I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

‘The Sentiments of my Heart’


Peter Sirr writes: Cut throat Lane, above a list of churches and directly above the engraved figure of the surveyor and his tripod, as if his view of the city might also be an inspection of its criminal underlife. The city obliges: Murdering Lane. Cutpurse Row. Dirty Lane. Dunghill Lane. Bedlam. Black Dog Prison. The names vanished now, though the routes are all still there. But also much that is completely familiar, so that if set down there I could easily find my way around. The time traveller’s machine lands in, say, Smithfield. He makes his way through the din of the cattle market and moves south down Arran Street and along Arran Quay until he comes to the old bridge, which he crosses. Assuming he has made it this far, assuming he has a coin to fling at Hackball, the King of the Mendicants who guards the bridge like a troll, he climbs up Bridge Street and … a moment of confusion at Wormwood Gate and Cook Street, he pauses, remembers his Latin, Haec Ormondia dicitur, Hibernicis Orwown, id est Frons Momoniae, Anglis Ormond, et plurimis corruptissime Wormewood. Corruptissime … He leaves Ormond, Urmhumhan, Wormwood Gate and veers south again down New Row and across Corn Market towards Francis Street. Familiar territory now, though the houses are unrecognisable. Head down, tries not to call attention to himself. The clothes, the stench! Across the Coombe into New Row South, turn left into Black Pitts and then … And then nothing, trees and marked out plots of land, and the traveller’s home a vegetable garden, and will be for a long time yet. Some of the fields have rows of posts, and if it’s fine he might see the woven cloths fixed to the posts with iron tenterhooks and stretched out to dry. Fifty years from now the weavers will get a purpose-built Tenter House so they don’t have to rely on the Dublin weather. But for now they’re here, looking balefully at the grey sky. Room in this corner for Andrew Drury, the mapmaker’s engraver, to flourish his name.

North of here is crowded, dense, the houses and plots packed close together, a warren of tiny streets and narrow lanes with occasional open patches: Huguenot territory, New Market, Weavers’ Square. I cast off the time traveller mask and settle down to some serious exploring. I begin greedily with my own patch of the city, hunting among Malpas Street, New Street, The Coombe, the vanished streets between The Coombe and Newmarket – Skinners Alley, Cuckolds Row, or those which have been renamed, Crooked Staff (Ardee Street), Mutton Lane (Watkins Square?). Just north of the east side of Newmarket, right in the centre of this bustling area of weavers, tanners, skinners and butchers is the homely rectangle of St Luke’s Church, and I feel an odd pang of nostalgia as I gaze at the avenue of trees leading up to its door. Where the avenue was is now the wide extension to Cork Street, which cuts a brutal swathe through the area, and the ruined church sits on its hill behind ugly green railings, looking down on a bus-stop. It’s closed off by an office building on one side and an apartment block on the other, an anomalous relic of early eighteenth century church building, preserved from the wrecking ball by order of the same council that built the road. The trees were gone at least a hundred and fifty years before that, so it’s hard to account for the nostalgia, except that Rocque gives them such presence on the 1756 Exact survey of the city and suburbs of Dublin, all twenty-one of them lovingly sketched, that I can feel myself walking down the avenue. The headstones in the graveyard are also visible. Everything is visible, every stable lane, dwelling and warehouse, so that I can hardly force myself to hurry through this crowded neighbourhood.

I leave the trees and follow the curve of the The Coombe before turning up the broad expanse of Meath Street. All around me is the industrial heartland of eighteenth century Dublin. At its northern extremity, where it meets Hanbury Lane, Meath Street narrows sharply before it joins the great thoroughfare of Thomas Street. Here’s the Glib Market, with its meat and fowl, and here’s St Catherine’s Church, not yet the handsome current building but clear and substantial, its name in a pale band in the centre of its black bulk. Behind the church I can make out the individually marked gravestones. If I go back to the street and turn to the right, looking back towards the old city, I can see, just before Francis Street and Cutpurse Row, the long vanished Corn Market House, since demolished by the Wide Street Commissioners, much to the annoyance of the local traders. It may be 1756, we may be in a bustling industrial and trading quarter, and the abbey which gave the street its name – founded by Henry II to atone for his part in the murder of his troublesome archbishop – may have disappeared, but the middle ages are still everywhere. They’re there in the narrow burgage plots stretching back from the great old street, in the route of the street along the ridge that slopes down to the river, the old Slí Mhór, the road to the West.

