Two Early Plans of Cork

The following article is a revised version of a previous offering, entitled ‘The oldest map of Cork’.

The anonymous ‘Tower of London plan’, shown below, was probably commissioned for military purposes. It has a surprisingly early date of 1545 marked on it, and appears to be the oldest survey of Cork.   It is, however, a copy and the original plan, which was stored in the Tower of London, has been lost.

A plan of Cork 1545. (Tower of London)
Klasen’s copy of the Plan of Cork, dated 1545  (Tower of London)

The history of the surviving plan is worthy of attention.  It was made from a lithograph by Peter Joseph Klasen (born c. 1817), who was a civil engineer from Germany.  He was employed as District Engineer by the Board of Public Works in Ireland for part of his life  (Dictionary of Irish Architects 1720-1940).  Klasen’s plan was first published in Tuckey’s Cork Remembrancer  in 1837 and is based on an earlier map, which may not have been the original ‘Tower of London’ plan.  It appears that Klasen imported the skill of lithography, where a mirror image is created by etching detail from an image onto a limestone block.  Based on the modern typefaces used to denote the place-names on the map, and the neat arrangement of these names, it is seems likely that Klasen tidied up the map, and modified older spellings, such as ‘marshe’.

The sophisticated style of the Tower of London plan is immediately apparent, when compared to other sixteenth century surveys, although there is only minimal representation of the city’s buildings. It has clearly has been based on a careful survey.  A large area of the floodplain both to the west and east of the walled city is covered, extending from where the North and South Channels divide, to where they rejoin.  As many as nine marshy islands are recognized to the west of the walled city and four more are drawn to the east.  Taken as a whole, the plan reveals a surprising amount of detail about the geomorphology of the estuary, and the branching nature of the channels upstream and the gradual widening of the tidal channels downstream are both obvious.  Indeed, the area to the east of the medieval city and nearest to the Cork Harbour appears to have comprised as much water as land.

On the Pacata Hibernia plan, which is thought to be later (1585-1600), the medieval city of Cork is seen from a bird’s eye view.  The sweeping lines of the plan are as much artistic as accurate and some historians consider that, rather than the ‘Tower of London’ plan, it represents the earliest record of Cork’s urban fabric (Kenneth Nicholls in the Atlas of Cork City, 2005).

Plan of Cork (Pacata Hibernia), 1585-1600.

The view is from the east, and three main channels flow towards the observer. These  waterways  are clearly shown as flowing both through and around the walled city.  The Anglo-Irish settlement is markedly oval in shape. The three bridges, which carry the spinal main street over the channels, are drawn in such detail that their style of construction is easy to make out.  Upstream of the city, the North Channel is shown as the widest channel. The perpendicular nature of the Western and Eastern Canals relative to the natural grain of the valley is obvious as is their position close to the city walls. The intramural harbour on the Middle Channel can also be seen, protected by a water gate at its eastern end.  The extra-mural islands are not named, each being labelled simply ‘a marshe’.


During the second half of the sixteenth century, the skill-set available to surveyors and the ‘art of cartography’ itself, was evolving rapidly (see for example, Maps in those days. Cartographic methods before 1850 by J.H. Andrews, 2009).   Thus, it is likely that  both artistic and carefully surveyed plans were both being commissioned in this period.  In summary, it is probably not possible to determine which is the oldest of the two plans , and instead to simply assume for the moment, that an expert and skillful surveyor was sent from England as early as 1545.

A key feature, which is common to both maps, is the depiction of marsh islands both to the west and east of the walled Anglo-Norman town. The only structure shown, again on both maps, is on Abbey Isle, at the southwest corner of Cork, and it is significant that the entrance fort and walkway, which according to historical documents and maps, were built c. 1601, are not shown at the opposite northeastern corner of the town, again on both maps. Based on this absence, it is possible to determine with confidence that both maps were drawn up during the sixteenth century, and prior to the two surveys that were commissioned by George Carew, dated approximately 1601 and 1602 (preserved in the Hardiman collection at Trinity College Dublin). These last mentioned manuscript plans both show a perimeter wall and solitary building on the same northeast marsh.


  1. Some of the background information in this article was kindly provided by Kenneth Nicholls, formerly of the History Department, UCC.
  2. The reader should refer to reviews by Eugene Carberry (Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, 1943) and Gina Johnson  (The Laneways of medieval Cork, 2002). Images of many of the old maps are available at as well as in the Atlas of Cork City (Crowley et al. 2005, Cork University Press).
  3. It should be noted that several new formal names are introduced in this report in order to simplify discussion. These names are the Middle Channel for the centrally located, natural waterway situated between the North and South Channels, and the Western and Eastern Canals for the artificial waterways on each side of the walled city.