Ordnance Survey Memoirs

The Ordnance Survey Memoirs arose out of a series of events that began in 1824 when a House of Commons committee recommended a townland survey of Ireland with maps at the scale of six inches to one statute mile to facilitate a uniform valuation for local taxation. The survey was directed by Colonel Thomas Colby, who had available to him officers of the Royal Engineers and three companies of sappers and miners. In addition, civil servants were recruited to help with sketching, drawing and engraving of the maps and eventually, in the 1830s, with the writing of the memoirs. The memoirs were written descriptions intended to accompany the maps, containing information that could not be fitted on to them.


They are a unique source for the history of the county before the Great Famine, as they document the landscape and situation, buildings and antiquities, land-holdings and population, employment and livelihoods of the people at the level of the civil parish. The surveyors recorded the habits of the people, their food, drink, dress and customs. They also provide information on local schools, churches and landed estates as well as descriptions of the towns and villages and, in some cases, individual townlands.

Some information on local names can also be found within the memoirs. For example, the following was written about the townland of Ballynacross in the OS Memoir for the parish of Maghera, p. 53.

Ballynacross contains 28 farmers and 6 cottiers. The average rent of the freeholds is 2s 6d per acre. The undertenants pay 35s per acre. The following are the tenants who hold under the head proprietors viz. Doctor Grey, Robert Elliott, Samuel Elliott, William Elliott, Ralph Lapsley, James Grey, Isaac Fleming, George Scott, Robert Lockart, John Lapsley, David McKowen, Francis Caskey, Hugh Lammon, Jacob Johnstone, Richard Johnstone, Robert Crawford (non-resident), Robert Martin, Charles McCahey, William Clark (non-resident), Hugh Marlin and James Marlin. There is no 2-storey houses in the townland but all the houses are built of stone and thatched, and in much better repair and more comfortable, both inside and outside, than those of Slaghtyboggy.

The townland is divided into Upper and Lower Ballynacross, as the houses are chiefly in 2 clusters. Jacob Johnstone and a few others in the upper half-town have the front of their houses ornamented with a little flower ground, which presents a neater appearance than the other houses. It is quite evident that the tenants are more industrious than the tenants of Slaghtyboggy. The inhabitants were more wealthy about 30 years ago. The decrease is owing to a failure in the linen trade, as many are weavers in the townland. The heirs of the Honourable Thomas Connolly are the proprietors.

Information from Doctor Grey and some of the above freeholders. 7th and 8th January 1837.

Many of these names can be seen in the 1831 Census Returns for the townland. A copy of one of the pages from a microfilm copy of this census is shown below. You can check the rest of the names in Ballynacross in the 1831 Census Returns database in the left-hand menu of the CD. Details of the leases that these people held can be seen at the Estate Records link in the top menu of the CD.


There is also considerable information on persons who emigrated from each parish during the years 1834 and 1835 [see the Emigration from Co. Londonderry 1834-35 database at the Emigration Sources link in the top menu]. There are also examples of letters from emigrants - click here to see a copy of a letter from an emigrant to Canada, James Ward, to his father, Bryan Ward of Cumber, near Claudy.

This extract [p.]on farmers and cottiers is taken from the Ordnance Survey Memoir (1836) for the parish of Artrea, also in South Derry. What is said here would apply to many areas within North Ulster.

Farmers and Manufactures

In Ballyeglish [near the town of Moneymore] and some of the neighbouring townlands there are a good many very snug farmers who have got comfortable and commodious residences, displaying a tolerable idea of taste and comfort in their situation, construction and the manner in which they are kept.

Many of these farmers are what are termed 'manufacturers', that is, they buy yarn which they give out to be woven and sell the cloth in the markets. But few of these can employ more than 5 or 10 weavers, and the custom which was at one time common is not so common now. These farmers hold from 8 to 20 acres …..

They consume a good deal of bacon or hung beef, and this with eggs, stirabout, milk and potatoes constitutes their food. They use some tea and baker's bread, and at fairs and markets they indulge in a little whiskey.

