Local government and taxation

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The Townlcuid.

2 Vic. c. 1

The Plowlaiid.


Sec, as to lliis—
1 & 2 V. c. 5G, s. 44,
G&TV.c. 03,8.12,
10 V. c. 31, m. 13,
12613V.C. 104,8.1,


The townland was adopted by the Legislature in 1838, as the unit of Union
organization, under the impression that the entire country consisted of such

It subsequently proved, however, that in some places there either were no
townlands, or that their boundaries were unknown, and it became necessary in
consequence, during the ensuing year to pass a short amending Act for the
purpose of removing this difficulty.

This denomination—the unit of Union organization—which is peculi-ar to
Ireland—having nothing in England at all corresponding with it—appears to
be nearly co-extensive with the old Seisreagh, or Plowla.nd, which was, by
estimation, not by actual measurement, supposed to contain about 120 Irish
acres, exclusive of wood, moor, and mountain, being the quantity of arable
land, capable of being turned up in the course of a year by a six-horse plough.

The conformity of the modern townland with the old Plowland appears
probable from the fact, that the total number of the latter in Ireland
was 66,600, while that of the former is 62,305—but at the same time, the
vast disparity in extent between certain townlands, indicates that some at
least of the number miist have had an origin different from this—one being
returned at only 1a. 1r. 1p., while another is given as containing as many as
7,012 acres—both being, however, extreme and exceptional cases of opposite

The several townlands which were to constitute each Union having been
decided on, it next became necessary to group them together in separate
electoral divisions.

This sub-division was, as the name imports, only designed by the original
framers of the Bill for the purpose of facilitating the election of guardians and
conveniently distributing the representative power; but in the passage of the
measure through the Uj)per House it underwent, in this respect, a very
material and important alteration, whereby the electoral divisions were also
constituted separate areas of chargeability for so much of the Union expendi¬
ture as appertained to the cost of maintenance of such of the destitute poor as
had been previously resident therein, all other charges being borne by
them in common according to net annual value, though assessed upon each
electoral division separately.

The precise term over which residence should extend to constitute charge-
ability against a particular electoral division has, during the interval that has
since elapsed, undergone many changes ; but the principle then established,
often and variously assailed, still survives, though in a greatly modified and
weakened shape, the most recent settlement of the question being that
provided for in the Act of 1875—a further and most important advance in the
direction of general Union rating for all ordinary Poor Law purposes.

The number of Unions at first formed was, as has been already stated, 130,
and these were sub-divided into 2,049 electoral divisions, or an average of nearly
sixteen to each Union, in which position things remained till the famine period.

In the commencement of 1848 the Poor Law Commissioners themselves deemed