During the 18th century, the Irish Parliament passed a number of Acts relating to land drainage. They required the initiative of promoters. The works carried out were largely limited to the construction of canals. The Board of Inland Navigation continued to exist after the Union of 1800.
By 1831, the Board of Works evolved into the Office of Public Works subsumed a number of Boards and commissions. This included the Commissioners dealing with navigation and drainage of the River Shannon.
Under the Drainage Ireland Act 1842 landowners in the district could petition the Board to have the Act apply to their district. They were obliged to undertake to pay the whole of the preliminary expenses in the event of the project not being approved. If the project proceeded, the cost would be funded and become a charge on the lands.
With the issue of petition, a preliminary meeting was held of the owners in the area. The consent of two-thirds of land owners was required. This would subsequently bind and charge land concerned.
A commission for drainage was established by the 1842 Act. Initial take up of the legislation was low with only 50 applications and 15 schemes surveyed by 1845. The position was dramatically affected by the failure of the potato harvest and the famine in the mid-1840s. The works became part of the relief measures by the Board of Works.
In 1846 the Board of Works was consolidated with the commissioners for drainage and the drainage legislation was reformed in 1846. There was a rush of applications with over 300 new applications being received in over 40 districts.
Employment on drainage schemes reached 5,000 by 1846. This eventually rose to 17,000 the following year.Over a quarter million acres were drained under the provisions. The initial expenses were provided by the Treasury.
After 1846, schemes were carried on under the Summary Proceedings Act 1846 rather than the 1842 Act. The delay between the application and engineer report was cut significantly and works were commenced within one to two months. Substantial drainage relief works were undertaken as part of famine relief. The costs of the works continued to be charged against the land.
In 1863, new legislation was passed based on UK legislation. The initiative remained with the landowners. It provided a duty on the Board of Works to examine schemes, advise owners,consider options and prepare provisional orders for approval, to advance loans and to make awards determining the amount of charge. The scheme operated until 1914.
The schemes under the 1842 Act were maintained by drainage trustees. They were maintained by drainage Boards under the 1863 legislation. Many drainage Boards and drainage trustees failed to maintain the schemes and the Board of Works were empowered to step in under the Maintenance Act 1866.
Over 140 drainage districts were established under the 1842 Act. It affected over quarter of a million acres with over £2,000,000 advanced of which £200,000 was provided by local funds.
Under the Landed Property Improvements Act, proprietors in the west of Ireland were encouraged to drain their land. Drainage works were introduced under the Poor Employment Act. Over 1,500 baronial drainage presentments took place in 29 counties. Over £25,000 approved by the Board of Works during the early years of the famine.
The 1846 Act provided for the direct carrying out of the works under the supervision and control of the Board. The consent of one half in value (rateable valuation) of the owners in the district was all that was required. There was a cap on the amount of expenditure under the completed scheme. Under this latter legislation, a significant amount of arterial drainage works was undertaken.
The Board of Public Works was established in 1831 with a vote of £500,000 for use in the form of loans and grants. As a result of a famine at the time, the Act reflected in part, increasing givernmenal monthly involvement. There were a number of Boards and commissions including the director general of inland navigation, fishery ommissioners and civil building Commissioners.
The Board of Works took over these functions and became responsible for expenditure of public funds, the property assets of the government as well as relief works.
Previous public relief legislation was put under the administration of the Board. The Board had powers to give loans for the establishment, extension and improvement of existing of proposed works capable of yielding income sufficient to repay the amount advanced. Loans could not exceed a total of £500,000 and grants £50,000 pounds. Board acted as administrator managing them.
The first loans of grants were used towards the construction and improvement of roads. This increased to cover inland navigation, coastal fisheries, drainage, housing and railways by the middle of the 19th century.
The Board took over the functions of the postmaster general in relation to maintaining many hundreds of miles of roads. It took over responsibility for certain roads and bridges as well as certain public roads not maintained locally. It also inherited roads from the director general of inland navigation.
The Board’s earliest concerns in relation to inland navigation focused on Shannon and related Shannon Boyne navigation. The care and maintenance of the Shannon was delegated to a Shannon commission by legislation in 1839. The duties of the Shannon commissioner were transferred to the Board of public works, Board of Works in 1846.
The Board took over responsibility for Dún Laoghaire Harbour in 1831. The bulk of works had already been completed. In 1836, Howth Harbour commenced in the 1820s and the road connecting it to Dublin were transferred to the Board.
The Board took over the responsibility of the Commissioners of civil building. It was responsible for the maintenance of the law courts and associated buildings as well as governmental officea and buildings.
It took responsibility for district lunatic asylums in 1834. It took charge of the Four Court’s extension in 47 5 Wil Ch 68. The law library extension is completed in 1840.
The Royal Kilmainham Hospital and Hibernian school in the Phoenix Park were added in 1842 together with the Convict Depot in Smithfield]. In 1836 the treasury buildings at Dublin Castle were adopted for use by the newly formed Irish Constabulary.
During the famine, a range of powers were conferred in the Board including those in relation to public works, county relief works, construction of piers, harbours and drainage. Powers were given to employ the labouring poor by means of treasury loans in 1847.
After the famine, the range of responsibilities and services provided by the Board continued to expand. By 1857, it has taken over constabulary buildings, customs buildings, post office and buildings owned by the national education Board.
It continued to undertake a number of very large civil engineering undertaking including the construction of the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell Canal.
The Science and Art Museum Act 1881 sanctioned the erection of a national museum and library at a cost of £100,000, This was the first of a number of large projects undertaken by the Board in the late 19th century.
Under the Relief of Distress Act 1880, the Board was given powers to promote the land improvement loans to sanitary authorities. Extraordinary baronial presentments and other relief measures were provided for.
The Arrears of Rent Ireland Act 1882 authorized the Board to lend monies to Boards of Guardians for the purpose of defraying expenses of persons emmigrating
After 1898, some drainage districts were transferred to county council.