OS200: Digitally Re-Mapping Ireland's Ordnance Survey Heritage

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Natural and Built Environment


Ireland has particular importance in the global history of maps and map-making. Two centuries ago, the island became the first country to be mapped entirely at the large scale of six inches to one mile. While today this might seem unremarkable at the time it was a major achievement. Not only did the map-makers survey and record features on the ground, they recorded an impressive range of local details, including folklore, place-names, antiquities, religion and topography. All of this work was undertaken by the Ordnance Survey (OS) in Ireland during the 1820s-1840s. Very soon, 2024 will be the bicentenary anniversary of the start of this impressive feat, which offers us a timely opportunity to re-evaluate the impacts and legacies of the OS on the island of Ireland. This, then, is the main aim of the OS200 project as a UK-Ireland collaboration in Digital Humanities.

This all-Ireland project, "OS200: Digitally Re-mapping Ireland's Ordnance Survey Heritage", will link together historic OS maps and texts to form a single freely-accessible online resource for the first time. Doing so will enable a team of researchers from across Ireland--north and south--to uncover otherwise hidden and forgotten aspects of the life and work of those from Britain and Ireland employed by the OS as they mapped and recorded landscapes and localities. Using new and innovative digital methods, techniques, tools and practices, OS200 will look 'behind the map' to those on the ground who surveyed Ireland's myriad townlands and gathered local stories. The project seeks to understand better this life 'in the field' through the records and accounts left behind by the OS. These legacies of the OS in Ireland are of immense public and academic importance and interest, yet over time what was once a connected corpus of material created by the OS has become fragmented and scattered across different collections. OS200 will reconnect and enrich these materials, recreating connections between memoirs, sketches, letters, name-books and maps, into the whole the OS originally conceived them to be. Timed to coincide with the upcoming bicentenary of the OS in Ireland, our project will offer an opportunity to reappraise the historic impacts of the OS's mapping of Ireland, and their lasting legacies.

OS200 connects past and present using 21st-century technologies to analyse and visualise how the OS operated, on the ground, as surveyors encountered 'the surveyed'. This is so important in the context of Ireland, with the complex and sometimes troubled relationships between map-makers and the mapped, between outside authorities-in this case the OS as a state mapping agency-and local communities across the island. With Digital Humanities approaches, these relationships can be examined and explored in new ways to 'open up the map', to help us understand better the processes and practices involved when map-makers went out into the landscape and recorded what was there.

For Ireland this work by the OS had great and lasting significance, not least in recording and authorising official place-names, a process captured though not without controversy by Brian Friel's well-known play, 'Translations'. Our UK-Ireland research collaboration between Queen's University Belfast and the University of Limerick, supported by the Royal Irish Academy, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, and Digital Repository of Ireland, will re-examine how the OS not only mapped Ireland, but how also in the process they helped to transform it. Our new 'OS200 corpus' and research outcomes relate to the whole of Ireland, its townlands, parishes, fields, farms and loughs. As a result of this timely digital re-appraisal of the OS, not only will OS200 create a deeper and more critical understanding of the mapping and naming of Ireland's people and places, it will provide a tangible and lasting legacy itself, a new digital 're-mapping' of Ireland's OS heritage for all to engage with, study and discover.


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Description Public lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact From the Armagh Robinson Library web-site:

Who mapped Ireland, and how? Spanning five centuries of mapping in Ireland, this talk by historical geographers Professor Keith Lilley (Queen's University Belfast) and Dr Catherine Porter (University of Limerick) explores the importance of field-survey in the map-making process. From the early-seventeenth century maps of Josias Bodley and the Escheated Counties of Ulster, through to the early Ordnance Survey six-inch maps under Thomas Colby, it journeys through Ireland's rich cartographic heritage, revisiting those landscapes and localities where surveyors traversed and plotted the ground. Looking 'behind' the map, to the field, opens up new and interesting perspectives on how Ireland was mapped in the past.

Armagh Robinson Library is grateful to the Northern Ireland Museums Council and the Art Fund for supporting the lecture through their 'Museums Connect' programme.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://armaghrobinsonlibrary.co.uk/aiovg_videos/a-journey-through-maps-exploring-irelands-cartograp...