Trinity Launches New Historical Mapping Site

A portion of the Barony of Slievardagh, County Tipperary, Ireland as it appeared in the Down Survey maps. The new TCD site combines more than 2,000 of these small maps to create a comprehensive view of 17th century Ireland. Courtesy of the Map Library, Trinity College Dublin

By Adam Farley, Editorial Assistant
June 28, 2013

Two centuries before the famed, but relatively benign Ordnance Survey (the national mapping project conducted by the British Royal Engineers between 1824-1846 and primarily responsible for the anglicization of many Irish place names), a lesser known survey was done of Ireland by the English with a much more malicious intent. From 1656-1658 the Cromwellian regime undertook the Down Survey in order to accurately locate and measure Catholic estates that were to be confiscated by English adventurers and soldiers. While the originals of these maps were destroyed in two separate fires in 1711 and 1922, Trinity College Dublin historians have tracked down more than 2,000 contemporaneous copies, and put them all online for free.

The research team, led by Associate Professor in Modern History Dr. Micheál Ó Siochrú, scoured Ireland’s cavernous libraries and archives for the copies, which contain highly detailed county, barony, and parish information, as well as personal information on landowners, acreage, depositions, and population. The Down Survey of Ireland Website overlays these 17th-century maps on top of Google Maps and the 19th-century Ordnance Survey maps, and links it to the 1641 and 1670 landowners’ records, as well as the 1659 census, giving an in-depth slice of one of the most (literally) unsettling periods of Irish history.

The landowner databases are searchable and contain more than 10,000 names, detailing the massive land transfer from Catholic to Protestant after Cromwell—for those interested in researching family heritage, this could prove invaluable. The site also visualizes the murders and assaults reported during the 1641 rebellion and allows researchers to isolate the network of 17th-century roads in Ireland, providing previously unexplored information for the transport of people and goods during the period.

The launch of the site marks the first time in 300 years that all the maps are visible in one place, and Dr. Ó Siochrú argues that this digital reconstruction of Irish history “will absolutely transform our understanding of 17th century Ireland.” In fact, he says, “preliminary research based on on-going work suggests that our understanding of the scale and timing of the massive transfer of land from Catholic to Protestant landholders will need to be reassessed.”

You can check out the site for yourself at http://downsurvey.tcd.ie/


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