In 2018 Galway County Council Archives invited 6 artists into the archive to engage with, interrogate and re-imagine chosen items from its collections in order to create new artworks that would both ‘bring alive’ the archive and connect the past and present in vital, new and imaginative ways. In discussing her work on this innovative project, entitled ‘Sowing a Seed: Archives to Art’, artist Selma Makela described her process as a form of ‘deep mapping’ that considered the multiple, evolving meanings that adhere to places, and the range of memories and thoughts that are associated with them which cannot be conveyed through conventional map making alone. Such deep mapping can bring into clear relief the complex and rich associations that exist within our relationship to place and the ties these have to our history and identity.
Just as individuals experience places in a multiplicity of ways, finding ranges of meaning, memories and histories within their contours and features, so too can we find many truths within archival objects, linking to networks of events, people and cultural moments that have shaped, and continue to shape, us. By mapping the layers of meaning and historical connections revealed by artists, scholars and communities’ recent engagement with the record Makela worked on –the St. George, Richard St. George Mansergh, Survey & Maps of Estate, Headford, 1775–which run the gamut from Romanticism, Gothic art and Irish lacemaking to the 1798 Rebellion and the American Revolution, it is possible to uncover not merely its own fascinating history, and that of its original owner, but the deep and wide-ranging nature of our experience of archives generally, which, when engaged with, offer up contemporary resonances, possibilities and meanings which enrich our heritage and culture today.
Created in 1775 by surveyor Charles Frizell Junior, a member of one of the most respected families of surveyors in the country, the St. George Estate Survey consists of a leather bound manuscript volume containing thirty-two hand-coloured estate maps and descriptions of the lands of the St. George estate in Headford, Co. Galway. The maps show the layout of each individual farm, the position of adjacent farms and the location of additional features such as houses, bogs, rivers and trees, while the survey also includes a detailed rent roll of the estate.The general description of Headford town which commences the survey includes Frizell’s notes and advice on possible developments and opportunities, giving insight into the conditions of the town in the last quarter of the 18th century.
The survey obviously represents a valuable resource for local historians and genealogists, however, it is through the life, position and connections of the man who commissioned it – Richard St. George Mansergh St. George – that some of the most striking resonances of the record have recently been explored.
Colonel Richard St. George Mansergh St. George, (c.1752-1798
The remarkable life of Richard St. George Mansergh, amateur artist, soldier and landlord, began in Ireland c.1752. The son of James Mansergh of Macroney, Co. Cork and Mary St. George, he inherited the extensive Headford estate through his mother in 1775 whereupon he assumed the additional surname St. George and commissioned Charles Frizell to survey his new lands. The survey therefore marks an important moment in St. George’s life and materially links to his position as a member of the landlord class in an Ireland which would soon be gripped by the revolutionary convulsions that characterised the late 18th century in France and the United States. A revolutionary spirit to which St. George was vehemently opposed. Indeed in 1776, shortly after the production of the survey, he would sail for America, having purchased a commission in the 4th Regiment of Foot, to fight for the crown against George Washington’s army.
There he would confront the brutality of war, fighting in battles including Brandywine, Paoli and Germantown -the latter of which saw him shot in the head resulting in a traumatic surgery which, though he survived, left his health permanently damaged. St. George returned to Ireland to recover before travelling to Europe to sketch (as an accomplished amateur artist he had produced numerous sketches and satirical cartoons or ‘Macaroni’ both before, during and after the war) and in Naples he met artist Xavier della Gatta, working with him to capture the drama of the battles of Paoli and Germantown in two well-known paintings. In fact he had della Gatta include him in the Germantown painting, showing him being carried injured off the battlefield.
St. George’s cultural and artistic links can also be seen at this time in his friendships with prominent figures of the early Romantic movement, Brooke Boothby and poet Anna Seward, as well as the Gothic artist Henry Fuseli in whose honour he arranged a medieval pageant in 1783. St George married Anne Stepney of Durrow, Westmeath in 1788 and although it produced two sons, the brief marriage ended in tragedy in 1791 when Anne died, leaving St. George in a state of extreme grief.
In February 1798, as opposed to revolution as ever and a staunch upholder of the British Empire and the landlord system, St. George, enraged by the growing movement of the United Irishmen, threatened to take violent action against his ‘rebellious’ tenants in Cork. This action precipitated his murder by a group of them on the night of the 9th of that month. His death was considered one of the first casualties of the nascent rebellion.
Until recently the importance of St. George’s life in elucidating the links between the American War of Independence, the Irish landed class, the United Irishmen, and wider European cultural shifts was little considered, however recent scholarship carried out by academics and curators including those at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, have demonstrated how intimately interwoven the local– in this case the history of Headford and the Irish landed class– is with wider global history. The latter scholarship resulted in a major exhibition in 2019 dedicated to the life of Richard St. George titled Cost of Revolution: The Life and Death of an Irish Soldier, which ran at the Museum of the American Revolution from September 2019 to March 2020 and of which the St. George Estate Survey formed a significant part.
