, and Regulation of Towns in Ireland.". A Collection Of The Public General Statutes, Passed In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Year Of The Reign Of Her Majesty Queen Victoria: Being The Second Session Of The Sixteenth Parliament Of The United Kingdom Of Great Britain And Ireland. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode. 1854. pp. 359–389. Retrieved 24 August 2018.


  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. p. 2, question 3.
  2. ^ Gipps, George (23 July 1832). "Appendix; Minutes of Evidence". Report of the Select Committee on Limits of Boroughs of Dungarvan, Youghall and Mallow. Sessional papers. HC 1831–1832 (631) 5 3, 5. H.M. Stationery Office. p. 4, question 26.
  3. ^ 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. p. 3.
  4. ^ Local Government Board for Ireland (1878). "Local Government (Ireland) Acts; Provisional Orders, &c.". Sixth Annual Report with appendices. Command papers. C.2116. pp. 31–32, §25.
  5. ^ Webb 1918, pp.242–243