Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mapping the Manor of Athy

James Fitzgerald, 20th Earl of Kildare and later 1st Duke of Leinster, commissioned the Anglo French cartographer John Rocques to survey his estates in County Kildare soon after Rocques came to Dublin in 1754.  Rocques had worked in England for 20 years during which time he prepared plans for various important country estates.  On arrival in Dublin he published proposals for a detailed survey of the city which appeared two years later engraved on four sheets.  He also published a town plan of Thurles in 1755 before he embarked on the Kildare estates survey.

The Earl of Kildare’s estates were mapped by Rocques in nearly 170 individual maps which were bound in eight oblong volumes covering approximately 68,000 acres.  Rocques helped by surveyors using theodolite and chain triangulation produced maps of unprecedented accuracy and detail. 

The first maps produced in 1756 were of the Manors of Athy and Woodstock, followed a year later by the Manors of Kildare and Maynooth.  The Athy Manor survey consisted of 20 maps, while that of Woodstock comprised 8 maps.  The Earl’s estates in Castledermot and Graney were mapped in 1758 and two years later maps were presented for the Manors of Kilkea and Rathangan.  The Manor maps were bound in red goatskin, with the title of each Manor surrounded by a decorative border tooled in gold on the upper cover. 

Six of the eight Manor folios were put up for auction by Sothebys of London in 1963.  It was then that Trinity College Dublin purchased the Manor maps for Athy and Kildare, while the Castledermot Folio went to the National Library Dublin.  The Woodstock Manor maps were purchased by the British Library, while Cambridge University acquired the Maynooth Manor Folio.  The Graney Manor Folio was purchased by Yale University.  The missing folios relating to the Manors of Kilkea and Rathangan remained undiscovered for many years until the Kilkea Folio was put up for sale by a London Auction House in 2003.  The Rathangan Manor Folio still remains untraced to this day. 

The original eight volumes were housed in the Duke of Leinster’s Library in Carton House Maynooth until 1849 when the library was sold.  They were then removed to Kilkea Castle where they remained until they were sold privately to a dealer.  It was that dealer, whose identity remains unknown, who put six of the folios up for auction in Sothebys of London in 1963.  Rocques maps of Athy are the earliest maps we have of the town and give a wealth of detail about the town at a time when it was emerging from the medieval past.

Interestingly the Lordship of St. John’s, that is Athy west of the River Barrow, was mapped for the Earl of Kildare by Bernard Scale in 1768.  In the early maps prepared by Rocques the main street of Athy running from the edge of the town on the Kilkenny side to the Dublin side of the town was called St. John’s Street and High Street.  The Bridge at White’s Castle separated the two streets, with High Street the name assigned to the town’s principal shopping street lying on the east side of the river.  Over the bridge was St. John’s Street, obviously a name harping back to the monastery which in the 13th and 14th centuries occupied a site adjacent to the present St. John’s Cemetery.  We still retain the name St. John’s Lane for the laneway which runs at the side of that cemetery, but St. John’s Street has long been renamed Duke Street.  It was the second Duke of Leinster, William Robert Fitzgerald whose name is recalled in the town street names which replaced the original medieval street names in the last decade of the 18th century.

On Thursday, 20th November at 7.30 p.m., Castledermot born writer John MacKenna will have his latest novel launched by radio presenter Joe Duffy.  The launch takes place in the Arboretum, Carlow and promises to be an interesting and entertaining evening with Joe Duffy who presents every afternoon on RTE a programme which has been controversially described as a ‘whingers forum’.  In truth however a more reasoned view would regard his programme as a major contribution to public broadcasting in Ireland.  His programme allows the general public access to the airwaves at a time, insofar as rural Ireland is concerned, when the same airwaves seem almost exclusively serviced by and for those living within the Dublin Pale.  Joe Duffy has recently made a very real contribution to Irish historical studies with his unique compilation of the names of the young children killed during the 1916 Rising.  I understand an open invitation is extended to everybody to attend the book launch in the Arboretum on the 20th and I am sure the author John MacKenna would appreciate support on the night.

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