The Power of Mapping – What is GIS?

A GIS, Geographic Information System is a computer system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present all types of geographical data.

For anyone who found that just a little bit confusing don’t give up reading just yet, as Daragh Mc Donough an expert (15 years to be exact) in GIS sheds a little light on the computer system that benefits organizations of all sizes and in almost every industry.

Daragh Mc Donough

(Daragh Mc Donough working on a Geographic Information System (GIS) Which is used in a range of departments within Donegal County Council.)

“Everybody is familiar with Google maps for example. We are used to switching between maps and aerial imagery. We query the maps to find directions for driving. We click on map pins to find out more information about points of interest. We view the maps in 3D. That’s GIS.”

“With GIS technology, people can compare the locations of different things in order to discover how they relate to each other. For example, using GIS, the same map could include sites that potentially could pollute, and sites that are sensitive to pollution, such as wetlands. Such a map would help people determine which wetlands are most at risk.

“GIS enables you to better plan and manage the information around you – being able to switch different layers of data on and off and see how it relates to the question in hand is a very powerful tool” says Daragh. “The final printed map tells the story that is then interpreted.  This level of quantitative analysis could not have been done 20 years ago when geographical information was being penned on paper maps. 17 years ago Donegal County Council piloted the first major GIS project in Local Government changing the whole way of capturing planning application data. A change from paper based files to databases and GIS.”

“Originally a planning application would have been drawn onto a paper six-inch map, probably using a Rotring ink pen, and the planning number written on the maps beside. This was a very precise cartographic skill which required a steady hand and an artistic creativity. Nowadays the planning application boundary is digitized onto a digital map within the GIS, and the planning number references all the attribute data about the planning application: year, application date, name, conditions etc.”

 “So now with GIS not only can we produce a general map of all the planning applications similar to the old hand drawn maps, but we can produce a map of all granted applications, from a certain year, in a particular Electoral Area. All by a few clicks of a mouse. That’s pretty impressive”, laughed Daragh.

What does the Council use GIS for?

 “GIS is a very graphical way of presenting useful and relevant data. Last winter for instance we were able to provide a webmap of the gritting routes to which we added which specific routes were to be gritted each night as they changed. This is ‘live’ data represented on a map. We also mapped hourly weather forecasts, temperatures, wind speeds/directions, traffic cameras which provides the public with as much information as possible for them to make a decision about making a journey on the roads during possible inclement weather conditions.”

“Not only does the council use GIS for internal use like planning application management & road network management, we also use web based GIS systems to provide geographical information to the public. Our mapping portal is a link to huge array of different maps. Here you’ll find Tourism maps, Culture maps, Council maps and Investment maps. This public resource is continually updated with new maps and applications. We try to make as many maps as possible available so the public has them at the touch of a button.”

So there you have it GIS technology makes updating maps much easier, helps us decide were is the best place to build a house and can even help a police department study changes in crime data to help determine where to assign officers.

Which begs the question is there no limit to the kind of information that can be analyzed using GIS technology?

Facts on Mapping Systems

  • The Roads department in Donegal County Council use GIS to map the road network, the conditions, and signage and maintenance schedules.
  • The Planning department use GIS to map all planning applications and to compare them with other datasets that might affect the planning decision such as is the application within a certain distance of a National Monument.
  • County Donegal has a rich history of mapping dating back to 1824 where the Ordnance Survey started the first full country survey at the detailed scale of six inch to 1 mile.
  • With GIS technology, researchers can look at change over time
  • In 1957 the Ordnance Survey of Ireland and Ordnance Survey northern Ireland built a new tidal station at Malin Head. Based on the geodetic levelling programme carried out all small scale mapping on the Island of Ireland and large scale mapping in the Republic of Ireland is related to Mean Sea Level at Malin.
  • For a huge array of different maps go to


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