A number of separate valuations were carried out prior to the publication of the Primary Valuation.


The Townland Valuation Act of 1826 allowed for a complete assessment of every parcel of land and tenement in Ireland , with the aim of producing an equitable replacement for the unevenly applied local cess taxes. After Griffith began surveying in London/derry in 1831, however, it quickly became apparent that this was far too ambitious and would take many decades to complete.


Accordingly, in 1831 a valuation threshold of 3 was adopted for the buildings to be assessed; only structures worth more than 3 would be included. This excluded the large majority of householders, but still covered a significant number of dwellings and commercial premises, especially in towns. The Valuation continued on this basis for the next seven years, covering eight of the northern counties. Even with this limitation a vast quantity of information was being produced, and by 1838 it was clear that a further restriction in the scope of the survey was necessary. In that year the valuation threshold was raised to 5, excluding all but the most substantial buildings.


Between 1838 and 1844, Griffith produced “townland” valuations of 19 further counties, working from north to south. However, the introduction in 1838 of the Irish Poor Law, a very basic system of relief for the most destitute, further complicated his task. Funding for the Poor Law was based on property assessments carried out for the local Board of Guardians of each of the 138 Poor Law Unions. It made little sense to have two separate systems of local taxation, each based on a differing valuation of the same property, especially since many of the Poor Law valuations were held to be biased in favour of large landowners on the Boards of Guardians.


In 1844, Griffith was instructed to change the basis of assessment for the remaining counties, all in Munster , by dropping the 5 threshold and returning to the full townland and tenement valuation envisaged in 1826. The aim was to see if a uniform basis could be created to unify Poor Law Rates and cess. The experiment was a success – in the intervening years valuation methods had been rationalised and expanded to an industrial scale - and the 1852 Tenement Valuation Act authorised Griffith to extend the system throughout Ireland, a procedure he had in fact already begun. The results, known as the Primary Valuation, were published county-by-county between 1847 and 1864, with the southern counties earlier and the northern counties later.

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