Archive as Historical Link–Cost of Revolution: The Life and Death of an Irish Soldier
Cost of Revolution was the Museum of the American Revolution’s first international loan exhibition –a fact which underlines the significance attributed to Richard St. George as a figure who embodies the links between Ireland, empire and the American War of Independence, representing as he does the fight of a pro-empire Irish landed class for the Crown while also pointing to the inspiration the American War proved to be to the United Irishmen, the movement which ultimately led to St. George’s death. The St. George Estate Survey, loaned by Galway County Council Archives to the museum, was one of over 100 artefacts and works of art gathered from around the world for this fascinating exhibition.
In this context the archival record, a survey of the vast lands which St. George held in Galway, served to highlight his position as a landlord and stalwart of the British empire yet also the contradictions of a man who was influenced by the Romantic movement and yet opposed much of the revolutionary spirit with which it is associated. Such a lens applied to the archive demonstrates the wider global moment of which Ireland was a part.
Archive as Inspiration –Sowing a Seed: Archives to Art
While the Cost of Revolution exhibition revealed the revolutionary echoes of the survey’s origins and its links to international cultural and political history, the work of the artists of the Sowing a Seed: Archives to Art project focused significantly on the local, on the importance and significance of place, and of the ‘invisible lives of the people that were overlooked by the aristocracy of the time, and the lives of those who live there now’.
Like Selma Makela, Gala Tomasso’s artistic response to the archive saw her focus on portraits of the land which were mindful of the human struggle that was only hinted at by Frizzell’s maps and descriptions. The resultant work sought to map once more those places figured within the volume, in a contemporary engagement that bridged the gap between the present and past.
Artist Carmel Tynan engaged with the work of Frizell as art in and of itself, viewing her encounter with the survey as a collaborative process between the surveyor and herself – producing works that were ‘the product of two artists, 240-years apart’.  Her experience of responding to the archive, like Makela’s and Tomasso’s, drew her to look anew at the landscape as it exists now and consider the relationship between its history and its present reality. The project, initiated by Galway County Council Archives,funded by Creative Ireland, underlines the multiplicity of responses which can emerge from encounters with the archive.
Archive and Creative Communities – The Headford Lace Project
The significanceof the St. George Survey and Maps as part of the heritage of Headford has been explored by the Headford Lace project since 2016. A voluntary community initiative established to research, revive, and reimagine the lacemaking heritage of Headford, County Galway, the Headford Lace Project has engaged with the St. George Survey along with other local, national and international archives to explore the bobbin or pillow lacemaking industry brought to Headford by Richard St. George’s mother Mary c.1765. Charles Frizell noted that ‘there are several looms in the Town if encouragement is given to Linen manufacturers to settle may in some time hence flourish…’ and indeed the linen and lace industries flourished for much of the 19th century in Headford whose lace was renowned for its high quality and craftsmanship. In this creative community engagement the archive becomes a piece of a wider tapestry that fosters an understanding of local heritage and craft and the part it plays in cultural identity.
A Map of the Archive
Deep mapping is an approach that attempts to capture the different meanings and experiences that are associated with places – often in multidisciplinary ways. The responses and engagement with the archival record by artists, historians, communities and researchers described above can be seen to form a kind of deep map, which, when seen as a whole, demonstrates the layers of meaning and association that can be drawn from the archival object. Such deep maps are fluid and subject to change, to the emergence of new, fresh associations and understandings. It is in this way that archives remain ‘alive’ – as living records whose significance accrues and changes with each encounter. The St. George Survey has a rich and complex history, however,in common with all archives, it is a history whose significance continues to grow with each act of engagement.
Jennifer Branigan, Archivist, Irish Archives Resource
- St George, Richard St George Mansergh, Survey & Maps of Estate, Headford, 1775 (GS01/5) www.galway.ie/digitalarchives
- More information on the Sowing a Seed: Archives to Art project, including links to the catalogue and video documentation, are available at http://www.galway.ie/en/services/more/archives/exhibitions/
- The digital record of Cost of Revolution: The Life and Death of an Irish Soldier exhibition (September 28, 2019 – March 17, 2020) at the Museum of the American Revolution, including blogs and talks, is available at https://www.amrevmuseum.org/exhibits/cost-of-revolution-the-life-and-death-of-an-irish-soldier
- The Headford Lace Project http://www.headfordlaceproject.ie/
- ‘Done in by Rebellion’, The Magazine Antiques, Matthew Skic, September 2019 –https://www.themagazineantiques.com/article/done-in-by-rebellion/
This blog post has been researched and made available with the support of the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media
Carmel Tynan, Sowing a Seed: Archives to Art Catalogue, 15.
 Selma Makela, Sowing a Seed: Archives to Art Catalogue, 9. See http://www.galway.ie/en/media/Catalogue-tempV7_2018-10-05.pdf