Dublin origins chronicled in archival maps


Dr Howard Clarke, author of an atlas detailing the development ofDublin, suggests the Vikings did not establish the city, writes Eileen Battersby

An atlas documenting the development of Dublin from the pre-Viking period to the 17th century will be launched tomorrow.

Dublin, Part 1, is the 11th atlas in the Royal Irish Academy's Irish Historic Towns series. Central to the publication is the relevance of Dublin's Viking legacy. Ironically, the launch ceremony, hosted by Dublin City Council, takes place at the Civic Offices, controversially built over the remains of one of Europe's finest Viking sites.

The new fascicle, the first of four parts, chronicling the emergence of Dublin from Hiberno- Norse town to Anglo-Norman city, to modern European capital, is the work of Dr Howard Clarke of the Department of Medieval History at University College Dublin.

Author of Dublin c.840 to c. 1540: the Medieval Town in the Modern City, (Dublin, 1978), a pioneering historical map upon which the new fascicle is partly based, Dr Clarke has been researching the origins of Dublin for almost 30 years. He is a board member of Dublinia, the medieval Dublin centre adjacent to Christ Church, and is the creator of the diorama or large model of medieval Dublin exhibited there.

This atlas, including more than 1,300 entries on topographical features of medieval Dublin, follows the series format of a long, informative essay with an extensive bibliography published with a range of large format maps, reconstructions and photographs. The emphasis is on continuity and cohesion, the brief is to assist future research and to encourage responsible planning. Evident throughout is the contribution of the geographer's - and to some extent the historian's - surest tool, maps.

Previous towns mapped include Kildare, Carrickfergus, Bandon, Kells, Mullingar, Athlone, Maynooth, Downpatrick, Bray and Kilkenny. The Kilkenny fascicle, written by John Bradley, marked a new development in the physical scale of the fascicles, when tackling the story of that medieval city. Dublin brings this a large step forward. As Dr Clarke notes, Dublin was Ireland's first town. "It was the first place on the island to evolve into a settlement whose economy was based primarily on craftworking and trading, and whose infrastructure was recognisably urban."

Aside from a brief period during the late 19th century when Belfast's population surpassed Dublin's, Dublin has been, since the mid 10th century, Ireland's largest urban entity.

Dr Clarke suggests that the Vikings did not establish the city of Dublin. Gaelic or pre-Viking Dublin has a pre-medieval history based upon two prevailing settlement clusters, each taking its name from an important topographical feature. The older settlement, Áth Cliath, takes its place name from an ancient man-made feature meaning "ford of hurdle-work". Although the exact location of this ford remains unknown, viable clues are suggested by the probable alignments of prehistoric and early medieval routes, such as an unnamed road leading to the city from Tara in Co Meath. The intersection of such routes, plus the existence of a market space, eventually known as Cornmarket with its proximity to central Dublin's oldest existing church site, St Audoen's, suggests an early settlement site. Further west, in present day Ship Street, where the foundations of a round tower were excavated, lie traces of a large early medieval monastic enclosure, Dubhlinn.

With the arrival of the Anglo- Normans in 1170, the town, soon to become a city, acquired its legal existence through a city charter and the establishment of a municipal government. The Normans also supported large monastic foundations. Water plays an important role throughout. Clarke describes "Silken" Thomas Fitzgerald's abortive attempts to capture the city in 1534 by cutting off the water supply and attacking Dublin Castle.

According to Prof Anngret Simms, author of the Kells fascicle and atlas series editor along with Howard Clarke and Raymond Gillespie, the fascicle "is the fulfilment of what we fought for at Wood Quay, namely the recognition of medieval Dublin as part of our heritage. The archaeologists have done it with the archaeological evidence and the fascicle contains a reconstruction of the Hiberno-Norse town by Dr Patrick Wallace. The fascicle brings the different kinds of evidence together". This multidisciplinary overview, merging the geographical and topographical with archaeological and historical sources is characteristic of the atlas team's approach. The Irish Historic Towns Atlas, begun by the Royal Irish Academy in 1978, is part of a wider, post-Second World War, confidence restoring European project initiated in 1955. Devised to promote a greater understanding of shared European roots and settlement patterns, the scheme has to date mapped more than 300 European towns and cities in 15 countries.

In anticipation of demand for the Dublin fascicle, 5,000 copies have been printed. This marks an advance of the 1,500 print run for the Kilkenny atlas. Prior to the publication of Dublin, Part 2, mapping 1610-1756, Belfast, Part 1 will be published. Dublin, Part 3, concentrating on 1756-1846, will follow, while Part 4 takes the story from 1846 to 1900.