The street begins to appear on the ancient route in the twelfth century, on the outskirts of the walled city, a district unto itself, a traditional locus of dissent, the most famous icon of which is the print of Robert Emmet’s gruesome execution outside St Catherine’s in September 1803 after the disastrous insurrection, the executioner holding the head aloft, “The head of a traitor”, as the crowds seethe behind the massed soldiery with their backs to Bridgefoot Street and the pinprick onlookers stare from the windows and gables of the Dutch Billies in Thomas Court. The print is late nineteenth century, the event is 1803, the barbaric death a sinister medieval theatre. Hastily, I flee from an image of event yet to happen, cross the river and make my way up Queen Street and in behind the Blue Coat Boys’ Hospital to another remnant of the middle ages, the shrinking expanse of Oxmantown Green, home of the Norsemen, rival to Stephen’s Green, once covered by a wood whose timber was exported to William Rufus for the roof of Westminster Hall. A carpenters’ widow house on the north side. Every appearance of a site about to be developed. Where is it now? Oxmantown Green is a development of twenty five luxury apartments, each tastefully furnished to the highest specification. After the Robin Hood gang broke up, Little John came to Oxmantown Green to display his archery skills to the citizens of Stoneybatter, but the press of old habits was too hard and he soon went back to robbing until he was caught and hanged on Arbour Hill …

These old outskirts suck me in. Quick, zoom out, forget the medieval city, fly up and look down at the whole picture. I zoom out on both computer screens and look at the pattern of streets and the ships that come as far as Wood Quay. Then I abandon my machines and spread the Royal Irish Academy reproductions open on the table.

I take in the sweep of the city – the huge eastward expansion, the broad avenues and new squares, the signs of prosperity, of order and planning, the development of new urban estates. Great open spaces like Oxmantown Green and St Stephen’s Green are encroached on. Stephen’s Green is built up on all sides, with an open square in the middle. New quays and new bridges have shifted the traditional east-west axis of the city to a north-south one. As the eye travels east from Oxmantown it falls on the district radiating from Smithfield, and, further east, a new suburb linked to the south city by Essex Bridge and centred on Capel Street and Jervis Street, bounded on the southern edge by Ormond Quay and Batchelor’s Walk and to the north by Great Britain Street. A broad new street, Sackville Street, Luke Gardiner’s masterpiece, with a central mall for the beau monde to parade itself in, stretches from Great Britain Street to Henry Street, linked to Abbey Street by the narrow southern extension of Drogheda Street. Here too is the other great street of the Gardiner estate: Henrietta Street with its palatial houses, though not yet leading to James Gandon’s King’s Inns. On the southern bank of the Liffey, ships stream upriver as far as Wood Quay. The streets of what we now know as Temple Bar flow from the bustle of Custom House Quay. Just north of Stephen’s Green is a grid from Grafton Street to Kildare Street and from Nassau Street to Beaux Walk. At its centre are Dawson Street and Molesworth Street. South of Dublin Castle and west of Stephen’s Green another clearly planned district appears, radiating from the broad Aungier Street. The old medieval city with its twisting lanes and streets contrasts with the new grid-planned estates to the north and south.

