The first half of the 1600's was a tumultuous and violent time in Irish history. War and Oliver Cromwell's troops ravished the countryside. By 1650, Ireland was in ruins, with twenty percent of its population dead and its infrastructure demolished. When the fighting stopped, Cromwell began an immense feat of social engineering: taking land from Catholics, moving those families to the western regions of Connaught, and redistributing the lands to English Protestants.
What did Cromwell need to accomplish this historic movement of people and transfer of lands? Maps--accurate and detailed maps of the whole of Ireland. So, his cartographers and surveyors completed what has come to be known as the Down Survey of Ireland 1656-58.
Most of the maps survived, but in different institutions, and in paper form. An ambitious Trinity College Dublin project has brought together and digitized the maps and made them available, free, online. Not only are these maps available, but the project has combined the maps in a Geographic Information System (GIS) that brings together, in an interactive format, the maps plus contemporaneous historical sources (Books of Survey and Distribution, the 1641 Depositions, the 1659 census). But the project did not stop there--it has GEOREFERENCED the Down Survey with the Ordnance Survey maps (mid 1800's), and with Google maps, and satellite imagery. PLUS, the website has historical time lines, summaries, and references. PLUS, the database is searchable by many methods, including names.
This site is a genealogical gold mine for many family researchers who have hit a brick wall before the 1700's in their research. It is an important resource for descendants of families whose lands were confiscated by Cromwell's forces and whose ancestors were forcibly relocated to the western Irish regions. It is equally important to those researchers whose ancestors were transplanted to Ireland or given land during the 1600's.
Besides being of genealogical value, the site is an amazing example of how modern technology can bring history alive in ways never before imagined. Even if you are not currently researching your ancestors in 1600's Ireland, please spend some time examining the site and its resources. You will be amazed by its interactive features, and you will learn about an important time in Ireland's--and your ancestors'--history.
THE DOWN SURVEY OF IRELAND (Trinity College Dublin):