The manufacturing classes [I think the writer means the people who do the weaving] are tolerably comfortable, and considering their situation live pretty well. Flesh meat they seldom use, but milk and the other articles commonly used constitute their food. They are in general sober except at fairs when they are sometimes in the habit of indulging in whiskey.


The poorest class is that which subsists by agricultural labour, who are not weavers, hold no land, have to purchase their provisions and are a considerable portion of the year without employment. They live very poorly and their cabins are in general small and consist of one apartment, but are all built of stone and thatched.

At the time of the original Memoirs only one volume was ever published in 1837: that for the parish of Templemore (including the city of Derry), County Londonderry. In the 1990s the remaining Memoirs were published in 40 volumes by the Institute of Irish Studies at Queen’s University Belfast. A massive index running to over 100,000 entries for people and places has also been published - Patrick McWilliams, Index to Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland Series: People and Places, Institute of Irish Studies, Queen's University, Belfast, 2002. I have used this index frequently and I have been able to find both individuals and some obscure place-names in the books by using this index. Copies of the index is available at most libraries.

The memoirs for Co. Londonderry were published in fourteen volumes.

Parishes of Co. Londonderry, I [Vol. 6] - Arboe, Artrea, Ballinderry, Ballyscullion, Magherafelt and Termoneeeny [1990]

Parishes of Co. Londonderry, II [Vol. 9] - Balteagh and Drumachose [1991]

Parishes of Co. Londonderry, III [Vol. 11] - Aghanloo, Dunboe and Magilligan [1991]

Parishes of Co. Londonderry, IV [Vol. 15] - Dungiven [1992]

Parishes of Co. Londonderry, V [Vol. 18] - Maghera and Tamlaght O'Crilly [1993]

Parishes of Co. Londonderry, VI [Vol. 22] - Aghadowey, Agivey, Ballyrashane, Kildollagh and Macosquin [1993]

Parishes of Co. Londonderry, VII [Vol. 25] - Bovevagh and Tamlaght Finlagan [1994]

Parishes of Co. Londonderry, VIII [Vol. 27] - Desertoghill, Errigal, Killelagh and Kilrea [1994]

Parishes of Co. Londonderry, IX [Vol. 28] - Cumber Lower and Upper [1995]

Parishes of Co. Londonderry, X [Vol. 30] - Banagher [1995]

Parishes of Co. Londonderry, XI [Vol. 31] - Ballynascreen, Desertlyn, Desertmartin, Kilcronaghan and Lissan [1995]

Parishes of Co. Londonderry, XII [Vol. 33] - Ballyaghran, Ballywillin, Coleraine and Killowen [1995]

Parishes of Co. Londonderry, XIII [Vol. 34] - Clondermot and the Waterside [1996]

Parishes of Co. Londonderry, XIV [Vol. 36] - Faughanvale [1996]

It is also worth mentioning two other publications which complement the memoirs. These are;

John O'Donovan's letters from County Londonderry (1834) published by the Ballinascreen Historical Society (1992). O'Donovan was one of the men who conducted the surveys for the OS Memoirs and he had been urged by Colby, Larcom and others in charge to keep his eyes open for antiquities of every kind and his ears open for history, legend and lore. The letters in the book contain information relative to the antiquities of the county of Londonderry collected during the progress of The Ordnance Survey. It is because of the efforts of men such as O'Donovan, that the memoirs for the county are so rich in information compared to those for many other counties.

John MacCloskey's Statistical Reports (1821) published by the Ballinascreen Historical Society (1983 and 1986 [hardback]). These reports on the parishes of Ballinascreen, Kilcronaghan, Desertmartin, Banagher, Dungiven and Bovevagh predate the memoirs but, in many ways, are the  forerunners of the reports that the OS surveyors were to make. In fact O'Donovan sent these reports to the Ordnance Survey in Dublin. O'Donovan had a very high regard for MacCloskey, who was classical teacher. For MacCloskey to have won the admiration of O'Donovan, a leading Irish scholar, was a considerable achievement.

In my view, the memoirs for Co. Londonderry when used in conjunction with the 1831 Census Returns, the Tithe Books, the Townland Valuation, of the 1830s, the first edition of the Ordnance Survey map and the British Parliamentary Papers provide comprehensive evidence of life and work in Pre-Famine times.