The map makes clear what we know from history, how in the hundred and fifty odd years since Speed’s map, the shape of the city was transformed by the development of large urban estates by the city and private landowners. The map also clarifies the character of Dublin, as a port city bisected by a river. One of the reasons Rocque gives for his attraction to the city is precisely the order and solidity of its quays. This is a functioning, thriving maritime city well adapted for trade, full of prestigious buildings, spacious streets, gardens, walks. The smell of money and success is everywhere. Rocque has landed in a city proud of its accomplishments, economically successful, socially and culturally preening itself. The city of Swift, Goldsmith, Congreve, Sheridan. Handel’s Messiah. There’s Smock Alley Theatre, not yet a church or a Viking experience or a restoration of its former self as a new theatre. A recent excavation of this site found wig curlers and oyster shells – a step up from popcorn kernels. A city of Ascendancy comfort and security. Rocque’s map is the perfect mirror of all this success, it offers the city a detailed image of itself, a frozen image of harmony, order and industry.

This, of course, is how maps lie. They offer detail, information, above all an aesthetic experience. George II was so impressed with it that he hung it in his apartments. If he scrutinised it before he went to bed it probably wasn’t because it offered him an insight into the social and economic conditions of his second city, but because it offered a tantalising image of completeness. It offers the spectator every single building in the city. There are, estimates Patrick Fagan in his Catholics in a Protestant Country: The papist constituency in eighteenth-century Dublin, (Four Courts Press, 1998), 11,645 houses. Maybe, on sleepless nights, the king climbed out from his bed to count his way down Sackville Street or to follow his little finger down the lanes of the old city.

We know that the map is both beautiful and deceiving. The city it portrays is both familiar and alien; its alienness is all the more unnerving because of the familiarity of the names and the geography. It is, for one, a Protestant city. Not in the demographic sense; the Catholic population swells throughout this century. In 1700 70% of the population was Protestant and 30% Catholics, but a hundred years later those proportions were exactly reversed (see Patrick Fagan, op cit) But the institutions, the university, the churches, the parliament, the castle, the barracks remind us that we’re in a colonial garrison. Catholics are actively excluded from participation in the institutions of the city, even from the officially sanctioned practise of their religion. A certain laxity, or rather a pragmatic acknowledgement of the facts means that the priest-catchers no longer stalk the streets – remember the infamous Garcia, priest turned priest-catcher who lived safe within the walls of the castle? – and that no serious attempts are made to prevent Catholics worshipping in openly designated places. Too many fires, too many accidents and collapses of upper rooms have taken place to continue with active suppression without inflaming the ever-growing mob. Only twelve years earlier, on February 27th, 1744, after the authorities closed down all the mass-houses, the house in Pill Lane where a priest was celebrating mass collapsed, killing the priest and nine others. After this incident the viceroy and magistrates decided it would be better to allow the Catholic population their chapels than have people die in this manner.

Something of this can in fact be read in the map. Look at the many churches – St Patrick’s, Christ Church, St Catherine’s, St Michan’s, St Ann’s, St Peter’s, St Nicholas’s, St Werburgh’s, St Kevan’s, St Mary’s, St Thomas’s. We know that these are all Church of Ireland, that Rocque is carefully paying his respects to the state religion. But he’s not content with that. He was, after all, born in France in the reign of Louis XIV, who nineteen years before his birth revoked the Edict of Nantes, causing the Huguenot Rocque family to emigrate, first to Geneva and then to London. And Dublin is also a city of fruitful Dissent. His mapping of that dissent is brilliantly illustrated by Kenneth Ferguson in his essay “Rocque’s Map and the History of Nonconformity in Dublin: A Search for Meeting Houses”.

The map shows seventeen buildings labelled as Meeting Houses – Presbyterian Meeting Houses (7), French Churches (3), Quaker Meeting Houses (2), the Dutch Church and a dozen “Roman Chappels” marked with just a cross. Nonconformism was legal by then, since the Toleration Act of 1719, but what it had in common with Catholicism “was a distinct want of parity with the Establishment”. The Church of Ireland buildings that existed in Rocque’s time have mostly survived, and most were still being used for worship into the twentieth century. The last surviving Quaker Meeting House was the building that’s now the Irish Film Institute in Eustace Street. Just beside it, what’s now the Ark children’s cultural centre was a Presbyterian Meeting House. Anyone who has been inside will appreciate its sense of space and light, a fact not always appreciated by those who observed it when it was first built. Kenneth Ferguson observes:

When new in 1728, a Quaker remarked of this building: “Where there is so much vanity without, there cannot be much religion within.” The people who assembled here … were headed for Rationalism. These were the ‘new light Presbyterians’ who would ultimately – here in Eustace Street about 1830 – become Unitarians.

