Welcome to the Map Room of the Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland
This room contains over 6,000 of the most important historical maps of Ireland, varying in scale and size from the outline of a single building to maps of the entire island. The Map Room includes printed and manuscript maps, topographical maps as well as nautical charts.
The collection is divided into three distinct epochs:
The reason for these divisions is that cartographical interpretations of Ireland varied widely prior to the Down Survey, but this work became the basis for how Ireland was depicted thereafter.
Apart from Petty’s county maps, however, the Down Survey was never published, so for almost two centuries (1650-1840), Ireland was mapped by increasingly skillful and knowledgeable cartographers. Their work is evident in the series of county maps made for the Grand Juries in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
After the 1840s, the Ordnance Survey was the basis for maps at most scales, and many important series, all present in the Map Room, were derived from this.
We hope that the Map Room encourages you to go exploring.
The earliest maps of Ireland were sea charts known as portolans, made to guide sailors to the island and around its coast. Ireland appears on portolans as far back as the second century C.E. when Ptolemy produced his hand-drawn charts; a number of archives have copies of this early image.
Printed maps of Ireland first appeared in Amsterdam in 1574, pioneered by Gerard Mercator. In 1610 John Speed’s maps of Ireland and its provinces were first published in London. Mercator’s maps were taken from the work of surveyors who worked for the Elizabethan plantations of the midlands and Munster, while Speed’s source is unknown. Dutch printing prowess ensured that most cartographical innovation happened in Amsterdam for the next hundred years. Mercator’s work was added to, and improved upon, by the great cartographers of the Dutch Golden Age, Johannes Blaeu and Jans Jansson.
William Petty’s atlas of Ireland, which was drawn from his Down Survey and included an individual map for each province and county, was also engraved in Amsterdam. Petty’s atlas was a watershed in the depiction of Ireland as the island’s shape was accurately depicted for the first time and the distances between places in all parts of the country could be computed accurately.
Petty’s maps, particularly his map of the entire island, were widely copied and appear in most major international atlases produced in Europe for the next two centuries. In Ireland, using Petty’s map as a base, new surveys gave rise to further advances in cartography, with maps of roads widely available by the early eighteenth century.
The great urban surveys by cartographers such as John Rocque were published from the 1750s onward. Rocque produced a major new survey and large map on four sheets for county Dublin in 1760, followed almost immediately by one for county Armagh. This work set the template for a series of extravagant county maps produced for the Grand Juries that resulted in most Irish counties enjoying a detailed map of their own locality by the 1820s.
Important atlases containing maps of each county appeared at regular intervals from 1760 to 1820, all produced by private publishers for profit in the absence of any state-sponsored mapping program.
In this, Ireland had fallen out of step with the rest of Europe but everything changed with the establishment of the Ordnance Survey of Ireland in the 1820s, and the appearance of the first series of ‘six inch to one mile’ topographical maps, commencing with County Derry/Londonderry in 1838. Prior to this initiative, most public mapmaking occurred on a local scale, exemplified by collections such as those made for Dublin’s Wide Street Commissioners in the eighteenth century, and the work of the Dublin City Surveyors.
The production of Irish sea charts followed a similar trajectory, with the earliest printed charts being produced in Holland, both by large established firms such as Blaeu, and smaller specialist producers, of whom the Theunis family and Gerard van Keulen are among the most significant. English printers generally reproduced Dutch maps, but Robert Dudley’s monumental sea atlas, Dell’Arcano Del Mare (published in Italy in 1646 while Dudley was in exile) was a highly significant and original work. In 1681, Captain Greenvile Collins was appointed by Samuel Pepys, Secretary of the British Admiralty, to survey the coastline of the British Isles, he produced the first detailed charts of Ireland’s coast in 1693. These maps became the hydrographical equivalent of the Down Survey and were continually republished until the end of the eighteenth century.
In the mid eighteenth century, the Admiralty commissioned Murdoch McKenzie, a Scottish schoolmaster, to produce a new series of charts of the coast of Ireland; his 28 magnificent charts duly appeared in 1775. The tracks of the ships which made the depth soundings can be seen clearly on these charts and they are also valuable in their depiction of long-gone coastal features such as light and watch towers.
Other maritime nations with an interest in Irish waters produced their own charts throughout the eighteenth century, sometimes to a higher level of accuracy. The French navy took a particular interest in Ireland and works such as Jaillot’s Le Neptune François (1697), and publications by the state-owned Depôt de Marine, are worth consulting for information that may not appear on English and Dutch charts.
The final steps in charting Ireland’s coast were taken in the 1820s, in parallel with the Ordnance Survey on land, although the charts were produced in a variety of styles and in no particular order. In 1829, Francis Beaufort of Meath, whose clergyman father Daniel was already a cartographer of note, was appointed Hydrographer for the Navy. He set about organizing the production of charts on a global scale. The charts still in use today owe much to Beaufort’s efforts.
The Ordnance Survey triggered a massive increase in the production of maps of Ireland on all scales and for many purposes. Crucially, the new state department offered a bespoke lithographic printing service. This enabled landowners to produce maps of their estates using O.S. maps as a base, and government departments to use the smaller scales, such as the one inch to one mile series, as base maps for their own work. The Landed Estate Court and Land Commission collections include many examples of the former while the first Geological Survey of Ireland is a well-known example of the latter. There was a cost however, in that the rise of an all-encompassing state mapping agency caused the near-extinction of the private surveyor and cartographer with all the variations in style and content that were the hallmark of such a diverse group. On the other hand, by the mid nineteenth century Ireland regained its crown, which had slipped somewhat since the Down Survey of the 1650s, as the best mapped country in the world.
