The Cultural Impact of the Irish Ordnance Survey

ordnance-survey-irish-literatureCóilín Parsons is the author of The Ordnance Survey and Modern Irish Literature (Oxford University Press, June 2016; Amazon, iBooks), which links the Ordnance Survey of Ireland to the origins of literary modernism in Ireland. Writing in The Irish Times, Parsons makes a larger argument about the cultural impact of the Irish survey, which resulted in large part from the survey’s precise mapping requirements and the need to hire non-cartographic scholars to get the job done—they were mapping aspects of Irish life that had not previously received official attention.

This unlikely assembly came about because the survey was instructed to make a map at a scale of six inches to one mile. The scale might seem unexceptional to anyone who grew up using the survey’s maps, but at the time it was nothing short of revolutionary—it called for enormous maps of frequently sparsely inhabited areas, and at a level of detail never before seen across such a vast expanse of land. How was the survey to gather the information to fill in such detailed maps? The answer was to task not only the engineers of the army, but also a crew of civilian workers under Petrie’s supervision, to both map the physical features of the landscape and also record every possible aspect of the landscape from its placenames (the initial justification for employing Irish language scholars) and archeology to its productive economy.