The Down Survey 3 – Close-up of Kerry

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 . . .

Giraldus Cambrensis

. . . 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 . . .

Giraldus Cambrensis

Further Reading! Some past Roaringwater Journal posts which look at early maps and the West of Ireland can be found here and here.

The Down Survey

Here’s a fascinating title block. What are these cherubs doing? The couple on the left are excited about the operation of a magnetic compass; the little drummer is wearing a plumed helmet and has a decorated sash around his torso; cherub number 4 is bearing a spherical astrolabe, while the three on the right are actively engaged in surveying – using a Gunter’s Chain. This latter instrument – by the way – achieved, in the seventeenth century, something we seem to find tricky in our present day: the simple reconciling of imperial and metric measurements!

The cherub image, and the two above, adorn and decorate a remarkable document: the Down Survey map of Ireland. As this survey was ordered by Oliver Cromwell after an cogadh a chriochnaigh Éire (the war that finished Ireland) it seems strange that the north point of the compass is a fleur-de-lis: usually a symbol of the Virgin Mary. Cromwell himself was, of course, a Puritan and a Protestant and his actions in Ireland were aimed at subduing the rights and practices of Catholics, driving them ‘to Hell or Connaught’ – the poorest lands to the west of the Shannon river.

The decade following the Irish rebellion of 1641 witnessed a particularly turbulent period of warfare in Ireland between Catholic families and invaders from England, who were led by the dispossessed followers of the crown during the Civil War, which lasted through most of that period. The Act for the Settling of Ireland (1652) imposed penalties including death and land confiscation against Irish civilians and combatants after the Irish Rebellion and subsequent unrest. British historian John Morrill wrote that the Act and associated forced movements represented …perhaps the greatest exercise in ethnic cleansing in early modern Europe…

Sir William Petty – in charge of the Down Survey. Portrait by Godfrey Kneller, courtesy Romsey Town Council.

. . . Taken in the years 1656-1658, the Down Survey of Ireland is the first ever detailed land survey on a national scale anywhere in the world. The survey sought to measure all the land to be forfeited by the Catholic Irish in order to facilitate its redistribution to Merchant Adventurers and English soldiers. Copies of these maps have survived in dozens of libraries and archives throughout Ireland and Britain, as well as in the National Library of France. This Project has brought together for the first time in over 300 years all the surviving maps, digitised them and made them available as a public online resource . . .

We are very fortunate to be able to freely access – through the internet – this website which contains all available copies of the surviving Down Survey maps, together with written descriptions (terriers) of each barony and parish that accompanied the original maps. These bring out for us very detailed information on what the surveyors recorded in Ireland three and a half centuries ago.

Examples from map extracts, showing the quality of reproduction which can be obtained from the site. These show our own West Cork, with local names that have a familiar ring: Ballidehub, Skull, Rofsbrinie, Affadonna. Having discovered this resource, we know this site will be invaluable in our history researches. Look out for my next post exploring the fine detail of the survey.