Many times I’ve sung the praises of the Irish public service’s role in the recent revolution in Irish genealogy. What happened, mostly, is that individual civil servants stuck their necks out to do what they saw as the right thing, not just for their own institutions but for the country and for the descendants of those who were forced to leave. Wonderful things we now take for granted – the online civil registration records, the National Archives census site, the National Library parish register images – are there not because there was an overarching master-plan (God forbid) but because individuals just did it.
The problem is that such decisions can all too easily be reversed. A small but worrying recent example is Ordnance Survey Ireland. When they initially digitised their map archive, it was available on an expensive subscription website, presumably because someone in the office said “We’re sitting on a goldmine here, lads!” When it turned out not to be a goldmine, they sensibly picked themselves up and moved on, making the entire set free at maps.osi.ie. They made it possible to lay historic maps over contemporary aerial images, create direct links into the historic maps based on latitude and longitude, even customise layers on the historic maps to highlight graveyards or forges or asylums or turloughs – anything that was recorded on the original.
Ah, happy, bygone days.
First, in a fit of copyright cold feet, (“But what about copyright, lads?”) a crude intervening map was overlaid on the historic 25″ and 6″ maps, making it difficult to zoom out and get overviews.
And now maps.osi.ie is completely gone, replaced by map.geohive.ie. Gone is the ability to link directly to locations. Gone are the layers of graveyards and forges. In their stead, is a new ‘improved’ system.
In defence of OSI, the old application was getting very old and insecure (“But what about security, lads?”). The main purpose of the organisation is to supply map services to other arms of the state, not to pander to a few heritage map nuts. And the maps are still there, still layerable and still free. They’re just not as searchable or accessible.
It’s a pity, not a tragedy. The real cause of the shiver up my spine is the evidence that wonderful decisions made ad-hoc can so easily be reversed.