News | January 25, 2024

Historic Bonar Law Map Collection Acquired by National Library of Ireland

National Library of Ireland

Coral Black, UCC University Librarian; NLI Chairperson Eoin McVey; and NLI Director Dr Audrey Whitty

The most complete visual record of Ireland, in map and print form, ever assembled by an expert private collector has been acquired the National Library of Ireland (NLI).

The Bonar Law Collection comprises close to 10,000 maps and approximately 9,000 prints, which include caricature prints and ballad sheets, many of which are unique to this collection. The collection has been purchased by the NLI with financial support from the Department of Tourism and will find a home at University College Cork as part of a loan arrangement.

Andrew Bonar Law (born 1933) is Ireland’s premier collector of printed maps and topographical prints. He opened the Neptune Gallery c. 1965 and operated a very successful business as a dealer in art, as well as in prints and maps. His publications include The Printed Maps of Ireland to 1612 (1983), The Printed Maps of Ireland 1612-1850 (1997), and The Prints and Maps of Dublin (2005). The Bonar Law Collection is also a testament to the expertise of Charlotte Bonar Law, Andrew’s daughter, who is also a highly experienced map dealer. It is the most complete visual record of Ireland, in map and print form, ever assembled by an expert private collector. 

Highlights of the collection include:

  • all of the important atlases of Ireland in their various editions
  • world atlases containing Irish maps
  • a comprehensive collection of coloured and black and white caricature prints
  • broadsides and ballad sheets, many of which are likely to be unique to this collection
  • an important collection of Sea Charts

The Bonar Law Collection includes over 90% of the listed maps and prints of Ireland ever produced.

It is anticipated that the digital content could be available for exhibition as early as 2024 with the physical material available for exhibition following conservation assessment after 2025.  
“This remarkable and vast array of maps, sea charts and prints of Ireland represents the best collection of its kind anywhere in the world. It is unrivalled in the holdings of any public institution, including the British Library and the Library of Congress.," said An Tánaiste, Micheál Martin. “I am delighted that we have been able to preserve this valuable asset. It offers a fascinating insight not only into Irish geographical history, but also into the changing political landscape of the last two hundred years, for the benefit of the State and for the people of Ireland.” 

Dr. Audrey Whitty, Director of the National Library of Ireland, added: "We are glad to be collaborating with UCC, given their unrivalled scholarship and excellence in historical geography. It is a major priority for us is to grow and to further strengthen our connections across all of Ireland and we are delighted to enter into a loan-arrangement with UCC that allows the collection to be placed in Cork." 

Professor John O’Halloran, President of UCC said: “Through digital technology and innovative cartographic techniques, UCC research staff will activate the potential of the Bonar Law Collection to better understand how Ireland has changed, not just physically but socially, politically and ideologically through the ages."

The collection will be housed in the Boole Library at UCC and can be accessed by researchers and members of the public by contacting UCC Library Special Collections and Archives team.