5 December 2011

Fracking on the Border

The map below displays the area of Co. Fermanagh marked for Fracking, an extremely controversial method of extracting gases from under the ground. Two companies have been granted exploration licenses for this area but the issue is now coming under fresh examination.

Click on the map for a closer look.

In the Fracking process boreholes are made into shale rock. This is a common rock-form in north-western Ireland, what geologists call a Carboniferous Basin unites counties Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Donegal and Fermanagh. Water and chemicals are forced down into natural fractures in the rock, opening them and allowing the gas to be extracted. One risk is that of the chemical cocktail seeping into ground water and endangering health. There are others concerns, such as the possibility that Fracking contributes to earth tremors. Fracking companies themselves admit that this is a very young technology and all its side-effects are not yet fully understood. Tomorrow (December 6th) a motion calling for a moratorium on Fracking in Northern Ireland will be under debate in Parliament buildings, Belfast. A group calling themselves 'No Fracking Way' will be outside Stormont seeking to highlight the environmental dangers of the process.

Protest is loud south of the border too and, as Andy Pollack observed on Slugger O’Toole lately, the fight against Fracking is starting to turn into a cross-border campaign.

A cartographic statement by Brigitta Varadi and John the Map. I lifted at this image from the profile of Stephen Rennicks, an artist who lives in the area and who is a part of the Engage Collective.

Here’s one particularly vibrant and sturdy piece of awareness-raising happening south of the border. 'Talk About Fracking' is an exhibition and website by the Engage Artist Collective The exhibition is running for a few more days at Mercantile Plaza in Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim. The map above features in the exhibition. It shows possible Fracking drilling paths in Glenfarne area, south of Lough MacNean. Creation of the map was a collaboration between Brigitta Varadi and someone called John the Map. John the Map sounds like someone I would like to meet.

30 November 2011

Grey skies of Co. Down

I recently spent time in the Ulster Hospital, on the edge of Belfast. Hung in one corridor is canvas from 1971 by Colin Middleton, Co. Down. It is a landscape. Semi-abstracted shapes in the foreground evoked the granite base of the county, small allotments of hard ground. Dark mountainous shapes in the back succeed, I think, in evoking the Mountains of Mourne. Perhaps this evocation is even better made by the negative space hovering between the mountains. The wide valley is filled with grey sky and cloud.

Sorry about the reflections, it was hard to find a good angle to photograph this painting.

Outside the Ulster Hospital.

There is something recognisable in the steep profiles of the mountains as painted by Middleton. Also, the grey shade of the sky feels utterly exact. Stepping outside the main entrance to the Ulster Hospital I'm greeted by a slab of Down stratus, its grey a good match for Middleton's.

16 October 2011

Poor Law Unions

I found this map in the collection of the New York Public Library. It is from 1922 and shows “the Province of Ulster with the six North East Counties shaded according to Population in favour of the Free State, and in favour of the Belfast Parliament determined by Poor Law Unions.”

Overview. Click on this and other images for a closer look.

Lower right.

Some time after the original printing, thick cross-hatching has been added to the map to represent polling information. This crude over-drawing is unfortunate because what lies beneath is perhaps the most interesting thing about this map. Here the country is not subdivided into parishes, baronies or townlands, but a whole other category; Poor Law Unions. These demarcations were used to organise relief for the poorest members of society and were established under the Poor Relief Act of 1838. Similar units were created all across the British Isles at the time. Poor Law Unions tended to be drawn-up so as to have a market town at their centre. So they often crossed county boundaries and any other kind of boundary that might have already been in situ. Selection of the town that was to be hub of a Poor Law Union was often of local importance as it would, ironically perhaps, bring jobs. The first employment being the building of a workhouse.

By the middle of the 19th century there were 163 Poor Law Unions in Ireland. Elsewhere in the British Isles poverty-stricken people had the right to claim relief from their Poor Law Union but in Ireland it was never enshrined as a right. It was considered to be aid.

Donegal’s Inishowen had Poor Law electoral divisions rather charmingly named “Lilies” and “Three Trees.”

