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Thursday, April 09, 2009

'An Actual Survey of the County of Wicklow'

The fairies came by theodolite. Shone
from peak to peak the sappers’ lanterns
seemed a door ajar on the furnaces
of faeryland. The people did not want maps.
To hill farmers the Ordnance Survey meant
the land agent and rent, a quill pen
scratching menacingly at what was once
‘unprofitable bogge and mountain’.

Gaelic Wicklow had no use for cartography,
last county to be incorporated
and most vexatious and warlike of territories.
Conquest brought no campaign maps; Petty’s
survey skirts over unforfeited land.
‘3 counties meet here’, Jacob Nevill
writes of Dublin and Kildare not once
but thrice in 1760, defying all

possibility. In far west Wicklow
the Dean of Christchurch decreed his estate
to lie in Dublin and so the map reads,
a cartouche of cherubs looking on
approvingly, but there is no colour
or relief to be had: where the mountains
loom, the scab-covered head screams
from its great jaw into Carlow.

Here though at least are Roundwood
and Blessington before their manmade lakes,
but the great oak forests are disappearing
or already gone: to be found, or where
they would have been, only in Ptolemy;
his Wicklow misshapen, its place names
and people a wilderness of conjecture,
drawn unseen, but drawn, rendered, mapped.

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