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.