Historian Raymond Gillespie tells us that the “Irish Poor Law system was the quintessential product of the Victorian enthusiasm for administrative reform in Ireland.” Eventually the system of Poor Law Unions evolved from a basic safety net for the poor towards something like an early public health service. In the freshly formed Irish Free State the Poor Law system was abolished in 1925, only a few years after this map was drawn over. In Northern Ireland the Poor Law operated until the National Health Service was established in 1946.

But what of the voting? Voting is the overt subject of the map, at some point somebody drew over the Poor Law Unions in the six counties of Northern Ireland to discuss voting patterns.

Key the to voting.

When Poor Law Unions were operating they were further divided into electoral divisions. By the middle of the 19th century there were 3,438 of these and the northern units are displayed on this map. Voting was used to elect the local Guardians, members of the Union boards. In the title 'Guardian' I think I can detect the Victorian enthusiasm that Gillespie referrers to.

With this map it appears that Poor Law Union’s electoral divisions were used for something else. Not just to deicide on the local guardians but to express a view on the future of Northern Ireland. Maintain union with Britain or go in with the Irish Free State. “[T]he six North East Counties shaded according to Population in favour of the Free State, and in favour of the Belfast Parliament.” When, why and by whom this information was gathered is a mystery to me. The map is hand-shaded, but by who? Were the results of this poll on the future of Northern Ireland taken as an official measure? One tends to hope not, only property owners could vote on Poor Law Union business and the more property you owned the more votes you got. Then again, modern democracy is not necessarily a form of democracy that would be recognised by someone in the grip of a Victorian enthusiasm.

Much of the historic information for the above came from ‘Poor Law Unions and their Records.’ An essay by Dr. Raymond Gillespie. You can read it at this link.

9 September 2011

Monster of Ards

Here’s a map I found on the internet. It probably passed through several websites and I can find no reference for it. Style and content-wise it could be from anywhere between 1650 and 1750. The sea monster is a medieval throw back. You don’t see to many Irish maps of the ‘Here Be Monsters’ sort. Ireland was not getting mapped much when monsters were populating cartography. Monks of Early Christian Ireland were writing down stories and lore, drawing monsters in the margins of those texts, not making maps.

The text in the lower left indicate the map was produced in Holland.

Perhaps calling it a monster is a bit harsh, it seems harmless enough. Could it be based on a whale? Whales are still regularly sighted in the channel between here and Scotland.

5 August 2011

West Country Horror

Here’s a map produced by Francis Jobson in the late 16th century. It recalls a transitional time between Ulster's condition as volatile and dangerous to outsiders and an Ulster that was claimed and well-mapped. It is quite obvious which parts of Ulster were coming under Crown control and which were not. The east is detailed and reasonably accurate. The west is wild and barren of detail. While making this map Jobson observed that Ulster was populated by “a most savage and rebellious people from whose cruelty God only by his divine power delivered me being every hour in danger to lose my head”. This was probably no exaggeration. Richard Barlett, another Elizabethan cartographer (who’s work I have written about here and here), did indeed have his head chopped off by some locals when attempting to map Donegal.

Click through for a closer look.

In movies and books we have the genre of horror, stories and images that use our deepest fears to evoke strong emotional reactions. This map looks like horror cartography. The unknown west seems freakishly bloated and mutated, like some kind of monstrous boil. And just as monsters get bigger in the telling this vision of the west looms large, overwhelming the rest of the province. Donegal is given lots of huge and nameless mountains that, in reality, were no bigger than the Mountains of Mourne in the east. I find it almost upsetting to see the west so swollen and strange alongside a reasonably measured east. I think this map would have chilled the blood of those viewing it at the time it was drawn as well. Invoke a horror of what lay west of the Bann.

The original audience did not know what western Ulster really looked like. They had no idea this representation was falsely expanded and contorted. Nonetheless, his map could have promoted nightmares because of those high mountains, imagine the fog and the isolation! Because of those empty plains. Few roads, few rivers, few place names. This lack of information would have signified worrying things; no knowledge, no control, no civilization. Anything could be happening there among the savage and the uncharted. The only limits to the possible horror were the limits of your own imagination.

5 July 2011

Photo Map of Belfast

You can currently find around Belfast a small square leaflet merging cartography and photography. Exploring Belfast in Photographs encourages the visitor or resident to find their way around with an eye on history, via oldish and historic photos in the leaflet. The map features only a limited number of sites, it has the feel of a pilot publication. Personally, I’d like to see it expanded because it is a good idea. To both a visitor and a local it might add a layer to the actual topography they see on the street, adding some time-travel exploration to a walk through town.

