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Some great resources for Irish Maps

Geo Hive Map Viewer –

NUIG’s Irish Map Guide –

Irish Townlands – Based on OpenStreetMap –

A Historical Look into the Map Makers of Ireland

There were perhaps two main movements in the historic mapping of Ireland which began in the late 17th Century with Sir William Petty from England and ended with Major Thomas Colby’s Ordnance Survey in the mid 19th Century. Though there were more efforts from intermediaries made within this 200 year period, not many of them seemed to bear any Irish heritage at all, many either were commissioned by England or came over from France. Today, of course, we have boundless access to online maps that can transport you to any street in Street View as you wish but in a time before the internet, the mapbooks created by engineers and scholars such as these were the only references countries and citizens had of the land of Ireland.

Most recently and perhaps most notable in the mapping of Ireland was Major Thomas Colby, the officer who directed the Ordnance Survey in Britain. He was put in charge of managing the Irish project between 1824 and 1846 and directed it from London. He was known in his field for his expert trigonometrical skills as well as surveying, field astronomy and base measurement. It’s no surprise that the best feat of the maps he created was not only their accuracy and number and therefore their incredible usefulness as 6 inch squares of knowledge (there were 1900 of them), but they were also incredibly successful in recording place-names which Colby tried to record as accurately as possible. Valuing fact over rumour and linguistic fiction Colby employed an Irish teacher to better educate him on the matter and he was widely praised for this even today. A cartographer through and through, he was involved with the Ordnance Survey since the age of 16. During his early adulthood he completed important work in the survey of locations such as the Isle of Wight and south-west Scotland before undertaking the mammoth task of survey in the entirety of Ireland. 

Colby’s effort followed in the footsteps of the pioneering but not completed works of Charles Vallancey’s military survey which he conducted in the late 1700s. Though his professional capacity remained firmly in his role as a surveyor and military geographer, he is most famously (and rather unattractively) known for his failed conclusions concerning the Gaelic language. A map engineer he was, a successful linguist he was not. These maps, made alongside a Major Taylor, who in 1777 produced a book of Ireland’s road maps, and a French engraver were brought back to Dublin in 1908 where it was published by the Ordnance Survey.

But most influential in charting Ireland, however, might be one William Petty who in 1654 secured the contract to map the country and all its parishes and baronies. This led to the birth of what is known as the Down Survey, published in 1685 and was predominantly used for charting confiscated land in Ireland that would then be used to pay back those who had lent funds to Oliver Cromwell’s army. Petty’s legacy lies not in cartography, though, as he is most known for his work on economic history and statistical writings. Throughout his young life he was mainly known as a government advisor to England and it is this status and his wide range of interests that led him towards Ireland and the contract.

Supporting US

Resource and businesses that have helped us


Free to use maps

Any excellent free resource that many businesses use for their needs

Betfree Betting

Betfree Betting

Online bookmakers

Betfree supports us through ongoing contributions.

Biodiversity Maps

Biodiversity Maps


An excellent, extensive biodiversity map of Ireland from the Heritage Council.


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