I was also surprised by the number of names in the memoirs that I could match with contemporary census and tithe records. A very important item in this process was the comprehensive index provided by the Institute of Irish Studies publication.


Like Londonderry, the OS memoirs for Co. Antrim provide a rich source of information for the 1830s. Below are the volumes which cover North and Mid Antrim.

Parishes of Co. Antrim, III [Vol. 10] - Carncastle, Killyglen, Island Magee, Kilwaughter and Larne [1991]

Parishes of Co. Antrim, IV [Vol. 13] - Ardclinis, Dunaghy, Grange of Dundermot, Grange of Layd & Inispollan, Layd, Loughguile, Newtown Crommelin, Racavan, Skerry and Tickmacrevan [1991]

Parishes of Co. Antrim, V [Vol. 16] - Ballymoney, Ballyrashane, Ballywillin, Billy, Derrykeighan, Grange of Drumtullagh Dunluce and Kilraghts [1992]

Parishes of Co. Antrim, VI [Vol. 19] - Ballyscullion, Connor, Cranfield, Drummaul, Duneane, Grange of Shilvodan [1993]

Parishes of Co. Antrim, VIII [Vol. 23] - Ahoghill, Ballyclug, Finvoy, Killagan, Kirkinrola and Rasharkin [1993]

Parishes of Co. Antrim, IX [Vol. 24] - Armoy, Ballintoy, Culfeightrin, Ramoan and rathlin Island [1994]

Parishes of Co. Antrim, XI [Vol. 29] - Antrim, Doagh, Donegore and Kilbride [1995]

Parishes of Co. Antrim, XII [Vol. 32] - Ballycor, Ballylinny, Ballynure, Glenwhirry, Raloo and Rashee [1995]

Click here to read some extracts from the OS Memoir for the Parish of Ballymoney.

Click here to read some extracts from the OS Memoir for the Parish of Ballintoy.

Here are a number of iinteresting extracts about the town of Ballymena in the parish of Kirkinriola.

Social Economy: Improvements

The linen trade has been the means of rendering the manufacturing class comfortable in their circumstances and their proximity to such a market as Ballymena, where the farmers can obtain prices very little below those in Belfast for their pork, butter and grain, has certainly contributed to their independence. All classes are comparatively com-fortable and independent and at no period has this parish been in a more prosperous state, owing to the improvements in the price of and demand for linen, in the manufacture of which they are chiefly engaged. There are not any extensive farmers, nor many wealthy people among the lower ranks, but they are generally speaking snug and comfortable in their circumstances and manner of living. [p.105]

Linen Market

The great weekly market is held on Saturdays. This market is increasing and has increased considerably of late years. Armagh was formerly considered the greatest inland market in Ireland, Dungannon the second and Ballymena the third. Now Ballymena is considered equal, if not supe-rior, to Armagh and may probably be considered the greatest inland market in the kingdom. It has of late years almost totally absorbed the trade of the surrounding towns and country. The linen markets of Portglenone, Randalstown, and Ahoghill have merged into it, and much of the fine linen formerly sold in the Belfast market is now brought here. [p.99]

Emigration and Migration

There is very little emigration from this parish. The people are generally doing well at home and not more than 10 individuals (on an average) annually emigrate. They embark mostly in spring and go to Canada or the United States of America; few return.

Amusements and Character of the People

The Ballymena people are but little disposed for amusement, there being no public amusements nor convivial meetings. In the town there is little society except among families which are connected or intermarried. Party politics seem to operate against the interests of those espousing different opinions and here they are carried to a high pitch. The conservatives are, however, the stronger party. The others number but few of the gentry or upper class.

Strangers will find the town of Ballymena stupid and inhospitable, the people being chiefly engaged in business and solely bent upon making money. There is, however, a good deal of nice society among the neighbouring gentry and clergy, who are hospitable and attentive to strangers.

Again using the People and Places Index, you should be able to see if any people or townlands that interest you are to be found in the Co. Antrim Memoirs.

Note that the original Ordnance Survey Memoirs are held in the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin. PRONI holds microfilm copies of these originals under MIC6C/10-16.

Copyright 2011 W. Macafee.