Maybe the most interesting feature of Rocque’s mapping of Dublin dissent is that the Meeting Houses were usually positioned discreetly in the city, out of general view, down side streets or in laneways. Ferguson again: “In a sense literal as well as metaphorical, Rocque put the religious alternatives on the map … It was a riposte to the intolerance of his native France, where a map with such information could not have been compiled or published.”

Ferguson notes that in the early eighteenth century Dublin supported four Huguenot congregations, two on each side of the river. These were further divided into “conforming” and “non-conforming” congregations, the former of which used the Book of Common Prayer in French while the latter chose their own French models. There was however “no rancour between the congregations and their clergy co-operated”. Rocque places three FC (French Church) symbols on his plan: Peter Street, opposite the old Adelaide Hospital; Lucy Lane or Mass Lane beside what is now the Four Courts, and the east end of St Patrick’s Cathedral. The Lucy Lane congregation buried its dead in Merrion Row, and the cemetery is still visible today. Ferguson supplies some fascinating details about these congregations. The Peter Street church, he tells us, “was consecrated on 19 December 1711, and remained in weekly use until 1806”, by which time the congregation had practically disappeared. The last pastor, Isaac Subremont, died in 1814, after which the building became a school, until 1838, when it was demolished. St Patrick’s Cathedral had offered its Lady Chapel to the fleeing Huguenots and it was used by them from April 1666 until 1816.

Soho, 1738. In the background, the spire of St Giles-in-the-Fields. To the right a tavern whose sign proclaims Good Eating, showing the picture of a human head on a plate – John the Baptist, presumably. An additional sign shows the body of a woman, but no head. On the far right a black man fondles the breasts of a servant girl, causing her to spill juices from the pie she is carrying onto a small boy standing beneath her. Whether because of the hot juice on his head or the plate of food he has let fall to the ground, the boy is bawling piteously. Meanwhile an urchin savages the fallen food. Upstairs in the tavern a row is in full spate. A man stands behind a woman who taken a plate with what looks like a leg of meat and is slinging it out the window. Down in the gutter a dead cat lies surrounded by the stones that were presumably used to kill it. All is disorder, mess, un-virtue. The virtue is all on the other side. Out of the French Church spill les grecs, as these French Huguenots sometimes refer to themselves, since the church was originally used by Greek refugees fleeing Ottoman persecution. The persecuted inherit the persecuted. This congregation has come up in the world though. Most are soberly dressed, as befits the followers of Calvin, but at the front stands a lavishly dressed couple, very French and fancy, with their equally stylish son got up as a foppish adult. It looks like Hogarth, whose engraving this is, doesn’t much like the French, and sides proudly with les rosbifs with their avid appetites and comic timing. The Huguenots don’t look like they’re about to tuck into anything and only the fancy couple seem to find life amusing. Maybe he’s fed up with all the French he hears on the streets – many parts of this parish so greatly abound with French that it is an easy matter for a stranger to imagine himself in France, writes the Scottish topographer William Maitland a year later – and would prefer if they all buggered back to France.

