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Thread: John O'Donovan's Work: Topographer and Scholar of Irish Antiquities

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    Join Date
    Feb 2010

    Default John O'Donovan's Work: Topographer and Scholar of Irish Antiquities

    I first came across John O'Donovan after buying a book called the Ordnance Survey Letters Roscommon. At the time of the amazingly detailed OS mapping of Ireland in the 1830's... possibly the only positive thing to come from the British army...John O'Donovan was tasked with the job of traveling the country to record the topographical information in each locality to go with the maps, particularly the townland names and their translations, but also some other priceless nuggets of local history he aquired from locals in each area.
    The Ordnance Survey Letters are an invaluable resource in local topographical history and unfortunately he didn't get to complete the whole country. Thirteen counties were finished, unfortunately all 32 were not covered.

    He also produced books on the Tribes and Customs of the O'Kelly of Ui Maine and of the O'Dowdas of Ui Fiachrach along with other scholarly work.

    Following the death of Edward O'Reilly in August 1830, he was recruited to the Topographical Department of the first Ordnance Survey of Ireland under George Petrie in October 1830. Apart from a brief period in 1833, he worked steadily for the Survey on place-name researches until 1842, unearthing and preserving many manuscripts. After that date, O'Donovan's work with the Survey tailed off, although he was called upon from time to time to undertake place-name research on a day-to-day basis. He researched maps and manuscripts at many libraries and archives in Ireland and England, with a view to establishing the correct origin of as many of Ireland's 63,000 townland names as possible. His letters to Larcom are regarded as an important record of the ancient lore of Ireland for those counties he documented during his years of travel throughout much of Ireland.

    There does seem to be some criticism of him on the wiki page;
    After the sappers on the ground had noted down the place-names from the locals as best they could, it was O'Donovan who checked the earlier textual and cartographical sources, and having decided on the correct Irish form of each name, wrote down not the Irish but the Anglicized form that was to appear on the map. It was a very great betrayal, for as he himself noted, many of these names become very indistinct when transcribed in English phonetic values. It was the second great trauma of the sense of place in Ireland".[12]
    However, his work seems to be invaluable and place name and topographical research is fascinating and side of our history that can be quite difficult to get good information on. If anyone else has resources on this sort of thing it would be great to know. Logainm is very good and there is a sticky thread on it I think.
    Last edited by Fraxinus; 14-09-2017 at 10:47 PM.


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