Compass is an archive of Library news from 2005 - 2008. For the latest Library news check the Library Blogs.
Compass Newsletter Masthead
   Volume IV, Issue 3
February 2008   

Leave No Map Untraveled: Early Maps of Ireland from Falvey’s Special Collections

This hand colored map of Ireland was engraved by Samuel John Neele, and published in A new general atlas, consisting of a series of geographical designs… by John Thomson in 1817.
If you have an interest in Ireland or history, or if you have ever wondered about the history of mapmaking, then the Special Collection’s spring exhibition will be of interest to you. Entitled “Early Maps of Ireland,” it includes maps dating from 1600 to 1846.

The exhibit, located on the second floor of Falvey Memorial Library, roughly divides into three sections and displays maps of the country of Ireland, maps of some counties, and maps and plans of select cities.

While it is not feasible for an institution of our size to present a comprehensive collection of the history of mapmaking in Ireland, we are, nonetheless, able to show a very nice collection of different types of maps and plans.

These include geographical, topographical, historical, political (including two battle plans), travel, and even hydrographical maps, the latter being maps showing the North and West coasts of the country.

On display you'll see a travel map by Alexander Taylor, A New Map of Ireland, which is mounted on cloth and folded much like maps used for travel today.

The evolution of cartography is also shown by the display. For example, the text on the oldest maps is in Latin, which hearkens back to ancient mapmakers like Ptolemy.

By the eighteenth century the texts predominately switch to English. Further, the maps become more accurate, since as time passed, instruments of measure also became more accurate, and new cartographers generally improved on their predecessor’s works, though this was not always the case. Some errors were carried over from one cartographer to another.

The oldest map in the exhibition, which comes from a book published in 1600, is Hibernia Antiqua by William Camden. We have two of William Camden’s early maps of Ireland in the display. They were derived from a more famous map
Irlandiae Regnum (detail). From a set of maps that are believed to be after the Cloppenburgh edition of Gerhard Mercator's Atlas Minor. The first Cloppenburgh edition was published in Amsterdam in 1630 and appeared in many later editions.
by Gerhard Mercator from 1595.

We also have two examples of Mercator’s map on display, even though we do not own Mercator’s original map. One of the maps dates from 1628 when it was published in Jansson’s Atlas Minor Gerardi Mercatoris. This book was published in several editions and languages until the mid-seventeenth century.

Gerhard Mercator’s most important contribution to cartography was inventing a way to show the spherical earth more or less accurately on a flat two-dimensional map. According to historians, he was able to do this by rendering “parallels and meridians…as straight lines spaced so as to produce at any point an accurate ratio of latitude to longitude.” His method later became known as the Mercator projection.

This tiny detail of a man playing a harp while riding a fish is from the map Province of Mounster as published in Pacata Sir Thomas Stafford in 1810.

When you view the exhibition, note the detailed artistry of these maps and that several of the maps are painstakingly hand colored. Take a glimpse of the beautifully engraved cartouches and fascinating sea monsters.

If you would like a closer view of the maps, look for the labels indicating “Also available on the World Wide Web,” as these maps have been digitized and can be found via the Digital Library browser.

Additionally, if you prefer to see the originals outside the display cases, we will be happy to make arrangements for you to view any of the maps in Special Collections after the exhibit is taken down at the end of the spring semester.

The exhibition was created by Bente Polites, Special Collections librarian, and Teri Ann Incrovato, Digital Library and Special Collections curatorial assistant.