Putting Skerries on the Map

Mapping Skerries, or any other part of Ireland, in the 1990s involves sophisticated plotting machines, computers and aerial photographs. Each contribute to the making of a map, which it is now possible to do in a very short time. It was not aways like that, as a glance at earlier maps will show.

Comparing old and new maps is a fascinating way of tracing the development of Skerries over the centuries. Place names alter while populations and landscapes change.

A barony survey of 1654, by Sir William Petty, shows the islands of “St. Patrick,” “Black Abill” and the “Skires”. The district was called “Oldpatrick.”

The famous French cartograppher John Rocque mapped Skerries In 1756. Comparing his survey to the aerial photographs taken in 1973, he did a remarkably accurate job. Rocque’s map refers to “Count” and “Shenex” islands and Red Island is called “Skerries Island”. That map does not show the Martello towers which were built in the very early 19th century, as a defence against a possible invasion by Napolean. However they do appear on William Duncan’s map of County Dublin in 1821.

Comparisons between maps of Skerries drawn in 1703 and 1760 suggest that it was the Hamilton family who were responsible for setting out the streets of the town as they are today.

On a sketchy map of the Skerries area drawn in 1703, Red Island is shown as separated from the mainland by a sand bar covered by the sea at high tide. On Roque’s map of 1760 Red Island is joined to the mainland, while the road appears on Duncan’s map of 1821. The isthmus joining the old village of Skerries to the harbour on Red Island was known as The Dorn and is shown on all three maps.

On the 1703 map, the village of Skerries is shown as a row of cottages, or cabins, forming a street, where Quay street now stands. At this time Skerries seems to have been an orderly place, unlike Holmpatrick, which was a randomly placed group of buildings.

In 1830 the people of Skerries would have been familiar with the officers and men of the Ordnance survey. They were busy completing the first large scale map of the area. Skerries had a population of about 2,600 inhabitants. The men were paid four shillings (25c.) a day and their local “inferior assistants” between nine pence (5c.) and two shillings (13c.) a day, depending on their age. Their main complaint seems to have been against the local pigs and poultry which left their “footprints everywhere in the house”.

19th century maps of Skerries reflect some of the social conditions of the times. The harnessing of water and wind to meet energy needs is evident from the mills in the town. Water wells are also shown everywhere, even in the main street.

A writer in 1836 remarked “Skerries will be much likely to be improved by the proposed building of the Drogheda Railway”. Yet the 1973 aerial photograph shows minor changes in the Skerries landscape when compared with the 1836 map, apart from the new estates of Sherlock Park and Holmpatrick. But the signs of impending change and expansion are there. Hillside, Townparks and St. Patrick’s Close are all under construction. Since then surburbia has crept further out from the town centre. What will aerial photographs of Skerries show in the next millenium?
Published here: November 2002