Section of the map, click through for a closer look.

Photo corresponding to number 2.

The above photo was taken by Bill Kirk in the early 80s. It is of a security gate that used to be at the bottom of Royal Avenue, designed to prevent bombs from being placed in the city centre. Looking at the filtering signs above it appears this gate was only for women, could that really have been the case? Perhaps men used the opposite pavement.

The prospect of being searched every time you went to the city centre must have helped keep many people in their outer neighbourhoods. Such a grim feature would deaden any city centre and Belfast’s has not recovered yet. However, being subjected to such mechanisms may not feel as remote to us as it may have recently. The text points out that “with the increasing security at airports over the last decade, it is easier to imagine the adjustments required to live a normal life under the extraordinary conditions necessitated by terrorism.”

10 June 2011

Visible Divisions

Lately I found this map in a Belfast second-hand shop. Unfolding it gave me the trill of discovery, although I know its secrets are open ones. Around its rim the map is marked “restricted” and “UK officials are not to release this map outside UK government service.” Yet there it was, a curiosity on sale for four pounds. It is of south Co. Down.

Overview. The map has a thin plastic coating which gives it the shine.

Detail 2.

The map was published in 1978. It shows, apart from the usual roads, mountains, rivers and towns, the Royal Ulster Constabulary’s own divisions and their two-letter handlers. So for example, the town of Castlewellan in the RUC’s division ‘Castlewellan,’ with the call sign FT. The map shows and labels all these areas in south Co. Down.

Detail 3.

Detail 4.

The marks in red are the sensitive information. This was over-printed onto an Ordnance Survey map. This is neatly symbolic of the way the Ordnance Survey is closely bonded not with only land-management and ownership but with starker means of state control, the police and the military.

Of course the clue is in the name, ordnance means weaponry. It is no secret that defensive concerns were behind the drive to map the British Isles from the very beginning. In her book Map of a Nation Rachel Hewitt tells us that a department known as the Office of Ordnance had existed in Britain since the 14th Century and began as an adjunct to the Royal Arsenal. It was from here that today’s Ordnance Survey would slowly evolve, mainly under the direction of military engineers. I note that the map I bought in the second-hand shop had its policing demarcations added by the army’s 42 Survey Engineer Regiment.

Detail 5.

A major project in the Survey’s early history was the mapping of Scotland, part of the attempt to bring the highlands under control after several Jacobite risings. It was completed in 1752, having mapped 15,000 square miles of mountains, lochs, forests and glens. It was a formative, youthful, experience in map-making and the resulting maps were not highly accurate. One of its creators conceded that this map of Scotland might be better considered a “magnificent military sketch.”

Scotland got special attention as it was a source of trouble. This is another abiding theme in the history of the Ordnance Survey. Its closest attentions were not bestowed on calm, peaceable areas. No, mapping was a means of control as such and it was the untamed places that were attended to. This often meant Ireland, causing Lord Salisbury, in 1883, to quip, “The most disagreeable part of the three kingdoms is Ireland, and therefore Ireland has a splendid map.”

In his book Maps and their Makers G.R. Crone, informs us that the scale used in the 19th century’s Ordnance Survey of Ireland was chosen as it was the most suitable for the movement of infantry. From J.H. Andrews we learn that during the Second World War the British authorities produced Irish maps to scales never made available in locally, in Ireland itself. In 1987, while walking in Northern Ireland, Colm Tóibín met a solider on patrol …

He showed me his map, making sure that none of his comrades could see what he was doing. The map was incredibly detailed, every house, every field, every road carefully denoted and described. It would be impossible to go wrong with such a map.