This is John Rocque’s London, though how he feels about Hogarth’s representation of his fellow Huguenots isn’t recorded. He has other things on his mind. He’s busy: he’s a surveyor, engraver, mapmaker, map-seller and publisher, first from “The Canister and Sugar Loaf” in Great Windmill Street, then to Piccadilly, before moving to bigger premises, first in Whitehall, then in the Strand. In his early years he’s happy to describe himself as a dessinateur des jardins, surveying aristocratic gardens. One of his plans, his plan du jardin et vue des maisons de Chiswick, can still be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum. What he really wants to do is to make maps, but mapmaking is an expensive business and you need patrons. The aristocratic connections he’s made will eventually help. It’s clear that there are no decent maps of English towns, but those in power, from merchants to military, are beginning to realise that a map is knowledge, intelligence, a mean of control, and the necessary funds begin to be provided. Bristol, Bath, Exeter, Shrewsbury are all surveyed and mapped. But the big prize is London, which takes him nine years and is finally published, as the Survey of London, Westminster & Southwark, in October 1746, on twenty-four sheets, for the price of three guineas. What makes it significant is the level of detail which allows the reader to study the growth and history of the city. Houses, churches, streams, ponds, paths, roads, tenter grounds, hills and rivers, even orchards and woods, can all clearly be made out. There are boats in the Thames, and the gibbet at Tyburn. I travel through the eighteenth century city by means of a YouTube video of the map; I find an interactive online version and zoom around: Great Eastcheap, Little Eastcheap, Hounds Ditch, Bishopsgate, Spittle Fields, Black Eagle Street, Crabtree Lane, Snow’s Fields, Five Foot Lane …

And then of course, it hits me: what I’m looking at, what keeps pulling me back is names; the attraction of map-travelling is not just the physical layout of the city and the painstaking survey of alleys, streets, courtyards but the thousands of placenames – more than 5,500 in the case of London – carefully recorded and preserved. And this work wasn’t slapdash – because Rocque has the municipal authorities behind him, Beadles are provided to help collect and double-check the street names. Before publishing the map, Rocque invites the public to his Hyde Park Road shop to examine the drawings and correct any errors – No, mate, it’s Bull Yard – and so the city is frozen in its moment, the perfect ghost of itself. A great many of the names still survive; others, along with the streets they identified, have vanished. The whole place is smaller: it’s intimate, traversable; the past seems more manageable than the vast contemporary megalopolis. That’s maybe one of the satisfactions of a map like this, it offers a vision we can readily comprehend as opposed to struggling with a Tube map or navigating the city with Google Maps on a smartphone.

Rocque’s London map is a big professional achievement. Not long after this, in 1751, as further acknowledgment of the importance of cartography, he is appointed Chorographer to the Prince of Wales. Business continues to thrive, and then, three years later, he’s ready for another challenge. To the surprise of some, he decides to go to Dublin. Nor was this a brief trip: he spends nearly six years in the city and produces several maps, of which the Exact survey is the best known.

Why did he come to Dublin? He was sponsored by the Irish parliament; he had some support from Dublin Corporation and as always he sought and received aristocratic patronage, but it was clearly also a congenial labour. He liked the city. A lot of the reasons he gives in foreword to the public in his Exact survey have to do with the aesthetic pleasure offered by Dublin’s buildings and layout. Not everyone agrees with his assessment. Many have tried to dissuade him from coming to Dublin, telling him the Irish city has nothing to offer. Yet we can see in the map, he tells us, that Dublin is one of the finest and largest cities in Europe. He singles out the quays:

After having executed the Plan of London and its Suburbs, I wanted only to do the same by Dublin, in order to have the Honour of having traced out two of the largest and most celebrated Cities of Europe. If I had given Credit to what I had been told of this City, I should never have had the Pleasure which I have enjoyed in this work. Several Persons had represented this City as not deserving the Attention of Strangers, not being remarkable for any Singularity, nor affording any Thing worthy of the Curiosity of a Traveller. But we see in this Map, that Dublin is one of the finest and largest Cities of Europe, as well as on Account of its Quays, which reach with Order and Regularity from one End of the Town to the other, as on Account of a great many Buildings in different Parts on either Side; for instance Kildare-house, the Barracks, Hospitals, Parliament-house, the College, and the Castle, which is the Residence of the Lord Lieutenant, &c., and also on Account of several spacious and magnificent Streets, the Gardens, Walks, &c. Besides that, the Situation of Dublin is very agreeable and commodious; being a Sea-Port, it hath a magnificent Harbour, through which a surprising number of Vessels are continually passing up the River; which they cover from its Mouth to the first Bridge…..

