by David Ryan
(Skerries Historical Society Meeting – April 2014)
The maps themselves are works of art. The earliest example was created by Gerardus Mercator, a sixteenth century Flemish cartographer and mathematician who produced an amazingly beautiful map of Ireland in about 1595. There is a wonderful sea monster ready to devour any foolhardy sailor who sets out from our stretch of the coastline. But which is our stretch of coastline? It seems Mercator didn’t rate Skerries very highly – he’s named ‘Rushe’ and even ‘Byll’ (Rockabill) but Skerries doesn’t get a mention.
Nearly one hundred years later in 1685 and William Petty sets things to rights by putting Skerries squarely ‘on the map’. Of course, he was working for that famous friend to Ireland, Oliver Cromwell, and his purpose was to ‘set down’ (in the Down Survey) all the land that was worth seizing from the defeated Irish Catholic Confederates. So it might have been better for Skerries if we had remained anonymous!
But it’s with William Duncan’s map of 1821 that we really start to get to grips with Skerries as a town, rather than a name on a map. Here we can see the streets laid out in the pattern we recognise today – this was down to the Hamilton family which had taken possession of Skerries in 1721 and they were determined to make their mark on it: Strand Street was designed with market days in mind, being wide enough to turn a horse and cart while all the haggling is happening around you. Later in the nineteenth century it was the turn of the Ordnance Survey to produce maps for every occasion – and they are still at it today.
Report by Oona Roycroft
Page updated – 23 / 04 / 2014