GRIFFITH, Sir Richard John (1784-1878). A General Map of Ireland to Accompany the Report of the Railway Commissioners. Dublin: [1839].

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Exceptionally fine folding engraved wall map, in 6 sheets (each sheet 25 x 31 inches) laid down on cartographic linen in 12 sections (overall size 75 x 62 inches). A beautiful map showing the geology of Ireland in bright colours, with an extensive key middle left.

This attractive and vibrant geological map of Ireland was the brainchild of George Bellas Greenough (1778-1855), who commissioned Griffith in 1811 to start work on the map. An early version of the map was probably displayed at Griffith's Dublin Society lectures during 1814, "but the absence of an accurate topographical base-map severely hampered the completion of the map. In an effort to remedy the deficiency he launched his own triangulation of Ireland (1819-24), but the arrival of the Ordnance Survey on the Irish scene during 1825 made his amateur efforts redundant... In 1825 Griffith [became] director of the general boundary survey of Ireland, and in 1827 commissioner of the general survey and valuation of rateable property. In the first of those two posts he was responsible for the identification and plotting of all of Ireland's county, barony, parish, and townland boundaries as a preliminary to their representation on the 6 inch maps of the Ordnance Survey. The second of the posts remained dormant until 1829, by which time the cartographic work of the Ordnance Survey had advanced sufficiently far to allow property valuation to commence, and he resigned his post of mining engineer to what since 1820 had been styled the Royal Dublin Society.

"As commissioner of valuation Griffith conducted two valuation surveys of Ireland: the townland valuation (1830-c.1842) and the highly detailed tenement valuation (1852-65). The latter came to be known throughout Ireland as 'the Griffith Valuation'. He claimed-with only partial justification-that a knowledge of the local solid geology was basic to meaningful land valuation, and he therefore instructed his valuators (at its maximum his staff numbered well over a hundred) in the making of geological observations. But, however he might protest to the contrary, these observations were really intended for the improvement of his geological map of Ireland, and from 1835 he was running from within the valuation office an entirely unauthorized geological survey of Ireland. For protracted periods one of the valuators-the able Patrick Ganly-was employed solely upon geological field investigation. Griffith was ever adept at blurring the distinction between his official duties and his private interests, and the headquarters of the valuation survey was for long located within his Dublin home of fifty years at 2 Fitzwilliam Place.

"Griffith's geological map of Ireland, still based on the inaccurate Irish map of Aaron Arrowsmith (1750-1823), elicited favourable comment when it was displayed before the British Association meeting in Dublin during August 1835. In October 1836 he became one of the four railway commissioners for Ireland, and persuaded his fellow commissioners that an understanding of regional geology was fundamental to the planning of the Irish railway system. In consequence the commissioners published his map, first in 1838 at a scale of 1:633,600, and then in May 1839 at a scale of 1:253,440, based on a fine new Ordnance Survey map of Ireland compiled under the direction of Thomas Aiskew Larcom. This magnificent quarter-inch geological map gives Griffith his claim to be hailed as 'the father of Irish geology'. Before 1855 the map underwent continuous revision, and during that year it was featured at the Universal Exhibition in Paris. Nevertheless, and despite Griffith's strenuous efforts, his making of the map failed to secure for him the directorship of the official geological survey of Ireland, established by the government in April 1845" (Gordon L. Herries Davies for DNB). For more information about this map, or a warm welcome to see it and others like it in our gallery at 72nd Street, NYC, please contact Caleb Kiffer