Putting Thomastown on the map

THE Thomastown Walled Town Society has just completed an interpretive map of Thomastown as a walled town, and the map is now on permanent public display in the Quay Car Park and in Marshes Street Car Park in Thomastown (opposite the library).

THE Thomastown Walled Town Society has just completed an interpretive map of Thomastown as a walled town, and the map is now on permanent public display in the Quay Car Park and in Marshes Street Car Park in Thomastown (opposite the library).

The project was grant-aided by The Heritage Council under its Heritage Education, Communications and Outreach Scheme 2010. Liam Mannix, project manager with the Irish Walled Towns Network (IWTN), is impressed: “The Heritage Council is delighted to have supported the creation of this excellent map. It is a credit to both the cartographer, Tom Dack, and the organisers who pushed this project through. The effect of the map is to enhance local people’s appreciation of the town’s heritage, and provide tourists with a glimpse of what Thomastown looked like in the Middle Ages. Importantly, it is also a dependable navigational tool. The Heritage Council through Thomastown’s possible entry to the IWTN hope to support more projects like this in the future.”

Extensive local research was carried out by members of the Thomastown Walled Town Society in Thomastown Library, Kilkenny Local Studies Library and the National Library in Dublin. The group is indebted to the staff of these libraries, as well as Thomastown natives and residents whose assistance was invaluable.

They were also delighted to have had the support of archaeologists from the National Monuments Service, as well as Kilkenny archaeologist Ben Murtagh, who provided expert assistance. Mr Murtagh is “delighted that the map can now be viewed in Thomastown – it will be of great help to visitors trying to follow the outline of the medieval town”. As well as carrying out archaeological investigations in the past in the town, he is currently writing up his findings on work carried out at Dysart Castle (childhood home of George Berkeley) on the outskirts of the town, which is funded by the Royal Irish Academy.

The Thomastown map was illustrated and scripted by hand, by renowned artist and cartographer Tom Dack, with digital imaging by Anthony Hobbs, Head of Fine Art Media at the National College of Art and Design. Mr Hobbs said: “The Medieval Wall Map of Thomastown is a wonderful representational record of the town in a time past. Tom Dack, one of Thomastown’s best-kept secrets, displays his unique artistry not only in his cartography and calligraphy, but also in his beautiful illustration. The map has an educational value that should make it required study in all the local schools. The production and placement of these maps in the town can only enhance its tourist potential. I was delighted to play a small part in its reproduction.”

The seeds for this project were sown some years ago when some of the Walled Town Society’s members saw Mr Dack’s unique maps gracing the walls of many businesses and homes in Thomastown. The collaboration with the mapmaker began in 2009, when the group looked at the possibility of creating a pictorial impression of Thomastown as a medieval walled town.

Now that the maps are complete, Mr Dack said: “I dearly hope this town wall survey will act as a template for future archaeological investigations – it is, after all, calculated conjecture, a stake driven into the flux of time…. and we are ever in a flux. A new discovery will reshape the present.”

The map shows Thomastown’s unique medieval streetscape – which survives intact to this day. It also draws attention to the many towers and gates that guarded the once fortified town. Interestingly, the map also shows the site of the medieval bridge, which was destroyed in 1763. This finding was published by Ben Murtagh and John Bradley in 2003. The site of the bridge was in all probability located upstream close to Sweetman’s Castle, which is a visible riverside landmark, now in ruins.

With Kilkenny city and county steeped in medieval history, it is hoped that this map will enable the town to capitalise on its medieval heritage and bring tourists to the area, as well as increasing awareness locally of the town’s rich past. The map is generating much interest already, and copies will shortly be made available to schools, heritage and tourist organisations. It combines the elements of our shared heritage – archaeology, art, culture, history and landscape.

Mr Dack summarises the team’s core aim: “We decided to do a pictorial commentary of the town wall instead of a staid, academic, plan survey. Keep it accessible to all generations. Imagined history is open to all of us. A local sixth-class pupil saw the map and exclaimed…..‘It’s just like Harry Potter!’… Fait accompli!”