In 1711, two centuries before the disaster of 1922, Ireland’s national map collection was consumed in a fire that swept through government offices in the old Custom House, near Essex (Capel Street) Bridge. The survivors from that fire included copies of much of the Down Survey and parts of an earlier survey of Connacht from the 1630s. In the 1790s these were moved to Gandon’s new Custom House, some distance down river to the east, where they were preserved in eight baskets. Their final journey was to the PROI in the 1880s where they were burnt in 1922.
As very few large scale maps were ever printed, multiple copies of such maps which were in state collections survive in manuscript. In addition, as public officials took a rather proprietary approach to the public documents in their care, the originals or copies of many early ‘state’ maps can still be found in research archives and libraries. The manuscript maps made for the sixteenth-century Elizabethan military campaigns and plantations in Ireland, for example, can be found in the collections of Trinity College Dublin and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, while the maps of the Plantation of Ulster in the early seventeenth century are in The National Archives (UK), Kew.
Printed maps began to appear in the 1570s from both Dutch and Italian printing houses, although the styles are quite different. It is reasonable to assume that Dublin Castle had a strong collection of these editions, as well as of early English maps such as Speed’s maps of the Irish provinces. But the maps of the Down and Strafford Surveys made up the bulk of the Castle’s early collection. Although the Strafford Survey is lost, the Down Survey has been reconstituted in its entirety in the Map Room.
After 1867, as the Pubin Record Office of Ireland began collecting records from all parts of the country and in particular the records of the County Grand Juries and Borough Records, a large national map collection began to emerge. In addition to the Ordnance Survey, many government commissions, such as the Railway and Bog commissioners, produced maps. So too did the military. for installations of all types, along with the Harbour Commissioners, the Commissioners for Lighthouses and many others. Infrastructural works, such as canals and railways, required an Act of Parliament for construction to go ahead, so these were all present in the parliamentary collections at the PROI. Local maps, such as those made for the Grand Juries, were collected by the Office of the Clerk of the Crown and Peace and were also deposited in the Record Treasury. Examining the PROI’s ‘Increment Books’, the volumes listing records arriving into the archive, reveals that most branches of government held maps among their records. As might be expected, the largest collections were connected to land, either to the confiscations of the mid- to late seventeenth centuries, or the land reforms of the nineteenth century, when land was sold back to tenants. The maps made for these land reforms were drawn mainly from the Ordnance Survey as this replaced the Down Survey as the official arbiter of boundaries from the 1840s.
Although many of the maps in the PROI were cadastral (pertaining to land ownership) the Admiralty and High Court of Admiralty held important collections of nautical and hydrographical charts reflecting Ireland’s status as an island nation. Vital both for defence and navigation, charts were an important part of the national collection.
The Map Room of the Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland reflects the national collection of historical maps of Ireland held in the PROI before 1922. As the landscape evolves historical maps are a vital primary source for information about the past. Most have been revised over time; the task for which they were originally made has been completed but the information they contain is of great value to historians.
The foundation for the Map Room in the Virtual Treasury is the L. Brown collection, a vast set of digitised maps and charts assembled by Leslie Brown over a period of 30 years. This collection has provided the great majority of printed maps contained in the Map Room. Supplementing these are further printed items, and large collections of manuscript maps and charts, provided by our partner libraries and archives around the world.
The Virtual Treasury contains examples of all early printed maps of Ireland, national and provincial, that were made prior to the Down Survey of the 1650s. Maps of Ireland produced by all leading European map makers will be found here, including those of Ortelius, Mercator, Speed, Blaeu, Jannson, Boazio, Lafreri, de Witt, and D’Anville, to name but a few. The Virtual Treasury also includes all significant early printed charts of Ireland, including charts by Dudley, Van Keulen, McKenzie, and Bligh. Among the early printed maps is a key series of plantation maps of Ulster from 1609, which has been provided by The National Archives(UK). The collection of early maps concludes, chronologically, with a hand-coloured pre-print of William Petty’s, Hibernia Delineatio, originally Petty’s personal copy and now in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
The collection of manuscript maps of the Cromwellian Down Survey is amalgamated from the Down Survey maps at the British Library, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the National Library of Ireland, the National Archives of Ireland, Sligo County Library, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, and Ferns Diocesan Archive. Over 1,000 maps are present in this important section, which covers all parts of Ireland.
The printed maps for the period 1650-1840 are, again, mainly provided by the L. Brown collection with additional key hydrographic charts and thematic maps from the collections of the American Geographical Society. There are an additional 500 maps in this section including those by the leading cartographers of the European Enlightenment and, increasingly, maps produced in Ireland. These include many of the Grand Jury maps, lavish presentations of each county on multiple sheets; the complete work of John Rocque, the famous Hugenot mapmaker of the mid seventeenth century; the earliest road maps of Ireland, by Robert Leigh, Herman Moll; and the road atlas of 1777 by George Taylor and Andrew Skinner.
The complete set of Admiralty Charts is presented here online for the first time, as are the maps of the Bog Commission, the final major series of state-produced maps in Ireland prior to the Ordnance Survey, with their wonderful depictions of now lost landscapes. All of the first printed maps of Irish towns and cities are also in this section. Manuscript maps include those of Lord Kerry’s estate, provided by the Boole Library at UCC, along with the Dublin City Surveyor’s collection and maps of the Wide Street Commission from the late eighteenth century, both provided by Dublin City Library and Archives.
The Ordnance Survey section of the Map Room includes all 1,903 sheets of the first edition one inch to one mile series (1838-1848), and the first coloured topographical, townland index and geological editions at the same scale. The maps produced by the Ordnance Survey for the Municipal Boundaries Commission are also included as they depict both the old and new municipal boundaries together, information which is not available in any other source. Some large-scale plans of major towns and cities complete this section.
To purchase high-quality prints of any map in the L. Brown Map Collection, go to: lbrowncollection.com