The Last of the Names? Urris Place-Names Project

Ian Wright

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A Brief detour about Maps

But of course the story of the Ordnance Servey mapping of Ireland goes much further back. As a national project to the 1820s. Any young historians interested should go first to the enthrawling Tower Museum in Derry; and for a classic insight, they should read that great Irish play Translations by Brian Friel. There they will learn almost all they need to know.

There were three early editions of the Ordnance Survey, three snapshots if you like, of this land: the first published in 1836; a revision in the 1840s and a further edition at the turn of the century. They are by no means perfect but they are a real record of what things looked like, where people lived and even how they lived. Look at those three maps in turn, say for your townland or your quarterland, and, at a glance, you can detect a lot of history.

The maps were never the whole story by any means. Strangely, one of the main things they lack are place-names. You would expect place-names on a maps but, vast areas of the large-scale 3rd edition OS maps surveyed between 1900-05, totally ignor thousands of names which must, even at that time, have been in daily use in this parish.

The reasons are obvious. Pretty well all of the men who did the mapping were Royal Engineers, British soldiers who, although meticulous, dedicated to their craft as surveyors and often fascinated by what today we'd call social anthpology, belonged to a culture and spoke a language that even then was displacing local languages all over the globe. In spite of official policy.

The surveyors were curious about Irish names though often they transcribed badly. But didn't care sufficiently to preserve a large quantity of place-names which would have formed another very valuable layer of historical information on their maps. Far too little detail beyond townland names appeared on the maps.

The size of the loss is unmeasurable. The sadness is that old names continue to be lost to this very day. Every time someone dies who knew some of the old names and who has not passed them on, we lose more.

Hence the Urris Place-names Project. It was conceived as a pilot scheme to see if the last of the names can be collected and written onto a map. We envisaged a master copy of the big 25 inch OS on which we would mark all our findings. We also thought of placing the maps and names in safekeeping as well as making a copy for the Internet.

McGlinchey Summer School

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