20 January 2009

Watchtower or Checkpoint

A section of the work in progress, The Map of Watchful Architecture.

I am busy plotting the locations of defensive architecture. There are many hundreds of raths (ringforts) along the Border and I do not wish to display them all. One way of cutting back is to only display raths in a narrow Border corridor, one hundred metres for example. But then what to do with uncommon features I do not wish to cut, that fall beyond that confine? For example, there are only about thirty military installations from the recent deployment to display. I would like to display all of them. Is it justifiable to have one rule for raths and another rule for checkpoints and watchtowers? Should I mechanically chart everything evenly, thereby creating a map awash with raths? Or think more aesthetically?

In the design of the Map of Watchful Architecture I seek a middle ground between cartographical accuracy, visual appeal, meaning, and integrity.

I am pretty sure two categories on the map will be ‘Towers’ and ‘Checkpoints.’ Today I went through the coordinates of the 30 recent military installations to define each as either one or the other. I did this by simply looking at its location on a detailed map. If the feature was on a hilltop with no roads nearby then it was clearly a watchtower. If it was right next to a road then it was a checkpoint. However, I found two that seemed to fall between both possibilities. I include the maps here as you never know, one of this blog’s readers might be able to tell me. They are both in Fermanagh, close to roads but not quite on them, and only slightly elevated. Watchtowers or checkpoints?

One and ...


This has me wondering; what was the difference between a tower and a checkpoint anyway? They were both built tall and both bristled with surveillance technology. But did the almost sculptural presence of high watchtowers, over-lording, uncontactable, mean they deserve their own distinct place on the map? By contrast the checkpoints always seemed more ordinary. You saw the men inside. They came out and spoke to you sometimes.

South Armagh had eleven installations. Looking at their locations the danger of deployment in that area is stark. Only one out of the eleven was a roadside checkpoint. The rest were on the peaks of mountains. In South Armagh the army had to stay off low ground, or at least not be on it for long, preferably by using a helicopter. The army’s mission there was containment. The towers seem to have made a net, strung between high points.

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