A photo of four people standing in front of a black-and-white pull-up, dressed in professional clothing.
OS200 project co-leads Dr Keith Lilley (Queens University Belfast) and Dr Catherine Porter (University of Limerick), with Chief Survey Officers Suzanne McLaughlin (Ordnance Survey Northern Ireland) and Colin Bray (Tailte Éireann).
Monday, 24 June 2024

Researchers at University of Limerick have created a new digital heritage resource centred on the early years of the Ordnance Survey in Ireland.

Marking two-hundred years since the beginnings of the first Ordnance Survey of Ireland, the ‘OS200—Digitally Re-Mapping Ireland’s Ordnance Survey Heritage’ project gathered historic Ordnance Survey (OS) maps and texts, held in disparate archives, to form a freely accessible, digital resource for academics and members of the public to use.

In Ireland, between 1824 and 1842 the OS completed the first ever large-scale survey of an entire country, at a scale of six inches to the mile. Acclaimed for their accuracy, these maps are regarded by cartographers as amongst the finest ever produced.

In addition to maps, the Ordnance Survey staff, both military and civilian, recorded other information such as archaeological and toponymical material including local customs, antiquities, place names and topographical features. However, over time, these materials have been disparately housed in various museums, repositories and archives across Ireland and Britain.

UL worked with Queens University Belfast, Digital Repository of Ireland, and other key partners to create the digital archive in the Irish Research Council and Arts and Humanities Research Council co-funded project. The project was launched in the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin.

Dr Catherine Porter from the School of History and Geography led the UL team.

“The key challenge in analysing and researching early accounts of the OS in Ireland, is the sheer volume of information, and the varied state of the materials,” Dr Porter explained.

“Many of the OS records were not easily accessible or searchable and are housed in different locations, so it was difficult to build a complete picture of what happened during the first survey in the early nineteenth century. This project has provided us the opportunity to collate the materials together and develop a new OS archive for the island.”

By reconnecting digitally, the OS maps, memoirs, correspondence, drawings and books of placenames into a new online resource, the project aims to open up the histories to wider audiences, enabling a richer and deeper engagement with and understanding of the OS operations in Ireland two centuries ago.

Further, it will enable a fresh exploration of how the complex legacies of the OS in Ireland can be used as a positive vehicle for discovery and engagement with the past across diverse communities in Ireland today.

The resulting project, gathering historic OS maps and texts that were housed in different archives, forms a single freely accessible online resource for academic and public use.

It has also allowed a team of researchers from across Ireland to uncover otherwise hidden and forgotten aspects of the life and work of those employed by the OS and to explore the complex histories associated with the survey and its legacies and impacts still witnessed in the landscape today.

Dr Porter explained: “The new digital archive is not just cartography focused but also includes the associated written and pictorial accounts of the OS, helping us to engage with the island’s complex colonial histories. The new archive will be easily accessible to members of the public as well as researchers studying the period, facilitating additional understanding of pre-famine Irish history.”

The learnings from the OS200 project can also be used as a template for innovation in the Digital Humanities and offer best practice in how disparate methods and sources from varied disciplines and national bodies can and should be drawn together and made available for research and public engagement.

More information is available on the Ireland Mapped website and the Digital Archive of Ireland’s Ordnance Survey is now online.