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The Down Survey of the 1650s and the transformation of Ireland

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Micheál Ó Siochrú gives the 2021 D.A. Chart Seminar on Maps with the topic of The Down Survey of the 1650s and the transformation of Ireland

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The Cromwellian conquest of Ireland in the 1650s occurred at the culmination of a century of bloody warfare that witnessed a demographic catastrophe, wide-scale destruction of societal infrastructure and the disappearance of the old Gaelic order. Much of the struggle centred on control of the land and successive plantations resulted in a dramatic shift in ownership from a Catholic elite to a new Protestant settler class, one of the largest single transfers of land anywhere in Western Europe during the early modern period. The Down Survey (1656-8), so called because a chain was laid down, played a key role in this transformative process, establishing the Protestant Ascendancy that dominated Irish political and economic life for centuries thereafter. Teams of soldier-surveyors, under the direction of William Petty, measured townlands throughout the country, organised by parish. The resulting cadastral maps, at a scale of 40 perches to one inch (the modern equivalent of 1:50,000), are unique for the time – nothing as systematic or on such a large scale exists anywhere else in the world. This wonderful collection of maps provides an unparalleled window into a lost world, with a wealth of detail in a visual medium that is both attractive and accessible.

Micheál Ó Siochrú is Professor in Modern History at Trinity College Dublin and author of numerous works on seventeenth-century Ireland, including God’s Executioner: Oliver Cromwell and the conquest of Ireland. Together with David Brown, he created the Down Survey website (http://downsurvey.tcd.ie), which will be relaunched with significant new material in the spring of 2022.

This event is taking place on Zoom. Sign-up closes 24 hours before the event and an invite will be sent to everyone registered 24 hours before the beginning of the event.

Image: Down Survey of Ireland, Parish of Cregan, County Armagh (courtesy of downsurvey.tcd.ie)

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