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The Antiquities of County Clare
Ordnance Survey Letters, 1839
by John O'Donovan & Eugene Curry

North Munster Antiquarian Journal,
Volume 44, 2004

Maureen Comber (ed.), John O’Donovan and Eugene O’Curry, The Antiquities of County Clare: Ordnance Survey Letters 1839, CLASP Press, Ennis, 2003, vi + 323 pp. ISBN 1 900545 15 2. Price €21. Maureen Comber (ed.), T.J. Westropp, Folklore of Clare, CLASP Press, Ennis, 2003, iv + 130 pp. ISBN 1 900545 16 0. Price €12.

The Ordnance Survey began in 1825 when military engineers were given the task of mapping the entire country at the scale of six inches to one statute mile. This was primarily to establish the exact boundaries of townlands, the smallest Irish administrative divisions which had long been in use for public and private transactions but which had never been properly delineated. This was seen as necessary then to establish a basis for valuation of land which in turn would be used for a new system of taxation. As part of the survey, attention was to be given to placenames and antiquities. The men sent out to conduct this fieldwork, by research, observation and interview transmitted their work back to the Dublin headquarters by letter and it is these invaluable documents that are reproduced in this volume. The letters are organised on a parish basis and the basic format is a description of its boundaries, discussion of names and description of all antiquities, particularly churches, castles, graveyards and holy wells. There are also fascinating insights into the marathon work undertaken by O’Curry and O’Donovan and the difficulties and privations which they faced.

This edition of the letters is based on a typescript produced in 1928 by Rev. Michael O’Flanagan of Bray. It was edited and indexed by Maureen Comber and first published in hardback in 1997. The availability of the work of these remarkable men in a paperback version to the wider public provides both enjoyable reading and a valuable research tool for anyone interested in local history research for County Clare. Clasp Press has also produced a paperback version of the articles on Irish folklore first published by Thomas Johnson Westropp in the journal of the English Folklore Society 1910-13 which they issued in hardback in 2000. This was reviewed in NMAJ, 41, 2001.

Mary Ryan.

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Other Reviews

Books Ireland,
September 1997

Irish Times,
September 1997

Examiner,
March 1998