Not a goldmine

IrishGenealogy, I love you

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 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.

Glorious Oughterard in 1839

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 is completely gone, replaced by 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.

Definitely slicker

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.

11 thoughts on “Not a goldmine”

  1. I just tried the Geohive site because I wanted to know if I could still access the maps for Kilkenny that I had found before. What I found was rather technical and possibly confusing. I was unable to create a map at all due to the blank screen I’m faced with when I try that option. I have emailed this feedback. It may be a responsive problem with mobiles. Thanks for the heads up.

  2. I’m really devastated that a wonderful resource has been whipped away without warning – did anyone in OSI consult with users? I know historians and genealogists are not the target market for OSI but access to searchable historical maps was a great boon to research. Maybe a sternly worded petition to Josepha Madigan is called for.

  3. Using my desk computer and an excellent broadband connection, I was unable to create a map on the GeoHive website. Each time I attempted to do so by clicking on “Make Your Map” on the menu, I h received an “Error 404 – Document Not Found” message. Either the website is not working properly or I am an idiot. While either explanation may be possible, I suspect (hope?) the former is more likely than the latter.

  4. Thanks for explaining what happened, John. I hadn’t been able to figure out how such a giant step backward occurred or exactly who might consider an “improvement.” For my purposes, it has all the deft and dexterity of a dinosaur.

  5. It is sad that educated morons have such power and authority to be allowed to put the archival world into reverse.
    There will come a solution(there always does), by some whiz kid with common sense, who will be on the lookout for glory.

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