It’s time for another look at Ireland’s history, through the medium of early maps. We have previously examined the Down Survey here and here (the latter looked specifically at West Cork). You may remember that the project was instigated by Oliver Cromwell to catalogue the ownership of land given to British settlers after his invasion of Ireland which commenced in 1649. The Act of Settlement 1652 formalised the changes. We don’t like the recollection of those times, but we do find all early maps fascinating when we compare them to our present day topographical knowledge.
Kerry: it’s one of our favourite destinations. Visually spectacular, it offers a dramatic natural terrain of coastlines, mountains – and remembered history. Above is a view from Church Island, on Lough Currane near Waterville. The Down Survey gives us a mid-17th century aspect of the landscape, but there are earlier maps. The header is a part of Ortelius’ Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, published in many editions from 1570. Note Queen Elizabeth prominently displayed. Here’s the full page map (courtesy of the David J Butler Collection of Maps of Ireland):
Above is an enlarged detail from the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum showing much of today’s Cork and Kerry counties. You have to get used to thinking through ninety degrees: it was the convention in many early maps to put West at the top of the image, and North to the right. Here you will see Roaringwater Bay over to the left. To make things easier, here is a much enlarged view of part of this map, although with some loss of definition:
You will recognise Dorsey (Dursey Island), Croke haven (Crookhaven), Cape Clere (Cape Clear Island), Baletymore (Baltimore), Tymolay (Timoleague), Kynfale (Kinsale), all within Movnster (Munster). Going round the corner we find Balenftyn (Valentia), Kery (Kerry), Trayly (Tralee), and many more, including names we cannot now relate to.
(Above) – here’s another pre-Down Survey map: Hiberniae, Britannicae Insvlae nova descripto, published by Abraham Ortelius (1527-98), a Flemish engraver. The map is thought to date from 1598 and is in the collection of The Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, Washington, DC. Here’s a detail of the area which interests us today – again, many names can be recognised:
Another present-day Kerry scene: in fact a photograph from a friend’s garden. To add a further dimension to our review of Kerry through time, this Jack B Yeats painting – Kerry Landscape – dates from 1913 (current whereabouts unknown – it was offered for sale by Adams in 2016):
Getting back to The Down Survey, the following details are from the available survey documents which were taken in the years 1656-1658. They show parts of Clare, Limerick and Kerry:
Here is a specific County map of Kerry in greater detail: it encompasses the land divisions spanning from Kenmare to the mouth of the Shannon (Down Survey GIS 1641 – 1670).
Above: a ferry across the Shannon, c1890. Below: this map is also from The Down Survey collection and is titled Landowner Map 1641 – 1670.
Before leaving this little outline of Ireland’s ancient western coastline, I can’t resist going back to the Twelfth century and to Giraldus Cambrensis (c 1146 – c 1223). Described as a Roman-minded Cambro-Norman cleric, Giraldus lived most of his life in Wales but visited Ireland in 1183 and 1185. He wrote descriptions of what he encountered there, and they are entertaining. Here are two examples: though not specific to Kerry, they are not geographically distant.
. . . There is an island called Aren, situated in the western part of Connaught, and consecrated, as it is said, to St Brendan, where human corpses are neither buried nor decay, but, deposited in the open air, remain uncorrupted. Here men can behold, and recognise with wonder, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, and great-great-grandfathers, and the long series of their ancestors to a remote period of past time . . .
. . . There is another thing remarkable in this land. Although mice swarm in vast numbers in other parts of Ireland, here not a single one is found. No mouse is bred here, nor does it live if it be introduced; when brought over, it runs immediately away and leaps into the sea. If it be stopped, it instantly dies . . .
Further Reading! Some past Roaringwater Journal posts which look at early maps and the West of Ireland can be found here and here.
Could pore over old maps for hours!
Super Finola, to have all those maps in one place.
on another note I called to Kilcoe church ruin this morning and noted that the Ivy is now clipped back but one tree remains growing off one wall. This Ruin requires much more work to bring it to a protected state as recommended by a detailed report by Kelly Engineers specialists in conservation work. By removing the ivy another feature was exposed which could have been a Holy water font.
if i had to follow the early maps to find my way to Castleisland, i’d truly be the lost kerryman. sure, just look sideways lads.
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It’s an interesting thought: if you had to travel a long distance in (say) the seventeenth century, how would you know where to go? I suppose you would rely on someone in each town or village you passed through to direct you to the next one? I think in those days we carried a lot more knowledge in our heads than we do today…
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Maps really are fascinating – always interesting to see what can still be recognised. The last island sounds oddly enthralling!
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There are more good stories where that came from!!