Irish Roots

March 7th, 2011

John Grenham


Most Dubliners with an interest in the history of the city will have heard of John Rocque’s Exact Survey of Dublin, a four-sheet map published in 1756, and may even be aware of Rocque’s international reputation, particularly for the 24-sheet map of London published in 1747. Some may remember the detail of Aston Quay and Bachelor’s Walk featured on the obverse of the Dean Swift £10 note from 1978 to 1992. But very few will know just how extraordinary the Survey is.

Although the scale is identical to the London maps, over the intervening decade Rocque’s surveying and the quality of engraving had developed to such a point that the level of detail in the Survey is scarcely credible. Headstones appear in the graveyards, individual planks are depicted in timber-mills, market gardens have rows of vegetables, some houses have accurate floor-plans. In the Liberties, the regularly arranged rows of parallel posts used to dry and clean woven cloth, the “tenterhooks”, appear to be illustrated one by one. Dunghill Lane, just off Thomas St., gives a superbly-rendered 3D reminder of the city’s public health problems, not to mention its stench. The sense of Dublin life in 1756 is brilliant and unforgettable.

The spur for mentioning this is the publication of a remarkable book, John Rocque’s Dublin: A Guide to the Georgian City by Colm Lennon and John Montague (Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, 2010). The authors take 40 enlarged extracts from the maps and expand in detail on the history they embody. The effect is like a walking tour of 18th century Dublin with two of the most knowledgeable enthusiasts alive.

An excellent review appears at Reviews in History (tinyurl.ie/3ki). Rocque’s London maps are online in wonderful detail at tinyurl.ie/3kh. If only the Exact Survey were there too.


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.

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