22 May 2017

Patrick McCabe and Fictional Ulster

I was delighted to be part of the International Literature Festival Dublin lately, an event with Patrick McCabe. We had a good conversation and I hope the audience enjoyed it as much as I did.

In the course of a dozen books McCabe has made the Irish midlands, and the border region, his own. He has often used fictional towns as settings, and so several sites on my map Fictional Ulster come from his novels. Carn, Cullymore and Tyreelin, to name a few examples. Patrick McCabe and Sam Hanna Belle are probably the writers that have contributed most locations to Ulster's fictional landscape.


As the map owes a lot to Patrick McCabe, and because I thought he might like it, I brought a print of Fictional Ulster with me to Dublin and presented it to him during the event.

I have a few more festival appearances this summer, such as the Belfast Book Festival, The Borris House Festival of Ideas and the Edinburgh Book Festival.

12 April 2017

The Rule of the Land on the Radio

The Rule of the Land: Walking Ireland's Border was BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week during last month. It can still be heard online, but only for a few more days. Click here.

I gave an half hour interview on WNPR (USA) lately, it can be heard online here.

I was also part of a panel discussion on BBC Radio 4 Start the Week.

28 February 2017

Message in a Map



The picture book artist Oliver Jeffers has sent this cartographic message to his homeland. I don't think I've seen Northern Ireland used as an O before, but it works. Jeffers says; "Perhaps one of the more important votes in Europe this year will happen in Northern Ireland in a few days. We have a choice of moving forwards, or moving backwards toward old familiar battle lines. The result will affect everyone in the Province and beyond. So either get out and vote, or as my Grandma used to say, 'forever hold your peace'".

Northern Ireland gets a chance to change its government on 2 March.


Jeffers' original post is on Facebook

4 January 2017

Map of Ulster Cottages

I have an old friend in Donegal. By old I mean that he is over eighty years of age. He owns a cottage that I sometimes rent for a few days. I am quite attached to the place and its view of Donegal bay. It is a traditional cottage, with a range and a thatched roof, and is the house he grew up it. Now he lives elsewhere but he has not done up the cottage for the tourist trade. It remains how it was when he lived in it. Turf is the only means of heat, there are only two electric sockets for the whole place and, on the roof, is a practical but ungroomed thatch. My friend takes a certain amount of pride in the fact that he takes no government grant to preserve the traditional thatch. He just does it himself, growing the crop, drying it and thatching the roof wherever necessary. Yes, he climbs up there and lays it himself, at his age.


My Donegal retreat.

I see that this cottage does not feature in Alan Gailey’s survey The Thatched Houses of Ulster. It is not on the map that shows the location of all his correspondents.


From Ulster Folklife, Volume 7, 1961. Published by The Ulster Folklife Society in Belfast.

I imagine my friend was too busy to bother with questionnaires, assuming he even received one. Or, as a man who takes care off his own thatch, he may have instinctually baulked at nosy questions. Gailey, researching for the Ulster Folk Museum, sent out 400 questionnaires to the owners of traditional cottages and got 200 filled in and returned in time for a 1961 report. He collated and mapped some of the information.


Ulster’s spread of the bed out-shot feature.

One of the maps records instances of ‘bed out-shots.’ The east of the province is strikingly clear of this 19th century architectural feature. The further west you go, the more there are. Sure enough my friend’s cottage in Donegal has one. The bed out-shot is an extension. It is usually at the back, as shown in the image below, and was filled with a bed next, keeping it close to the hearth. It was traditional for this bed to be used by the oldest members of the family. The map hints at how trends can be patterned on geography, kept local by community and the unshifting style of tradesmen who don't travel much, builders in this case. Note, for example, the straight line of white circles following the river Bann north from Lough Neagh (I have indicated it with a red line). There are cottages with bed out-shots all around it but none built in that particular valley.


Cottage in North Donegal. On the right, a small bed out-shot.

In Co. Down Gailey placed a few question marks. Here are cottages with what looked like bed out-shots, but they were so isolated as to possibly require another explanation. Gailey suggested it was equally likely these out-shots were used to accommodate a loom, not a bed, in the homes of hand-loom weavers. These out-shots normally had a window to provide the weaver with light to work by.

13 December 2016

Mapping Alternative Ulster in Armagh


Mapping Alternative Ulster is on again, this time in the Market Place gallery in Armagh. It runs until 7 January 2017.

The exhibition showcases a dozen map-makers, each taking a very different look at the places we think we know so well. These map-makers are local historians, activists, artists, geographers and urban planners, all interpreting our surroundings in different ways. Together, they cover the ground from Donegal to Down to Armagh. Mapping Alternative Ulster re-thinks our representation on maps.

11 December 2016

Belfast versus Copenhagen

These Google maps enable us to compare the provision of cycling lanes in Belfast and Copenhagen. Belfast is a small city, and relatively flat, it could be perfect for cycling but its single strength is the continuous route along the Lagan. Note the rather ridiculous short stretches of cycle lane in Belfast, picking up and then vanishing again a few pedal strokes later.

Thanks to @jrolloos21 for putting the maps together
It may seem unfair to use Copenhagen for this comparison, as the city is famously cycle-friendly. However the comparison is useful as in the 70s and 80s Copenhagen was struggling with similar issues to those Belfast still has; the dominance of the motor car for example. Copenhagen took definite steps to change the commuting culture in on its streets, and rebalance the city in the way shown by the map. They introduced an ambitious Cycle Policy in 2002, among its aims were to increase the proportion of Copenhagen cyclists who say they feel safe cycling in the city from 57% to 80%. They also aimed to increase the proportion of people cycling to work from 34% to 40% by 2012. They did not quite achieve this, but by 2014 they had exceeded it. Copenhagen now has 454 kilometres of cycle lanes, used by 36,000 cyclists every day.

I got the statistics from here and here.

30 November 2016

Hanging Mapping Alternative Ulster


Thank you to everyone in the Market Place gallery, Armagh, for making the show look so great. It will open tomorrow and run for five weeks.