More Maps: John Speed’s Depictions of Ireland

Today we’re taking a look at John Speed’s depictions of Ireland in his Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine, published in 1611/1612.  Speed (1552-1629), the best-known mapmaker of his era, included an overview of Ireland and maps of each province in his atlas.  As I described in a previous post, Speed used previously compiled sources to inform his atlas, but made the maps and other elements himself.

John Speed, Kingdome of Ireland - photo credit: British Library

John Speed, Kingdome of Ireland – photo credit: British Library

R. Dudley Edwards and Mary O’Dowd noted the importance of Speed’s maps in their Sources for Early Modern Irish History, 1534-1641, writing:

Among the most ambitious projects commissioned by a London bookseller in the early seventeenth century was John Speed’s Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain, which appeared in 1611.  Speed devoted special attention to Ireland for which he provided a general map of the country and separate provincial maps.  This gives him, in the opinion of J.H. Andrews, the claim to be, in the eyes of contemporaries, the author of the definitive map as known till the mid seventeenth century in Britain and abroad.  Speed’s work was based on some of the ‘regional surveys, especially in the north, as well as Mercator’s general map of 1595, and, less, happily, Boazio.’  His work included the first printed plans for the towns of Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick.  As Dr. Nuala Burke pointed out, Speed’s work was not necessarily up to date.  She considers, however, that Speed can be regarded as giving a ‘reasonably correct general impression of the actual early seventeenth century topography,’ though there can be errors in matters of detail.

While this was considered the definitive map of Ireland and its provinces for its time, there are biases and agendas at work in Speed’s depictions.  Continue reading