I doubt the map I found in the second-hand shop would have been used in the field like that. I imagine it was pinned up on the wall of an RUC station or an army barracks, perhaps as an aid to radio communications where those two-letter bigrams would be most useful. Some people living in Co. Down might be surprised to discover that they have had, all the time, an alternative address, superimposed on the map they know. They did not just live in Dundrum, Annalong or the like, but FM, FJ, GB, JZ, JX …

11 May 2011

Ireland, 1918

I found this 1918 election map of Ireland in the New York Public Library. During the 20th Century support for every form of Irish nationalism came from New York making this map a fascinating relic. It was published by the Friends of Irish Freedom in their Manhattan base. 1918’s General Election had seen the overwhelming defeat of the moderate nationalist Irish Parliamentary Party and a huge victory for Sinn Féin. The map distinguishes between these two branches of nationalism although it emphasises the general trend make strong points. Such as, “Of every 5 voters 4 voted for Self-Determination.”

Political Ulster after the 1918 election (click through for a closer look).

Ulster’s border is printed in bold (the only of Ireland’s provinces to be treated like so). This is lest we forget that Ulster is a fact a bigger entity that some of regions that were being proposed for partition at the time. Text on the map reads, “Ulster is the portion above the heavy line. Note the large Republican territory.”

Territory, yes. However Unionists had still won the majority of the 1918 vote across the full nine counties of Ulster. Here the map-makers were hoping to counteract votes with simple size.

Detail, text (click through for a closer look).

Detail, text (click through for a closer look).

Some interesting side-issues are raised on the map’s texts, issues that must have been significant at the time but may no longer seem so. The map wants us to know that Ulster is not the richest province, showing Leinster to have greater production. How that would have played into contemporary debate I am not sure. The map also draws in concerns about Eastern Europe, stating; “God irrevocably fixed the boundaries of Ireland. Those of Poland, Czecho-Slavia, Jugo-Slavia, Serbia, Roumaia, etc, have been fixed temporarily by politicians.”

The map-makers seem to intuit future problems in Eastern Europe. What they may not have predicted was that the smooth green colouring that they spread across most of the Irish counties would soon be ruptured by the Irish Civil War. Most strikingly, partition would create a separate Northern Ireland. The clean, direct, argument of this map would soon become murky.

5 April 2011

Peace Bridge

It is emblematic of division in Northern Irish society that an urban area the size of Londonderry should have only one bridge linking the city over its river. If an absence can be symbolic then the under-adorned Foyle says as much as Belfast’s Peace Walls. That will soon change. A new link has been created. Already some hardhat-wearing construction worker will have been the first to walk across the new bridge, perhaps they drew straws for the honour. The bridge aims to be emblematic of a new era, it has been named the Peace Bridge.

From a new map of Derry City.

Currently still displayed on Goggle Maps, the Peace Bridge early in its construction.

Above is a section from a new visitor map available in Derry. It’s done in a pictorial style, perhaps prettifying the city a tad more than the reality on the ground. The Peace Bridge is not open to use yet but has been included on the map. As far as I know this is the first appearance of the Peace Bridge in Ulster cartography. The bridge is just about as curvy as in this illustration. Swinging back and forth as it crosses the water, making you think of the letter S. If, as has often been the case, dividing a city is done with high straight walls, rigid verticals and right angles then it is pleasingly suitable that both the bridge and this image are all about curves, waves and fanning supports.

24 February 2011

Ireland on the Spot

Looking at maps of Ireland in the collection of the New York Public Library, I notice that, whatever the year, a lot of them were published in the third week of March. This was because St Patrick’s Day was close and people’s interest in Ireland was piqued.


On 19 March 1941 the Sunday News published a map of “embattled Ireland.” They called it Ireland on the Spot.
… having only recently gained independence after more than seven centuries of struggle, [Ireland] is swept to the torture wrack again by the tide of events. She’s damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t aid England against Germany. As key to England’s back-door defence Ireland faces invasion in either event.
Along with current events those centuries of struggle get in on this map too. Rather like my own Map of Watchful Architecture, the map-maker here includes a few ancient sites with the contemporary, battle sites such as Blackwater Town (1598) and Newtownbutler (1698).

Air raid warning for Belfast

Some attacks on southern sites

This feature is a minefield across the north of Donegal. Its entire length is off the coast of the supposedly neutral Ireland.

