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Mapping Dublin in Troubled Times

Maps and war are inextricably linked. Long used in the planning, reconnaissance, and execution of warfare, maps have proved crucial in the sharing and co-ordination of tactical information. Why then have so few maps survived from the 1916 Rising? Among the few is a map of Dublin belonging to Thomas MacDonagh in the Allen Library flickr page. Trinity’s Glucksman Map Library has several maps of Ireland signed and stamped by Roger Casement but without any other annotation. Later, maps did figure in the War of Independence and Civil War, and witness statements in the Bureau of Military History are peppered with references to maps being used for route finding, planning campaigns, demarcating military districts, and the dangers of having maps discovered in searches by British forces. However, no maps appear to have survived from the highly secret Military Council of the IRB that planned the Rising. MacDonagh was admitted to this group only weeks beforehand, and was commandant in Jacob’s factory. Presumably any maps used to co-ordinate the Volunteers from the GPO during Easter Week were consumed in the conflagration.

By contrast, maps had a key role during the course of the Great War. Accurate detailed maps of trenches, fortifications and supply lines were in such constant demand by the British Army that the Ordnance Survey had set up mobile drawing and printing facilities just behind the front lines to produce a stream of up-to-date mapping for artillery and ground offensives. One of these trench maps is now in the Glucksman Map Library. Worn and stained it looks as if it was used in action. Maps figured significantly in a British officer’s training and career. So when troops started to arrive at Kingstown and set-off to march into Dublin it is quite likely they had maps of the unfamiliar cityscape.

OS-Dublin-10560 1912 extract

So what sort of maps were available in 1916? Dublin was probably the best mapped city in Ireland or the United Kingdom at that time. The Ordnance Survey had carried out a complete revision of the county and city between 1906 and 1909. The built-up areas of the city and suburbs were mapped at the scale of five-feet-to-one-mile (1:1,056), the largest Dublin scale the Survey produced, showing details of buildings and streets. They were published from 1908 to 1911. The outer suburbs and rural areas were surveyed at the scale of twenty-five inches-to-one-mile (1:2,500), and though less detailed they show, for example, individual houses in a terrace. These two ‘basic’ scale maps run to hundreds of sheets making them too unwieldy and cumbersome for military planning. Their content was summarised in a third Ordnance Survey series at six-inch-to-one-mile (1:10,560) published for County Dublin in 28 sheets in 1912. Sheet 18 provides a fantastic overview of the City on the eve of the Rising, with public buildings highlighted in black, street names, parks and open spaces. This scale and indeed this sheet is most likely to have been used in planning the Rising in Dublin. All of these maps were available to purchase in Dublin either from the Survey in Phoenix Park or from their agents Hodges, Figgis & Co. on Grafton Street. However, the maps of Dublin that were in wide circulation in 1916 may not have been published by Ordnance Survey at all but by commercial publishers. For example, the undated MacDonagh map was published by Alex. Thom and was originally folded into the back of their annual Dublin directories sometime during the previous ten years. Among the better designed coloured maps were those published by G.W. Bacon in London and John Bartholomew in Edinburgh, issued folded in protective covers made suitable for an inside jacket pocket.

OS-Dublin-2500 1911 extract

While the larger scale Ordnance Survey maps may have been too big for military planning, today they are of enormous value in plotting where events occurred or in recreating the scene of an action. For example, it is possible to see the wall divisions in the buildings along Moore Street which were broken through, or to get a better feel for the strategic importance of Mount Street Bridge. All three Ordnance Survey series are available in the Glucksman Map Library where they are regularly consulted. The twenty-five inch series is available online on the Ordnance Survey Ireland website

Dublin may well have been the best mapped city in Ireland in 1916 but the catastrophic events of that year, and of subsequent years, made it difficult for the Ordnance Survey of the Irish Free State to keep pace with change on the ground. Revision also needed to take account of the widespread renaming of streets after 1922.

Paul Ferguson, Map Librarian

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