Explore Old Maps of Ireland (From 15th to 21st Century)

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Ordnance Survey Ireland has been responsible for gathering info and building the official map of Ireland used for government business since the office’s origination in 1824. Of course, cartography existed well before the 19th century, so there are hundreds of years of historic Irish maps prior, especially from the Tudor invasion of Ireland in the 1500s. Let’s explore the historic mapping of Ireland and explore history from a new vantage point!

Old Maps of Ireland in 1500

First off, this map was reproduced in 1525 but originally drawn by Cladius Ptolomy in Ancient Roman times. “Hiberniae” in Latin, Ireland came to Roman attention when they conquered Angliae (England). The Romans never actually succeeded in conquering Hiberniea so it is ironic that this map was reprinted just four years before the Tudors successfully invaded Ireland. The Tudor era began the “colonization” of traditional Gaelic Irish culture and marked the started of a strong historic paper trail.

Historic map reproduced in 1525 drawn by Cladius Ptolomy in Ancient Roman times displaying bits of Ireland.
Historic map reproduced in 1525 drawn by Cladius Ptolomy in Ancient Roman times displaying bits of Ireland. Full size map via Davidrumsey.com

This map was published nearly fifty years later, halfway through the Tudor Irish invasion. Part of Ireland has begun to be charted by English cartographers, as we can see in the thin rim of Irish cities showing on the left of this map of the British Isles.

The old map portraying some of Ireland. Published in 1570.
The old map portraying some of Ireland. Published in 1570. Full size map via Davidrumsey.com

Historic Maps of Ireland in 1600

The 1600s marked a stark change for Ireland, already invaded by the Tudors in the last century. This century brought British laws that stripped the native Irish, non-citizens, of their lands and reformatted them into either estates held by English aristocracy or plots granted to Scottish immigrants. The overall scheme was to weaken the locals’ hold and diminish rebellion. A few Irish were granted citizenship by denization, which meant their next generation reverted to non-citizenry.

This map, from an atlas entitled “The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britian,” was originally produced in 1612 by John Speed, under the sponsorship of Queen Elizabeth I. The atlas made him one of the most well-known cartographers in British history. This version of the map was published in 1676, about fifty years after Speed’s death, when two of his atlases were re-printed together.

The old map of The Kingdome of Great Britaine and Ireland. Published in 1676.
The old map of The Kingdome of Great Britaine and Ireland. Published in 1676. Full size map via Davidrumsey.com

This map of Great Britain was actually a Dutch production, for an atlas published in Amsterdam. The Dutch were renowned during this era for their excellent maps, indeed this one is noted for its striking colors. The old Latin name was still used interchangeably at this time, leading to the map title “Anglia, Scotia, et Hibernia.”

An old colorful map of Great Britain named as Anglia, Scotia et Hibernia which includes Ireland as well. Published in 1623.
Historic map of Great Britain including Ireland still named in Latin as Anglia, Scotia et Hibernia. Published in 1623. Full size map via Davidrumsey.com

Maps of Ireland in 1700

An early American immigration started this century when the wool trade out of Ireland was curtailed in favor of English merchants. This had been the primary market of Scottish-Irish workers in Ulster; impoverished and facing religious oppression, they set sail and settled primarily in Pennsylvania. With the Scots leaving, Ireland began experiencing a bit more class deafferentation – the gap grew between the 80% of the population that retained Irish Catholic beliefs versus the Protestant English. That didn’t really make a striking impact on the maps yet however.

The first map does show the first instance we’ve seen in this list of the traditional Irish provinces being recorded: Ulster, Leinster, Munster, & Connaught. Note Ulster’s southern boundary line, it comes into play again later.

The old map of Ireland in full published in mini atlas, pocket companion back in year 1736.
Pocket companion containing the historic map of Ireland. Published in 1736. Full size map via Davidrumsey.com

This map is a detailed look at the southern half of Ireland, replete with roads and barracks. The notations deferntate between cities, boroughs, and market towns. It’s an interesting look at how the Irish population spread was developing in 1790, immediately before a memorable century in history that hit Ireland hard.

Old map of the kingdom of ireland published in 1790 displaying rivers, roads, boarders, etc.
Old Map of the Kingdom of Ireland. Published in 1790. Full size map via Davidrumsey.com

Historic Maps of Ireland Circa 1800

The 1800s hit Ireland hard with the infamous Potato Famine mid-century, although it had also began rocky with a widespread uprising in 1798. The population growth impacting most of the world during the Industrial Revolution was having the opposite effect on Ireland, as a large amount of the Cathlic population immigrated elsewhere. Ireland went from having 32.5% of the United Kingdom’s population in 1821 with 6.8 million people, to only 11.2% by 1899 with 4.5 million people. (By comparison, England jumped from 14 million to 36 million in the same time frame.)

