West entrance of Cork Harbour


Cork Harbour has a complex coastline, dotted with inlets, channels, islands and small bays. It has few sightlines to safe mooring spots and there are rocks and sandbanks which can be treacherous at low tide. Drawings like these, produced by the Royal Navy engineer Thomas Phillips, were helpful records of the lie of the land: marking out important topographical and navigational points, routes to take and routes to avoid.

Phillips shows the west entrance of Cork Harbour in two parts: Maps K.Top.52.9.a and Maps K.Top.52.9.b. The former shows the harbour from the Kidds to Cross Begg Island, the latter the view from Haulbowline Island to Cross Haven. Each has a key at top left to show topographical features like ‘the old Castle of Corke Begg’, ‘the remains of Sr Walter Rawleys works’, various batteries, and areas of possible danger like ‘a half tyde Rock’ and ‘a larg Sandy Bay’. The castle of Corke Begg is also depicted in a separate drawing at Maps K.Top.52.9.c.

According to the Irish historian Harman Murtagh, Phillips was sent to Ireland in August 1684 on the request of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde (1610–88), an Anglo-Irish statesman and soldier. He was ordered to survey the fortifications and harbours there, to make detailed drawings and advise on their repairs. It is very likely that these coastal drawings were produced as part of that initiative. In 1685 Phillips produced a report on the material gathered, and presented a scheme of improvements which amounted to the eye-watering sum of £554,000 (over £46 million in today’s money). Perhaps unsurprisingly, little or nothing was done to implement Phillips’ proposals.

Many more drawings from Phillips’ Irish project can be found in the King’s Topographical Collection.

Full title:
West Entrance of Cork Harbour, from the Kidds, or Cow and Calf, to Cross Beg Island; West Entrance of Cork Harbour, shewing Halbowlin Island, Spike Island, and Cross Haven
c. 1684
Watercolour / Pen and Ink / View
Thomas Phillips
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Maps K.Top.52.9.a-b.

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Cork City and Harbour

Article by:
Finola O'Kane
Military and maritime, Town and city

Early topographical views of Cork emphasised its connection to the sea, but this was to change over the course of the 18th century, as Finola O'Kane discovers.

Related collection items