In 1988 I inherited an old property in County Donegal from my mother.  During some renovations I discovered an unusual archive hidden deliberately under the well worn floorboards in the attic.

What I had found was a collection of correspondence, rare books, documents, newspaper cuttings, a diversity of manuscript maps from the 1800s and before, with various other valuable items of historical social interest.  Remarkably, the manuscript maps were extensive, exceptional , as an outstanding surveyor’s archive.

A memorial of Lieutenant Gabriel Montgomery addressed to the Ordnance of Ireland, more specifically the Earl of Carhampton (Lord Luttrell), which was watermarked 1798, was attached to a corresponding map of County Antrim containing on the reverse the words, “ Marquis Cornwallis collection.”  This particular copy was obviously connected in some way to the Antrim Rebellion. It was a careful survey, drawn to scale with numerous place names inserted, illustrating exclusively military implications.  Modern spelling of the place names demonstrated an anglicised variety for any researcher.

On recognition of the addresses on the letters, I was sure that the property was the original home and offices of a Montgomery family, Gabriel and Ann (nee Knox).  The male Montgomerys established themselves as a firm of surveyors and hydrographers based in the town of Lifford, as well as running an office in Strabane.

Not being a historian I found the initial research extremely tedious, difficult, yet more often frustrating. However, my enthusiasm and curiosity increased gradually.  In the beginning progress was very slow, as most of the material had faded quite badly with age.  All the paperwork required meticulous cleaning, especially the letters but fortunately many old postmarks were still legible.  More importantly, the signatures were clear whilst the surnames of all the tenants, inserted in the manuscript maps, clarified after careful cleaning.

About the surveyor

Gabriel Montgomery, the surveyor in question, was a young officer in the Royal Manx Fencibles which fought in the Antrim Rebellion of 1798.  He had a strong connection to Fermanagh and Donegal as he was engineer to the Earl of Erne for several years.  This archive ranges from 1750 to 1850 as evidenced from the usage marks on correspondence, supported by renowned paper manufacturers’ names entwined with old watermarks of Britain, Ireland and Holland.

(Montgomery was employed by Cornwallis before and after the Antrim Rebellion).

As a member of the Donegal Grand Jury, he recommenced his career as a Donegal surveyor of many north west estates and farms belonging to the gentry whilst being involved in some areas of assessment through writing reports for the Ordnance Survey e.g. The Swilly Report(Refer Volume 38 of the Ordnance Survey by Day and Williams).

Gabriel also worked for a period of time with William Mc Crea, Mapmaker.  Some of the Mc Crea maps have survived to the present day.

His eldest son, William Conyngham Montgomery, became surveyor to O’Neill of Shane Castle in Antrim. He is buried in Draperstown.

The firm had many notable surveyors employed in their professional capacity. For example, Lynch of Dublin, Aiken of Donegal, Elliot of Fermanagh and Babington of Donegal are worth mentioning because many samples of their work are outstanding. All the surveyors named are listed in The Dictionary of Land Surveyors by Peter Eden.  The earliest maps in the volumes are those commissioned by Lord Conyngham in the 1780 period, related to the fisheries around Burtonport.  (Refer- Improving landlords and planned settlements in 18th century Ireland: William Burton Conyngham and the fishing station on Inis Mhic an Doirn County Donegal by Wes Forsythe/Pages 7,8,11,15,22 etc. in understanding the importance of the maps in The Conyngham Volume).  Inis Mhic an Doirn is today named Rutland.