Maybe the intimate scale of the city appeals to his cartographer’s instinct for completeness. One of the things that makes his Dublin map different is that it’s the only map of its era with individual plots marked out, “the ground plot of all Public Buildings, Dwelling Houses, Warehouses, Stables and Courtyards”. The city seems to be there in its entirety, no building or plot unrepresented. Almost, but not quite – the wealthier areas are all there, the poorer areas are more likely to have their buildings guessed at rather than observed and recorded, though the relationship between money and cartographical detail is more apparent on the map of London.

It’s not hard to take in the four sheets of the Exact survey, compared to the twenty-four sheets of the London map, but one of the most enjoyable ways to experience the map is by reading Colm Lennon and John Montague’s John Rocque’s Dublin: A Guide to The Georgian city, which reproduces forty extracts from the map and accompanies each with a commentary. One of the most intriguing for me was the Custom House Quay, where Wellington Quay now is. The map shows the ships beside the dock and, behind the dock, an archway leading to Essex Street. A series of mysterious black dots near the edge of the street turn out to indicate “the piazzas”, a colonnaded walkway. We know this because a drawing by Hugh Douglas Hamilton, from 1760, shows a shoeboy standing in front of Custom House Gate while behind him another boy is busy shining the shoes of a man leaning against one of the columns of the covered walkway. We also see a dray on its way through the gate heaving a hogshead of whisky or beer. The rigging of a ship and a weighing scales suspended from a tripod are also clearly visible.

I couldn’t get the shoeboy out of my mind. That image, combined with my daily map travelling through the eighteenth century city and a story of a boy abandoned by his father and sent into indentured servitude by his uncle, which I first came across in Maurice Craig’s Dublin 1660-1860 A Social and Architectural History, sent me off on a journey that eventually ended up as a novel. I plotted my characters’ movements carefully across Rocque’s map, so much so that the publisher wrung his hands and said in exasperation, “There are too many bloody streets!” I borrowed a lot of details from the edition of Hamilton’s The Cries of Dublin, published by the Irish Georgian Society. The shoeboy’s polish, I was glad to find out, was made of lampblack and rotten eggs; the shoes were shone with an old wig. And thanks to the Hibernian Journal the shoeboys’s voice was recorded. Here’s a taster from The Shoeboy’s Address to the Citizens:

We, da shoeboys of de city make a resolution not to clean shues less dan a pare a coppers de pare … Dere is a great may people may wonder at us for raizing our price, but were we not a good as any oder trade. Havent we as good a right to it as de painters? Don’t we handle the brush as well as dem?

Lennon and Montague’s book is full of other treasures that add an extra layer to my own walks around the city. What went on in Goat Alley, Love Lane and Beaux Lane off Aungier Street? My own daily walks cross much of the territory covered by Rocque. Every day I walk down Long Lane and as I approach Clanbrassil Street I glance across at a house some friends once lived in, on a plot shown as an unnamed garden in Rocque’s map but which thanks to this book I discover was actually Naboth’s Vineyard. In the Old Testament, Naboth owned a garden coveted by King Ahab but which he refused to sell to him. Queen Jezebel arranged to have Naboth murdered and thus the land was acquired. Jonathan Swift’s ironic naming of the plot derived from his own cheerfully admitted cheating of a neighbour to get his hands on it. I imagine the peaches, nectarines and pear and apple trees flourishing where the terrace of houses now stands, and the Dean’s relish as he samples his ill-gotten fruits.

I think, too, of the ubiquity of maps in our lives. For a while now, if I have to go on a trip somewhere, I’ve been in the habit of looking up the destination in Google Maps. Sitting in front of my computer or glancing at the phone I plot the journey like an ancient navigator with his charts. Most of the time I don’t really need to do this. There are signs, after all. You get off the motorway at the right exit and follow the road. But a combination of anxiety, curiosity and an overdeveloped need to control my fate means that I am there virtually wandering through Newbridge, Athy, Waterford, Killarney, staring at the building I have to find, looking for the car park, noting the locations of petrol station, coffee shops, bookshops, parks, imprinting the streets on my brain, and later, on arrival, laying the real street and houses down on the grid already established, letting the town confirm its virtual self. And it’s strange how vividly a car park or arts centre will announce itself, as if to say, Look, the world is real after all, here we are! Often I spend more time on the map than on the actual place, so that the map is the more intense reality. More sinister is the realisation that all my movements are tracked. I look at my phone and see that Google has a timeline of all my movements going back several years. Every step I’ve taken, every mile I’ve driven, every shop or restaurant I’ve visited has been plotted and mapped. What did you think of Avoca? Are there restrooms in the Adare Tourist Centre? Can you rate your experience here, there, everywhere?