There are no notable maps tracing the population decline of Ireland through this century. Instead, this one focuses on paleontology–published by the Geographical Institute of Berlin in 1850.

Historic Paleontological Map of the British Islands including Ireland. Published in 1850
Paleontological Map of the British Islands including Ireland. Published in 1850. Full size map via Davidrumsey.com

This map is from Colton’s Atlas of the World, considered one of the most accurate atlases of the era. It was an American atlas published in New York in 1856, oddly appropriate considering the exodus of Irish to New York City during this time.

old map of ireland in Colton's Atlas Of The World, Illustrating Physical And Political Geography. By George W. Colton published in 1856
One of the most accurate maps of that era displaying Irish counties in full colors. Published in 1856. Full size map via Davidrumsey.com

Current Maps of Ireland from 1900 – 2022

The Protestant vs. Catholic disagreement, a long-term friction in Irish history, finally reached breaking point in the early 20th century when Northern Ireland (Protestant British) and the Irish Free State (Catholic Irish) were formed to settle the matter–in a nicely boiled-down summation, anyway. The maps of this era strongly reflect the history of the period given the geopolitical nature of the conflict.

This map was published within the first decade of Ireland’s split, in 1929. It is from a Northern Ireland company, highlighting the agriculture and fisheries of both Irish countries. Notice how the dividing line runs quite similar to Ulster’s boundary line.

Old map of Ireland showing agricultural products and fisheries of both Irish countries. Map published in 1929
Historic map of Ireland displaying their agricultural products & fisheries. Date of publication: 1929. Full size map via Davidrumsey.com

This one is interesting in a cultural light. We’ve seen Ireland, Hibernia, but this is the first we’ve seen of “Eire”–the original Gaelic name for Ireland. This map, from the American Geographical Society, disregards all recent conflict and instead records the original Gaelic/Irish names across Ireland.

A fairly recent map of Ireland published in 1938 displaying towns, road, boarders, rivers etc.
General map of Ireland showing roads, towns, rivers published in 1938. Full size map via collections.lib.uwm.edu

Old Railway Map of Ireland

Despite the population loss that marked the Industrial Revolution for Ireland, there were also technological advances as well. Most notably for maps: railways. This is a map from the Second Report of the Railway Commission Ireland, made in 1891, detailing the active and proposed railway lines across Ireland.

an old map of irish railway system published in 1838 from an atlas.
Railway map of Ireland. Atlas to accompany 2d report of the Railway Commissioners Ireland 1838. Full size map via digital.ucd.ie

Tourist Map of Ireland

Ireland is full of amazing sites to visit, from Dublin Castle, right in the capital city, to natural wonders like the Giant’s Causeway and the Cliffs of Moher. But no trip to Ireland is complete without your chance to gain the “gift of the gab” by kissing the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle.

the tourist map of ireland with the most places and monuments to visit
Tourist map of Ireland with the most famous places all around the country. Click here for a fully interactive map. Courtesy of Ireland101.com

Ireland Castles Map

Of course, Ireland isn’t just known for its natural appeal–don’t miss the architectural highlights from Ashford Castle to Donegal to Kilkenny. The abbeys and other religious sites are awe-inspiring as well, from the famed Rock of Cashel to the lesser-known Kylemore Castle Abbey. 

Multiple castles marked with little photos on the map of Ireland marked with their respective years they were built
The map of Irish castles all around the country. Click the image to enlarge. Source: Reddit.

Five hundred years of maps should leave you well prepared to plan your own exploration of this beautiful country. It is well-worth the visit. We hope you’ve enjoyed this trip through time and look forward to hearing about your wonderful adventures in the Emerald Isle!

Elora Holt
Elora Holthttps://whimz.medium.com/
I am a part-time personal assistant & part-time freelance writer/editor. Full-time architecture geek, especially Gothic & Art Nouveau varieties - the quickest way to convince me to travel is to describe the architecture of the local (not that it will take much effort, I have a bucket list of locations that will take a lifetime). I’m a design geek as well, so my long-term focus is to work in 3D architectural rendering. But in the meantime, I’m enjoying grabbing a cup of coffee and writing about castles around Europe!

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