It is the landscape of the war with Germany that make-up the major elements of this map. The graphic of a Swastika-baring airplane warns us that Belfast is only two hours and ten minutes from Nazi bases in Norway. Almost a thousand people would soon die and many more would be injured an attack on Belfast. Outside London, this was the greatest loss of life in a night raid during the Second World War. However when this map was published that raid against Belfast was still one month away. What had occurred at this stage were attacks on the Free State, more than I had realised. The fiery “Bombed by Nazis” label is to be seen around Dublin and in the counties of Carlow, Kildare, Wexford and Meath. In the case of Meath they are to be found just south of a label marking the site of the Battle of the Boyne (1690).

8 February 2011

Special Strategic Map

I have temporarily relocated to New York City and have been examining some of the map collection in the New York Public Library. A few will appear on this blog during the oncoming weeks.

The top section of the map, click through for a closer look.

The particular map for today was produced by the U.S. Military in 1943. It is called “Ireland (Eire) & Northern Ireland - Special Strategic Map.” It was “for use by War and Navy Department Agencies only. Not for sale or distribution.”

It is disappointing that, upon examination, the map is not that special at all. Despite the hush, hush it focuses on generally available information, transportation links mainly. Concerns that stand-out as perhaps specific to this map are sheer amount of coastal features, islands and inlets, that are named and the oddly blunt attention given to mountains. Mountains are banded together in a style that also flattens their tops. This might be suitable for the Glens of Antrim but is not near accurate elsewhere. This illustrative style is not so different from how mountains were described on maps 200 years previously. Maybe the aim was not to describe the specifics of the mountains but rather just give an indication of whether a certain part of the country was mountainous or not so mountainous. They probably had more accurate maps for closer scales.


It should not be surprising that during the Second World War maps of Ireland were produced by the U.S. Army. In early 1942 an Infantry Regiment of the 34th Infantry Division was the first American unit sent to Europe. They arrived in Belfast. These units were designated as U.S. Army Northern Ireland Forces. They trained in the boglands and even patrolled the border.

9 January 2011

Ulster Canals

Back in August 2008 I wrote about walking along the abandoned Ulster Canal where it constitutes the border between northern and southern Ireland. Some day I might need a boat to repeat the journey. This canal was abandoned in 1931 but now there is increasing interest, both north and south, in re-opening the waterway. If the aspiration of this Belfast City Council map comes true, you will be able to boat from Coleraine to Waterford.

Map taken from Belfast City Council’s Lagan Gateway report, published lately.

But the Lagan Canal will be first to get attention. This canal is actually a set of canals creating a straighter and traversable route along side the meandering Lagan. This infrastructure was also called the Lagan Navigation and it was created in the 18th Century. Records show that in 1838 about 45,000 tonnes of coal, tiles, flour, wheat, manure and turf came to Belfast this way. The rise of motorised transportation eventually brought an end to this form of haulage. The canal was closed in 1956. It is perhaps not so much ironic as grimly logical that the M1 motorway now covers a stretch of the original Lagan Canal. However some of the basic infrastructure of the canal remains in other sections, waiting. A 2006 reported highlighted many possible benefits of refurbishment and now Belfast City Council plans that around 17 kilometres of the Lagan Navigation, from Belfast to Lisburn, be reopened. Hopefully that will just be the beginning.

The Lagan Canal once upon a time.

There’s information about the project on Belfast City Council’s site.

2 January 2011

Belfast Facilities

Lately I partook in a C.R.O.W. walk through the centre of Belfast. The name stands of City Wight Of Way and the project aims to bring some insights into ignored or unseen parts of Belfast. On the day I joined them we did a walking tour of Belfast public toilets, examining the facilities.

Beginning with St Anne’s Cathedral and ending at Shaftsbury Square.

A tour of toilets may seem an odd way to spend an afternoon but, in the end, it was a surprisingly interesting and even refreshing way of looking at the city. It brought us all places we had never been before. For example, some of our party had never previously entered St Anne’s Cathedral. Spend a consistent few hours comparing toilets, or perhaps any other thing, and a sense of mild connoisseurship can develop in you. By the end of the walk I thought I had developed a bit of an eye for loos. I wrote a few words about the walk and posted some photos on C.R.O.W.’s own blog. Click here to visit.

We finished the tour at this mysterious manhole Shaftsbury Square. Actually, a manhole is a good description for it. During the busiest drinking hours of Friday and Saturday night it rises, revealing a men-only open urinal.