There’s no street view or timeline for the past, no little icon to be pulled down into Sweeney’s Lane or Mill Street to reveal the bricks of the long vanished Dutch Billies, the cut of a coat or the shine of a coach, nothing to hint at the lives that might be led there, yet here I am, sitting in front of two computer screens with the blown-up Exact Survey, plotting the journey as if I might step out of my front door and walk down two hundred and fifty years. Or else I’m just gazing at the map taking it in, enjoying it, standing in front of it as if it was hanging in a gallery …

If all of this suggests anything, it’s that to contemplate a map is complex. Yes, it is an insight into the past, the continuity and endurance of a place; an aid to imagining the lives that occupied these streets and houses, that worshipped in the chapels, churches and meeting houses, that paraded in finery or struggled to keep body and soul together. In itself the map is pure, abstract; its city is idealised. It’s an image. I think again of the story of Rocque’s Dublin map appealing so much to George II – maybe he just liked it. The link between cartography and art is long established, and indeed explicitly acknowledged by Rocque. Look at the elaborate cartouches, with nymphs, goddesses, Anna Livia, Hibernia with the harp on her shield, or the image of the surveyor himself in agricultural land south of Cutt Throat Lane, that take up a decent part of the map. They speak, surely, to the aesthetic gaze of the beholder. Rocque is a dramatist, they might be saying, and the map is his stage.

Cartography had long lodged itself in the creative imagination before Rocque applied his chain and theodolite to London or Dublin. In 1665 Madeleine de Scudéry designed a “Carte du pays de Tendre” (map of the land of tenderness) for her novel Clélie: a map of an Arcadia whose geography is determined by love. And visual artists have continually been drawn to maps as subject and method: Jasper Johns’s 1961 representation of the states of the United States in Map comes to mind, or The naked city by Guy Debord and Asger Jorn, which consists of nineteen fragments cut out from a travel map of Paris, in order to make “… an urban topography into a social and affective landscape”. Debord coined the term “psychogeography”, which considers how geography, usually urban, can impinge on the affective life. Closer to home, I think of Kathy Prendergast’s “Black Map” series, which uses printed motorist maps almost entirely obscured with ink, or Atlas, an installation consisting of paintings made using over one hundred copies of the AA Road Atlas of Europe. Maybe somewhere, somebody is busy cutting up the Exact Survey and converting it into a tender map, a psychogeography of dark desire.

I think, though, I should leave the last word with Rocque:

But what contributes yet more than either Nature or Art, to the Embellishment of Dublin, is the Temper of its Inhabitants, obliging, gentle and courteous. The Irish keep up the most amiable Society; are frank, polite, affable, make it their Pleasure to live much with each other, and their Honour to treat Strangers with Politeness and Civility. They are particularly remarkable for a Lenity and Mildness with which Justice is executed, almost unknown except in this Country and in England. They endeavour rather to discharge a Prisoner and soften his Punishment, than to condemn him. I am extremely surprised that the Author of the System of Geography has given so different a character of this Nation. He is ill-informed, not to say any more; and his Articles of Dublin and the Irish are entirely false, and can make no other Impression upon the Reader, than of his Impertinence and Boldness in venturing to forge a Description without Foundation, and without Probability. For my Part, I have had the Pleasure of being in Dublin above two years and have all that Time to be acquainted with the Genius and Temper of the People, and in the Picture I have drawn of them I have only expressed the Sentiments of my Heart and paid to Virtue the tribute that is her due.


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