Ireland in the 16th century

As previously mentioned, we went to the Mercator musem a few weeks ago; and I was very intrigues by this 16th century Italian map of Ireland, apparently by the Roman cartographer Lafreri (possibly a Frenchman whose name was Lafréry).

I wonder how many places we can identify?

Lafreri Ireland
This being my home territory, I can make a few guesses.

"HULTONIA" is Ultonia, meaning Ulster.
"Logh Herne" is Lough Erne.
"Banda flu." is the River Bann.

"Donagal" looks at first sight like it is meant to be Donegal town; and it's tempting to identify "Leche" to the south with Laghey, which is however only a short distance from Donegal; and what then of "Afroye"? What of "Tellin" and "Ara" (??Ardara)? And surely "Sligach", just a bit anti-clockwise around the coast from the estuary of the river Erne, is our Sligo, which is also not so far from the estuary of the Erne – but inconveniently south of Donegal rather than north? Indeed, "Tonerella" looks a closer match to Donegal town.

"Norbowrowe" has me baffled, but the "Purgatoriū S. Patricij" is obviously St Patrick's Purgatory on Lough Derg, and "Swylly" and "Foyle" are rivers/inlet loughs rather than towns.

On the lower Bann, I must say I'm stuck to find place names that could be "Band****" of which the last letters are illegible, or indeed "Lampreston" – let alone "Racheres", "Wolwofrith" or the island of "Donselus" (which is roughly, but only very roughly, in the right place for Rathlin).

Then it gets easier – "Knokfergos" is obviously Carrickfergus, "Magynows" is the County Down heartland of the Magennis clan, "Isannium Pr" appears to be the Ards Peninsula, and "Stranford" and "Armach" are fairly obviously Strangford and Armagh.

Lafreri Ireland E

This is pretty easy; continuing down the cast, with little change from the modern spelling, we have Ardglass, Greencastle, Dundalk and Drogheda, with Navan, Trim and Mullingar inland from the last of these. (Dundalk is on the Castletown River, Abhainn Chaisleán Dhún Dealgan in Irish, which doesn't look a lot like Lafreri's "Dongale").

Farther down, I'm not at all sure about "Brúnor", "Greenok" or "Ledepe" but "Holmpadryk insule" are the Skerries off Skerries, onme of which is St Patrick's Island, and the others are obviously enough Lambay, Ireland's Eye and Howth (which was probably a peninsula rather than an island at that point).

Continuing south, we have Dublin itself, Bray Head, Kildare, Leighlin, Wicklow, Arklow, [New] Ross, and – one last puzzle – "Blascarryk".

Lafreri Ireland S

I'm going to confusingly go right to left here, west to east, but it's consistent with going clockwise round the island.

In County Wexford, the town itself escapes notice but I'm pretty sure that "Fodirt" is Fethard. "Suirus" is the mislabelled River Suir, and Kilkenny, Thomastown, Waterford and Dungarvan are pretty clear.

The towns on the real (as opposed to mislabelled) Suir are a bit confused – "Charigeu" must be Carrick-onSuir, "Clemel" Clonmel, "Carrick" actually Cahir, and "Cassel" Cashel.

After the relatively clear nomenclature of the east coast, we are back in the wilds from Cork on. "Balycotyn", anyone? "Enchilford"? I can see at least Baltimore, Cape Clear, Berehaven, Dingle and the Blaskets, but my Munster geography is not all that great. Swinging back north again we have Limerick, Galway and, far inland, Athlone.

Lafreri Ireland W

Finally, the Wild West. (And let's bear in mind that this area is north of Galway and south of Donegal). There are ten place names on this part of the map, and the only one I can identify is the somewhat misplaced Armagh. Can you do any better?

The lesson here, of course, is not to sneer at the heroic efforts of early modern cartographers to put names to places they (and most of their customers) would never visit, but to consider how the perception of Ireland's geography has changed over the centuries. For a 16th-century merchant of Rome, a vague sense of the relative dispositions of Ardglass, Dundalk, Dublin and Dungarvan was much more important than knowing whether Sligo was north of Donegal or vice versa. Today we think we have nice objective measures to tell us where we ought to be. But are we missing some of the human dimension that Lafreri, perhaps unintentionally, captured half a millennium ago?

One thought on “Ireland in the 16th century

  1. I think reasonable people can disagree on this.

    The fact that new appointments are made either by a democratically elected official (the PM) or else by an expert commission is I think relevant, and softens (though certainly does not remove) the charge of lack of democratic accountability. (The Clegg reform would not have helped much there either, as members were to be elected for non-renewable terms; you could vote them in, but not out.)

    The by-elections for hereditary peers, however, are genuinely scandalous in democratic principle, even by the low standards of British constitutional practice, and IMHO the article is right to draw attention to them.

    Personally I disagree with both points of view. To me, by far the most ludicrous bit of current House of Lords arrangements is the presence of 26 Church of England bishops in the chamber, and one of the many flaws of the Clegg reform was that it would have increased the percentage of Lords Spiritual in the total number.

    It will be interesting to see how the Irish debate goes. Political parties who promised to vote for the abolition of the Senate in the last election are now backtracking in the face of intimidation from their own Senators; but I suspect that the electorate will deliver a pretty firm answer when asked if they would like to cut the number of salaried national parliamentarians by 30%.

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