The Gasworks Clauses Act regulated the older town gas supplying light and heating by manufactured gas. They continue to apply to some of Bord Gáis Networks that were directly taken over from the previous town gas supplier.
The Gasworks Clauses Act was incorporated into private legislation authorizing the gas companies to construct and develop gas works and associated infrastructure, pipes etc.
Under the Lighting of Towns Ireland Act 1828, towns could invoke a structure for the provision of light. This was later superseded by the Town Improvement Act 1847, also a model act and modified by the Public Health Act 1878.
Private acts typically granted powers to break and open public streets, manufacture and supply gas for lighting, heating and motive powers. It also provided for sale and dealing in gas and related by-products resulting from the manufacture of gas. The legislation might authorize the sale, leasing and hiring of engines, stoves, pipes and other fittings for power, warming and ventilation, cooking and other purposes.
Local authorities took up the power to provide gas in England. In certain cases, gas companies obtained power to provide electric lighting. Numerous private and local bills were passed by the UK parliament through the 19th century including several authorizing gas undertakers in major Irish towns and cities.
Many councils in England obtained authority to supply gas under private acts or under the provisional order procedure. Provisional orders did not require a private act of parliament. The procedure involved an order which included provision for enquiring into the merits of the matter, publication, the possibility of objections, and ultimate confirmation by the Local Government Board.
In 1855 Robert Bunsen invented the gas burner that bears his name. Gas was quickly employed to generate light and heat. By 1884 there were 3,750 gas lamps in Dublin maintained by 25 gas lighters.
The mid-19th century also saw the development of gas lighting, which was significantly superior to the older gas lamps in terms of luminosity. It was not until the 1920s that electricity could compete with gas for illumination.
Gas lighting remained until the middle of the 20th century in Ireland. Significant wartime restrictions reduced gas. Public lighting was discontinued in the 1950s.
The gas burner technology led to the use of gas fires and gas cookers.
By the late 19th century and early 20th century the process of gas manufacture was well established.
The early gas works involved the use of coal to produce gas. After World War II with the increase in the price of coal drove the move to petroleum for the manufacture of gas.
Gas works led to significant and important by-products for the chemicals industry. Naphtha had been a chief waste product of the petroleum industry and was used to feed stock.
The price increased dramatically in the early 1970s and spelled the end of the town gas industry. This coincides with the rise of natural gas. The final phase of the gas production industry in Ireland involved the conversion of some of the naphtha-based plants to plants manufacturing town gas from natural gas as it became available in the 1980s.
By that time, only six of the 112 gas companies which existed at the beginning of the 20th century remained.
The first gas companies evolved at the beginning of the 19th century. By 1822, gas businesses had commenced in Belfast and by 1824 in Dublin. Public distribution of gas commenced following resolution of difficulties with the streets and paving commissioners.
Dublin had approximately 6,000 whale oil or tallow lamps in the first decade of the 19th century. They were individually refuelled and had to be lit manually. Bills by private undertakers were opposed by Dublin Corporation in the late 1810s on the basis that the gas pipe might contaminate the water supply.
Three separate gas companies were established by acts of parliament in the 1823 to 1825 period. This included the Hibernian Gaslight Company who built their works at Brunswick Street (Pearse Street) beside the lifting bridge over the Grand Canal.
The Dublin Coal Gas Light Company had its works at North Strand. The Patent Oil Gas Company had its works at the later site of the Academy Cinema. The three gas companies laid mains alongside each other on the same streets.
The first piped gas lighting of streets took place in 1825. Gas lighting was quickly installed in all the main thoroughfares, business premises and civic buildings. The Mansion House was lit by 1824. The gas companies decided to share the market to maximize profits.
The Alliance Gas Company was established by act of parliament in 1836. In 1844, a group of prominent citizens under the chairmanship of Daniel O’Connell formed the Dublin Consumers’ Gas Company. By 1847, Act of Parliament the company was given power to purchase the Alliance Company which became the Alliance and Dublin Consumers Gas Company.
In 1866, the Alliance and Dublin Consumers Gas Act amalgamated the Alliance and Dublin Consumers Gas Company with the then newly formed Commercial Gas Company of Ireland. It authorized the takeover of the United Gas Company’s undertakings in Dublin; . the Hibernian Kingstown and Bray Gas Company. This led to the unification of all gas supply companies in the Dublin area and the formation of Alliance and Dublin Gas, which survived until the 1980s.
After the 1866 Act, the company came under single management despite retaining their separate identity for some time.
Extensive redevelopment works were undertaken in the 1870s and its works were modernized. An 1879 Act authorized the construction of a tramway on the quay side to make handling of coal easier from ships. The Act also allowed the company manufacture, hire, or sell gas meters stoves, gas engine and other apparatus for lighting, heating and cooking and providing motive power. The Dublin Gas Act 1883 facilitated the acquisition of property along John Rogerson’s Quay.
The number of gas lights continued to increase up to the early part of the 20th century. The Dublin Gas Company acquired its own ships in the 1920s to facilitate supplies of coal from England.
Famously, during World War II, the Emergency Powers order made it an office to use gas in the off hours giving rise to the glimmer man.
By the 1960s Dublin Gas converted to manufacture from fuel oil and naphtha. A considerable amount of new housing built in the late 1960s and ‘70s was piped for gas for domestic heating and cooking. The oil crisis, overstaffing and over-borrowing led to the insolvency of the Dublin Gas Company in 1986.
Just as the town gas industry based on gas manufacture was becoming unviable, natural gas reached Cork 1979, Dublin 1982, Limerick, Waterford and Clonmel in 1986, Drogheda, Dundalk 1988.