The Office of Public Works came into being in 1831. The organisation’s original functions included looking after civic buildings, administering loans for public projects and building canals. Since then our remit has broadened to include managing the risk of flooding nationwide, conserving and interpreting heritage sites and managing the State's estate portfolio.
The OPW expanded during the Great Famine of 1845–52, when it ran relief works, a form of public charity involving road-building and similar projects. At the height of the famine these works employed half a million people.
In the 1850s the organisation began to take responsibility for police barracks, coastguard stations, schools, post offices, customs buildings, the royal universities and lunatic asylums, as they were then called. The iconic buildings on the Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary, were the first National Monuments taken into State care in October 1874. Legislation in 1882 gave the OPW overall authority over all of Ireland’s National Monuments and our mission to conserve them for future generations began in earnest.
The OPW built prestigious public buildings like the National Museum and the National Library in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the 1980s and 1990s we took on huge public commissions such as developing Dublin Castle and restoring the Royal Hospital Kilmainham.
We are now responsible for some 780 heritage sites. These range from prehistoric tombs to medieval churches, Norman castles, industrial mills and award-winning historic gardens.