28 October 2009


“Townlands are the ancient and generally accepted divisions of the country,” wrote Thomas Spring Rice in 1824. His report was to propose which categories of boundary ought to be included in the upcoming Ordnance Survey of Ireland. Townlands were, and still are, an important measure of locality and often vital to a rural person’s sense of home. When the Ordnance Survey began no one had any idea that Ireland had over 67,000 townlands. In the years to come each would be charted and each name recorded.

Section of the Discoverer Series, 1/50,000 scale.

On the reverse of the same map, the townland map.

Ordnance Survey maps of Northern Ireland have usually included the names of townlands but not always their boundaries. However, the latest edition of the Discoverer Series has elevated the townland once again. On the reverse of the sheet, which was up to now blank, we are presented with a townland map. It is drained of colours, only using red and a few tones from a greyscale. Quite apart from any practical use it may have the townland map is also a thing of intrigue. Does the web of townlands imply a friendly landscape of interlocking communities? Or does it suggest an oppressive net of ancestral knots?

Where few people live, high boggy ground, the townlands are large. In other places they are small, I see one in south Fermanagh that is only about 150 square metres. In these cases the name it is labelled with cannot be fitted inside its border.

And what names townlands can have. Some of my favourites from Sheet 27 of Northern Ireland’s Discoverer Series are: Ummera, Tattycam, Dooross, Gubdoo, Stumpys Hill, Lusty More, Sheepwalk, Greaghatirrive, Bunnablaneybane and Bun.

7 October 2009

Gardens in the Sky

“A certain quality of loveliness,” this was the phrase the presenter on one of those old house restoration programmes on television kept using. A certain hue of 19th century floor tile, the roughness of a roof support or the angle of a pitched floor could be deemed to possess this quality, this “certain quality of loveliness.” He used the phrase perhaps five or six times on the episode I watched. He ascribed it to certain features it as if it was an accepted measure of architectural worth, as ready-readable as the Richter Scale. It got on my nerves after a while.

Yet, I have to admit that a “certain quality of loveliness” is exactly what Gemma Anderson’s map Wild Photograms has.

It is a map of a small part of Belfast between High Street and North Street. In City Supplements, a publication produced by PS squared, www.pssquared.org, Anderson explains the map's inception:

Rather than concentrating on street level, I gazed up at the brickwork of the buildings looking for plant life. I was surprised by how many plants were living in the nooks and crannies of derelict buildings. These ‘gardens in the sky’ growing on roof tops, edges and window ledges. The area now appeared more curious and rich walking amongst these plant outcrops [ … ] I have used the stems of these plants to construct a map and documented the full plant forms as photograms, their locations identified on the map.

www.gemma-anderson.co.uk is the artist’s website.