Where any church or ecclesiastical building or structure appears to the Commissioners to be ruinous, or if a church to be wholly disused as a place of public worship, and not suitable for restoration as a place of public worship, and yet to be deserving of being maintained as a national monument by reason of its architectural character or antiquity, the Commissioners shall by order vest such church, building, or structure in the secretary of the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland, to be held by such secretary, his heirs and assigns, upon trust for the Commissions of Public Works, to be preserved as a national monument, and not to be used as a place of public worship.
Not only did the Irish Church Act of 1869 disestablish the Church of Ireland, but it also provided for the protection of the first national monuments in Ireland. They were to be placed under the control of what is now the Office of Public Works, founded in 1831 and one of the oldest government agencies still in existence in Ireland.
The first group of monuments, those at the Rock of Cashel, were taken into state care in 1874.
The Rock of Cashel, a medieval site in County Tipperary, contains several 12th and 13th century religious structures, with roots dating back much further as the traditional seat of the kings of Munster.
National monuments in Ireland gained further protection in 1892, when the 1882 Ancient Monuments Protection Act, previously covering only monuments in Great Britain, was extended to Ireland. Since independence, several acts have been passed for the protection of national monuments, most notably the National Monuments Act of 1930.
Under this act, a national monument is considered,
a monument or the remains of a monument the preservation of which is a matter of national importance by reason of the historical, architectural, traditional, artistic, or archaeological interest attaching thereto…
Today, the National Monuments Service works to preserve, protect, maintain, conserve, manage, and provide visitor services for over 780 national monuments in state care, including those with multiple monuments on a single site (such as the Rock of Cashel). The National Monuments Service is part of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, and the day-to-day conservation and operation of the monuments remains under the Office of Public Works.
The heritage sites under the National Monuments Service represent an enormous range of time periods and areas of significance, from Ireland’s two UNESCO World Heritage Sites to megalithic tombs, ecclesiastical sites to industrial and milling complexes, castles and deserted medieval villages, Kilmainham Gaol and Phoenix Park.