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Tracing Time – Exploring Maps at The National Archives

Co Author:
Yvonne Cullivan

Visual artist Yvonne Cullivan on mapping the visible and invisible, the old and new of the Liberties with students from Warrenmount Presentation Secondary School, St Patrick’s Cathedral Grammar School and Synge St CBS as part of Dublin’s Culture Connects’ The National Neighbourhood on Dublin’s southside.

I have always been interested in maps. I begin every new project with the purchase of an ordinance survey map of the area in focus and pin it to my studio wall, studying it carefully, marking it as I physically explore the place, and adding written details on post-it notes and highlighting features as a project grows. When invited to work on Dublin’s Culture Connects’ The National Neighbourhood, I knew that exploring and making maps would be part of the process.

My first port of call was to The National Archives of Ireland, where I joined a Culture Connects group to take a tour with the enthusiastic and time-generous Keeper Tom Quinlan. The National Archives are vast and initially overwhelming when one is not sure what exactly one is looking for. However, Tom guided me toward a room brim-full of drawers and began to reveal a wonderful collection of 18th Century maps of Dublin City. I knew I had found treasure.

I spent many hours poring over these maps in the comfortable setting of the Readers’ Room, marvelling at their detail and beauty. I found an exceptional floor plan of Dublin Castle, rendered on parchment that was then adhered to heavy canvas, the latter edged in pink satin ribbon, all folded and held within a thick leather pouch. I was terrified to touch it for fear that it would fall apart in my hands. The original hand-drawn maps of the city are equally fragile, their worn parchment held together with heavy cardboard rims for handling. They were drawn carefully and in minute detail, in thin grey outlines and faded red inks.

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Yvonne Cullivan working with the students from Warrenmount as part of The National Neighbourhood

Slightly later, I found more microscopic ordnance survey maps, similarly crafted in faded red ink and grey outline, that became the most intriguing to me. Within these I found beautiful renderings of what appear to be very ornate long-form back gardens all over the city, vast areas within the city dedicated to vegetable gardens, and, on a darker note, a prevalence of breweries (now making a comeback), almshouses and asylums. It is fascinating to see what once existed within The Liberties area in particular, the area of Dublin with which I would be most acquainted, and to compare the contemporary nature of that area – architecturally, economically and socially – to what the maps reveal of its history. I feel that I am beginning to understand the nature of this part of Dublin city on a deeper level.

Subsequently working with a group of transition year students from Warrenmount Presentation Secondary School, nestled in the heart of The Liberties, has added to this sense of growing knowledge and understanding. We brought the students to the National Archives, as part of The National Neighbourhood, to view the maps that I had chosen for them: they viewed them with magnifying glasses and what seemed to be genuinely equal enthusiasm to mine. They were amazed at how the maps had been rendered and fascinated by the task of finding their school and their homes. We gathered in the Conference Room of the National Archives for this viewing and could lift our eyes from the maps to gaze out over an elevated view of the city – the skyline full of cranes – and try to pick out landmarks to orientate ourselves.

During the following session, the girls from Warrenmount braved the icy weather to undertake a walking tour of the area around their school. The task was to walk slowly and really try to observe the place that they considered themselves so familiar with. I asked them to use their camera phones to capture specific images such as architectural details, instances where old and new collide, color and texture, gaps and throughways. Along the way we noted street names and tried to share what we knew about their reference. We discovered that there is an tunnel running under-neath the small park and that the area is named The Tenters due to the hanging out of linen to bleach in the sun. Thanks to Anne Maree Barry’s short film, we also discovered that the river Poddle still flows under our feet, all the way through the Liberties and through Dublin Castle to join the Liffey. The history of that river and its impact on the Liberties is fascinating.

It was very fitting that my final session with the students took place in Dublin Castle itself, in The Poddle Room of The Printworks Conference Centre. Before settling into the task of creating some visual art works, we took a tour of the medieval underground section of the Castle with Jenny Pa-passotiriou, Dublin Castle Education Curator – bringing to life the idea of a map of the city lying under our feet.

Mapping, layering, and juxtaposing the historical and the contemporary. These were the words and ideas that lead me to suggest creating layered collages with the class from Warrenmount, and with the other schools participating; St. Patrick’s Cathedral Grammar School and Synge Street C.B.S. After warming up with some hot chocolates, the Warrenmount group set about the task, creating wonderful layered collages using contemporary maps, their own hand-drawn interpreta-tions of these maps, portraits, and some of the many photographs they had captured on the walk of their area.

The work and the learning continue to unfold.

Yvonne Cullivan, 2018.

With the National Neighbourhood, we want every neighbourhood to know and “own” their city’s cultural resources so we build cultural projects in community settings. We connect artists, groups and villages with libraries, museums and creative places to deepen their understanding of each other and themselves.

The National Neighbourhood spans the Dublin City Council region, and brings together Dublin City Council’s City Library & Archive, the area offices, the City Arts Office and Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, in partnership with National Cultural Institutions (The Abbey Theatre, The National Museum of Ireland, The National Library of Ireland, The National Gallery of Ireland, The National Concert Hall, The Chester Beatty Library, The National Archives and The Irish Museum of Modern Art).

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