Irish mapping project reaches milestone

1 Sep 2005

The first phase of Ordnance Survey Ireland’s (OSI) project to develop a digital image archive containing historical maps dating back to 1837 has been completed. The archive will ultimately hold a complete record of the Irish landscape from the earliest hand-drawn maps.

The OSI commissioned ESRI Ireland, a geographical information systems company, to conduct the mapping work. With the first phase of the project now concluded, it is intended the public will have access to the archive shortly via internet access points in every public library in Ireland.

The interest in the service is expected to be considerable, particularly among the Irish diaspora who will now be given the opportunity to research their birthplace or that of their ancestors online. This interest however is expected to increase even more significantly following the planned international launch of the project in Australia in February 2006 and at a genealogical congress in Boston in August 2006.

“The aim of the project was to capture all versions of OSI mapping from 1837 to 1913 and to present these online. Initially the project just covered all six-inch maps (six inches to the mile) but it has now extended to include 25-inch maps also. With the six-inch series now completed, further work should see the 25-inch series finished by mid-2006 and other map series all digitised by the end of 2006,” said Eamonn Doyle, principal consultant, ESRI Ireland.

“The old six-inch maps were etched in reverse on copper plate, printed in gray scale and then coloured to highlight different features. These maps have all been seamlessly joined together in a project of international significance,” commented Malachy McVeigh, senior operations manager at the OSI. “When complete, users entering just a county and townland name will be presented with layers of historical mapping for their area of interest.” The task of assembling the maps has taken three years with Maurice Kavanagh as the project’s team leader.

“The digital archive will prove invaluable to genealogical researchers. For example from next year anyone from America or Australia who wants to trace their Irish family tree will be able to call up a map of where their great-grandparents lived and get a printout of how the area looked at that time,” he said.

But there are other less obvious uses as well. “Anyone buying a site can now trace its history from 1837 to the present day and find out whether it was prone to flooding, if there was an old quarry or how close is the nearest well,” added McVeigh.

“This project represents a remarkable fusion of the old mapping and the new technology. The early edition OSI maps are true masterpieces of the mapmaker’s art. Little did those cartographers know that their work would eventually be made available to a global audience via internet mapping,” said Doyle.

By Brian Skelly