Wednesday, March 6, 2013

James Joyce and the Topographical Symphony of the Fourteen Tribes of Galway

The 17th century pictorial map of Galway 

One of the most interesting items in our archival collection is a 17th century pictorial map of Galway.  The item attracted the attention of James Joyce who in 1912 described the map:

The strangest and most interesting historical document in the city archives is the map of the city made for the Duke of Lorraine in the seventeenth century, when His Highness wished to be assured of the city’s greatness on the occasion of a loan requested of him by his English confrere, the happy monarch.  The map full of symbolic expressions and engravings....The margins of the parchment are heavy with the heraldic arms of the tribes, and the map itself is little more than a topographical symphony on the theme of the number of tribes.  Thus the map maker enumerates and depicts fourteen bastions, fourteen towers on the wall. Fourteen principal streets, fourteen narrow streets and then sliding, seven gardens, seven alters..., seven markets and seven other wonders.

The list of 14 'Bastions'
Joyce’s source for this historical background is clearly Hardiman’s History of Galway, more recent scholarship has cast doubt on the link between the map and the proposed treaty with the Duke of Lorraine.  Certainly the map makes symbolic use of the numbers seven and fourteen.  As well as many of the features of the map appearing in groups of seven and fourteen the map includes a piece of Latin verse which reads in translation:

Rome boasts seven hills,
The Nile its seven'fold streams,
Around the pole seven radiant planets gleam;
Galway, Rome of Connacht, twice equals these;
 She boasts twice seven illustrious families;

The Rome of Connacht? Gate with a flag reading SPQG
This is the earliest known reference to the fourteen tribes of Galway. What is the significance of this symbolic use of the numbers seven and fourteen?  Other than the obviously Christian religious significance of the number seven  and a general Renaissance era neo-platonic interest in mathematics and numerology we are not really sure.  If any budding Dan Browns out there can have any ideas about the hidden message of seven and fourteen we’d love to hear them, if you can tie it into the storming of the Bastille on the 14 of July 1789 so much the better.

Read more of the story behind this fascinating map in this month’s edition of History Ireland .

You can access the map on line at:

#2 of the 14 Bastions which appear on the map

The coats of Arms of four of the fourteen tribes of Galway which appear on the margins of the map 

No comments:

Post a Comment