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Folklore in the Ordnance Survey Memoirs

The Ordnance Survey memoirs


The deep vein of legend and lore that runs through the Ordnance Survey Memoirs for Londonderry owes a debt of gratitude to the rich oral tradition the writers drew upon. The OS Memoirs were the result of a request by House of Commons committee in 1824 for a townland survey of Ireland. The scheme went ahead and the result was a detailed and comprehensive overview of life in the north of Ireland at that time. Londonderry in particular fared well from the scheme; as one of the first counties to be covered, it benefited from a great deal of time and labour not afforded most of the other counties. As such the memoirs for Londonderry are a colourful tapestry not just of land holdings and public buildings, but of a way of life largely perished after the Great Famine. An intriguing insight into the habits and idiosyncrasies of the people, their beliefs, fears and superstitions. And while some memoir writers may deride these superstitions as ‘absurd’ and ‘puerile’, as the ‘weakness of the people’, not all writers were so unresponsive. So that these stories are told not just with contempt but with an indulgent fascination for the less ordinary. And so we learn of holy wells and sacred bushes, of strange nocturnal disturbances, and of men blighted by greed and a lack of regard for these very superstitions.

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