Maps hold a fascination for many people and often the success of a holiday rests on the pre-planning and pouring over of maps to plot routes and points of interest. Sat-Nav is too functional for pleasure.
So the publication of If Maps Could Speak written by Waterford born Richard Kirwan, from the Mattie’s Hill end of Canon Street is a signal and significant event and the inclusion of photographs, maps and chapters of local interest is wonderful.
Kirwan was Director of Ordnance Survey Ireland, a body recently in the news for its new Official Road Atlas Ireland, where parts of County Kilkenny were listed as being in County Waterford.
Map-making is a fascinating subject and Kirwan has an easy style that shares a deep love of the topic with significant involvement as the OSI moved from older cartographers into the late 20th century application of photographic and digital computer technology.
It is also interesting that a British publication Map of a Nation by Rachel Hewitt has just been launched to trace the British Ordnance Survey.
The love that the young Dick Kirwan had for maps growing up in Waterford is well expressed as is his descriptions of the painstaking routine of measurement up hill and down roads in a very isolated landscape.
There was a military connection, hence the word “Ordnance” and the young graduate civil engineer had to enlist in the Corps of Engineers and wear a military uniform. The chapter describing his initial interview is very humour indeed.
The title is very evocative and Kirwan devotes considerable attention to Thomas Colby whose work also dominates the British publication. The detail and concern with place names is part of my fascination with this book and it still galls me to see Portlaw being translated as Port Lach on county Waterford signage.
Dick Kirwan manages to humanise the business of map-making hence the reference to maps speaking and his telling of the gradual progress of computerisation is a strong point in this book.
Kirwan’s comments about the recession in the 1980’s is of particular interest today as he outlines how the OSI coped with change and pressure to comply with Government imposed embargos on recruitment and promotions. You sense the frustration and “hardball” tactics as a need for 850 people when only 350 were sanctioned and it took 17 years until one additional cartographer could be employed. So much for quick fix solutions or four year master plans.
Towards the end of this book the emotions released in The Font of Enlightenment and the peace that settles on the author came as a human surprise to me and I think many will love this book for this chapter alone.
The Waterford launch of If Maps Could Speak will take place in The Book Centre on Friday 5th November.