We just put up much-improved maps of the Catholic parishes of Ireland, the usual all-singing, all-dancing, zoomable, click-through, will do your laundry on request, with a nice auto-complete search. Have a gander.
The clicky, zoomy part comes from the National Library of Ireland’s parish maps, available for free as part of the government’s open data policy. Ta very much.
But where did NLI get the maps?
They got them from me. When planning to digitise the parish register microfilms, they asked to use the maps published in Tracing your Irish Ancestors and (at that time) on the Irish Times site. I said yes and provided advice and they picked up on some of the mistakes in the maps for me to correct. Win-win.
But where did I get the maps?
Shuffles. Looks at shoes. Back in 1991, when I was putting together the first edition of the book, I thought a killer selling point would be Catholic parish maps. Nothing like them existed, at least not for the entire island, and I knew from bitter experience that trying to work out the position of adjoining Catholic parishes one-by-one by using the underlying civil parishes was frustrating and headwrecking and not always possible.
But the only nineteenth-century source for the geography of Catholic parishes was and is Samuel Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837). Lewis was resolutely Anglican and his coverage of Catholic parishes could be a tad grudging, with offhand comments along the lines of “the [civil] parish is divided between the two RC parishes of Ballythis and Ballythat”. And sometimes he just ignored the bloody papists altogether.
To be fair, for most papist Catholic parishes Lewis does give clear enough direction, making it possible to use existing civil parish boundaries to trace the Catholic outlines. But for around thirty per cent or so, there is no clear direction.
What to do? Once you start to draw the things, it becomes clear from the gaps where some parishes must be. But for those incorporating parts of multiple civil parishes, it’s just not possible to say with any accuracy where inside those civil parishes the Catholic border should go.
After wrestling with my conscience and winning, I simply took my pencil and drew lines where they looked most probable. As a salve to my sulking conscience, the original published maps came with loud disclaimers, saying they were not geographically precise and were there only to show the positions of parishes in relation to each other. Somehow the disclaimers fell off the back of the lorry transporting the maps to NLI.
Hence my enduring reluctance to overlay the RC maps on the townland maps.
But I’ve just done it anyway. If you want to get a sense to just how geographically arbitrary some of the boundaries can be, have a look at a new feature, in beta, that takes RC and civil parish maps and allows you to swipe between them and zoom in on the underlying townlands. Here’s Tipperary for example, civil to the left, Catholic to the right. I promise, the more you zoom in, the more your hair will stand on end.
The swiping maps are tucked away discreetly in the individual civil parish pages, in the “Maps, surnames, adjoining parishes” section.
For the record:
NOT GEOGRAPHICALLY PRECISE!
SHOULD ONLY BE USED UNDER THE SUPERVISION OF A QUALIFIED SCEPTIC!