18 December 2009

Along the north coast

I found this postcard map on the internet and no year was given for it. My guess is that it dates from the 1930s. The basalt rock forms at the Giant’s Causeway inspired the geometric layout. I like the modernist-looking rendition of the Bushmills Distillery.

8 December 2009

The Illustration of Possession

Much Irish mapping was born of the colonial age. In fact Ireland, in the Elizabethan period, was the first country to be systemically mapped. This was not because Ireland was in the firm grip of central control, almost the opposite. It was Ireland’s very untamedness that meant it required mapping. Denis Wood, a writer and theorist on cartography would recognise this, “the truth is,” he writes, “maps are weapons.” Maps just propose territories; various enforcements then follow and make the territory happen. Or, as philosopher Jean Baudrillard neatly put it, “the map precedes the territory.”

Queen Elizabeth’s surveyor and map‐maker in Ireland, at the turn of the 17th century, was Richard Bartlett. He travelled with Lord Mountjoy during his campaign and his maps played a part in the attempt to tame Ulster. The people of Donegal, when Bartlett went to survey their locality, seem to have instinctually grasped that his maps were weapons. In 1609 Sir John Davis, the Irish Attorney General, wrote to the Earl of Salisbury of Bartlett’s fate. “ … when he came into Tyrconnell the inhabitants took off his head, because they would not have their country discovered.” But this rebellious action was by then too late. The Earls had flown. Bartlett and others had already produced folios of charts. The mapping of Ulster had preceded. Now it was territory.

Detail from the above map.

But Bartlett’s work also shows that maps were something other than a weapon of colonisation. Take his map of South East Ulster, 1603, it represents Dungannon and Tullaghoge. This chart is highly illustrative and not as directly tactical as many of Bartlett’s others. It is as much a celebration of victory as a map. At the bottom in the centre we see the inauguration stone of the O’Neill has been claimed and above it, Dungannon. With a graphic stridency, the English flag flies from the fort, backed in flat blue and centrally located on the page. It says, South‐East Ulster: under new management. Not just a map, it is the illustration of possession.