Drawing lines on pages: remaking the Catholic parish maps of Ireland as a tidal public geography

Eoin O'Mahony, Michael Murphy


The Catholic parish is arguably the most fundamental unit of territory in Ireland. Over 1,300 of these units cover the entire land surface of the island. Their history and development tells the story of the accretion of institutional power by the Roman Catholic Church. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the Catholic parish became a means of organisation for an institutional church struggling with prohibition only later to become a key unit of social and political activity. Parishes are a vitally important way in which local identity in Ireland is connected with place. However, despite widespread use, the cartographical boundaries of Catholic parishes are not widely known. The boundaries have not been widely used on maps. This paper outlines the results of a project that attempted the initial digitisation of Catholic parish boundaries to make them more available.
In the first part of the paper, we outline the historical and geographical significance of the Catholic parish in Ireland. It is argued that the Catholic parish is both a social and a cartographic representation. The parish materialises a sense of place for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. In the second part of the paper, we report on the work of a project to digitally represent the boundaries of the Catholic parish and diocesan boundaries. It involved six years of work across two universities and a number of other state and non-state actors. More than a technical task, the cartographical representation of digital parish boundaries uncovered a series of local contestations. These contestations point to what are conceptualised here as a tidal geography: an understanding of the meaning of place that recedes and advances. The paper concludes with some challenges to the process of digitisation and a brief discussion of tidal geographies.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.2014/igj.v51i1.1344

URN: http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:irg:ie:0000-igj.v51i1.13445

URN (PDF): http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:irg:ie:0000-igj.v51i1.1344.g11206


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