Ireland in the 1650s lay in ruins. Twelve years of calamitous warfare had destroyed the country’s infrastructure and resulted in the death of over 20% of the Irish population.
Mapping a Century of Change
The armies of the English Commonwealth, commanded by Oliver Cromwell, emerged victorious and immediately undertook an ambitious project of social engineering, underpinned by a massive transfer in landownership from Irish Catholics to English Protestants. For this to happen, the land had to be accurately surveyed and mapped, a task overseen by the surgeon-general of the English army, William Petty.
The Down Survey of Ireland
Taken in the years 1656-1658, the Down Survey of Ireland is the first ever detailed land survey on a national scale anywhere in the world. The survey sought to measure all the land to be forfeited by the Catholic Irish in order to facilitate its redistribution to Merchant Adventurers and English soldiers. Copies of these maps have survived in dozens of libraries and archives throughout Ireland and Britain, as well as in the National Library of France. This Project has brought together for the first time in over 300 years all the surviving maps, digitised them and made them available as a public online resource, available here.