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.
OS MEMOIRS FOR CO. LONDONDERRY
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.
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. Click here to check the rest of the names in Ballynacross in the 1831 Census Returns plus details of the leases that these people held at that time.
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 Other Records webpage. 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 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.
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 
Parishes of Co. Londonderry, II [Vol. 9] - Balteagh and Drumachose 
Parishes of Co. Londonderry, III [Vol. 11] - Aghanloo, Dunboe and Magilligan 
Parishes of Co. Londonderry, IV [Vol. 15] - Dungiven 
Parishes of Co. Londonderry, V [Vol. 18] - Maghera and Tamlaght O'Crilly 
Parishes of Co. Londonderry, VI [Vol. 22] - Aghadowey, Agivey, Ballyrashane, Kildollagh and Macosquin 
Parishes of Co. Londonderry, VII [Vol. 25] - Bovevagh and Tamlaght Finlagan 
Parishes of Co. Londonderry, VIII [Vol. 27] - Desertoghill, Errigal, Killelagh and Kilrea 
Parishes of Co. Londonderry, IX [Vol. 28] - Cumber Lower and Upper 
Parishes of Co. Londonderry, X [Vol. 30] - Banagher 
Parishes of Co. Londonderry, XI [Vol. 31] - Ballynascreen, Desertlyn, Desertmartin, Kilcronaghan and Lissan 
Parishes of Co. Londonderry, XII [Vol. 33] - Ballyaghran, Ballywillin, Coleraine and Killowen 
Parishes of Co. Londonderry, XIII [Vol. 34] - Clondermot and the Waterside 
Parishes of Co. Londonderry, XIV [Vol. 36] - Faughanvale 
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.
OS MEMOIRS FOR CO. ANTRIM
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 
Parishes of Co. Antrim, IV [Vol. 13] - Ardclinis, Dunaghy, Grange of Dundermot, Grange of Layd & Inispollan, Layd, Loughguile, Newtown Crommelin, Racavan, Skerry and Tickmacrevan 
Parishes of Co. Antrim, V [Vol. 16] - Ballymoney, Ballyrashane, Ballywillin, Billy, Derrykeighan, Grange of Drumtullagh Dunluce and Kilraghts 
Parishes of Co. Antrim, VI [Vol. 19] - Ballyscullion, Connor, Cranfield, Drummaul, Duneane, Grange of Shilvodan 
Parishes of Co. Antrim, VIII [Vol. 23] - Ahoghill, Ballyclug, Finvoy, Killagan, Kirkinrola and Rasharkin 
Parishes of Co. Antrim, IX [Vol. 24] - Armoy, Ballintoy, Culfeightrin, Ramoan and rathlin Island 
Parishes of Co. Antrim, XI [Vol. 29] - Antrim, Doagh, Donegore and Kilbride 
Parishes of Co. Antrim, XII [Vol. 32] - Ballycor, Ballylinny, Ballynure, Glenwhirry, Raloo and Rashee 
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.
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 2015 W. Macafee.