Irish Roots

October 18th, 2010

John Grenham

A few years back, Ordnance Survey Ireland digitised their map archive and made it available on a subscription website, www.irishhistoricmaps.ie The site included complete sets of the earliest 6” to the mile series produced between 1837 and 1842, in both the original black-and-white and beautiful hand-coloured versions, as well as the much more detailed 25” to the mile series produced between 1888 and 1913. Although the site was paying, charging between €5 for a day and €300 for a year, access was free through any public library.

Despite the great care that went into the digitisation and the site, it was not a commercial success. Perhaps, like so many before them, OSI overestimated the potential of the Irish-American market. Perhaps the map-viewer was too much for low-quality broadband connections. In any case, the site did not achieve what was expected of it.

To OSI’s credit, they have picked themselves up and moved on. The entire set of their historic maps is now available to browse for free at the Ordnance Survey on-line shop at maps.osi.ie, and in a format that is just wonderful. Starting from the entire island, you can zoom right in to the 25” scale, overlay it with a transparent modern street-level map, toggle back and forth between the 1830s and the 1890s, between the colour and black-and-white versions, search for place-names … It can very easily become addictive.

There are some limitations: the 25” maps for areas now in Northern Ireland seem to be missing (though there are excellent map searches for Northern Ireland place-names at www.placenamesni.org and at the Northern Ireland Ordnance Survey,) and the on-screen maps are peppered with “OSI” watermarks, because the Survey is still selling high-quality print versions. But even with these restrictions, the site is now a superb research tool for examining in detail the evolution of every single field and street on the island.


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.

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2012

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2011

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