The Joy of the Chase: Collecting Old Irish Maps
|Detail from John Speed's map The Kingdome of Ireland, 1610.|
By Thomas McGrath, Jr.
Presented at the University of Notre Dame
Rare Book Room, Hesburgh Library
on March 29, 1993
Like novels, maps are exciting, image producing segments of our culture and I am here to present that thought. I thank Bob Miller, Director of the University Libraries, for this opportunity to talk to the Friends of the Library as well as for his past kindnesses. May I also thank Laura Fuderer, the rare book custodian here at Notre Dame, for her kind hospitality past and present.
"The Joy of the Chase: Collecting Old Irish Maps" is the theme of my talk tonight. I wish I had thought of that title but the Friends of the Library at Notre Dame assigned it to me.
To have a chase you need both a hunter and his quarry. I was the happy hunter who so enjoyed chasing down his quarry of old Irish maps. Hunters are often aided by bird dogs. I was aided by map sellers here and in Europe. My chase began in the summer of 1947 on a training cruise to Europe with the Brigade of Midshipmen at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. It has yet to end.
During World War II, I enlisted in the United States Navy as soon as I turned 17. While waiting to be called to active duty, I studied chemical engineering for one year here at Notre Dame. In the late spring of 1945 I left this great university, never to return as a student, in order to go through the Navy "boot camp" up at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. I later entered the United States Naval Academy from which I graduated with the Class of 1950 to serve during the next four years as an officer in the Atlantic and Pacific fleets.
While at the Naval Academy, the brigade of midshipmen embarked on three summer training cruises to Europe during which we practiced at sea the piloting and celestial navigation skills acquired in the classrooms at Annapolis. Our stops included Edinburgh, Oslo, Portsmouth, London, Cherbourg, Paris, Nice, Cannes, Monte Carlo, Lisbon, Gibraltar, Tangier, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I was often able to buy an old map while on these trips. In Tangier I bought a small city plan of Algiers which denoted "the place where Christians are sold". I later obtained similar city plans of Antwerp, Stockholm, Malta, Turin, Lisbon, Venice and Naples. We gave all of these city plans along with Revolutionary War maps and old Naval prints to the Army Navy Club on Farragut Square in Washington, D.C. where they now are on permanent display.
Sea duty as a ship's navigator honed the interest in old sea charts I had developed at the Naval Academy. I pursued my interest in old sea charts and old maps in the various countries I visited while in the Navy. Regardless of the country depicted, I would try, as best I could on a Navy salary, to buy old maps.
However, in order to avoid bankruptcy, I soon restricted my field of collecting to maps and sea charts which showed Ireland standing alone, not as part of Great Britain or of Europe.