Aerial photography, and increasingly aerial remote sensing data captured by satellite, provide a high-resolution view of the ground that can be relevant at all stages of an archaeological study, including reconnaissance, identification, analysis and, of course, as illustrations in a publication.  Many new archaeological sites, especially those that survive as earthworks, have been discovered with the use of aerial photography, both from desktop studies of existing photographic records and from new reconnaissance.  Aerial photography is also useful for understanding the remains and significance of known sites, as it can reveal their former extent and their landscape context. Wilson (2000) provides a useful introduction to the techniques of aerial photography for archaeologists.

There is no comprehensive user’s guide to the range of general public, specialist, commercial and private collections of aerial photographic archives in Ireland.  The published directory for UK aerial photographic collections (National Association of Aerial Photographic Libraries 2001) does contain some relevant information, and there is potential for aerial photographic collections such as World War II period military archives becoming increasingly available to the public. The internet may facilitate the greater availability of private and commercial aerial photographs.

Researchers should also be aware that many photographic collections may exist, but may not be publicly accessible.  These may include collections in universities and other research institutions in Ireland and abroad.  Individual archaeological consultants and contracting companies also commission aerial archaeological photographs for projects funded by public bodies and private developers.  This material is normally deposited with the commissioning body, but it may be incorporated into public archives, such as that at the Local Authority Roads and Planning Departments, depending on the nature of the project.

Name of Body Nature of Coverage
National Monuments Service Archive Unit Full national black & white coverage at 1:30,000 scale, 1973–1977. Coverage of National Monuments, National Parks and key sites for County Inventories. There is also coverage for some RMP sites from other archival sources.
National Museum of Ireland Stand-alone indexed collection of c. 12,600 Cambridge University Committee for Air Photography (CUCAP) aerial photographs principally from 1963–1973, consisting of 121 albums of about 100 oblique/panorama photos.  Prints are available directly from CUCAP (see below).  These are viewable through the Education and Outreach Office. Site specific photographs are held in the Topographical Record files. The Leo Swan collection of aerial photographs, which includes photos of many early ecclesiastical sites, are held in the NMI but not yet open as a publicly accessible source.
Ordnance Survey of Ireland Full national coverage of stereoscopic, black & white and colour vertical photography taken in 1973–1977 (1:30,000), 1995 (1:40,000) and 2000 (1:30,000). Extensive but not full coverage at 1:10,000, 1:5000 & 1:4000 was undertaken for map revision purposes. The OSI also have a limited collection of oblique photographs.
Geological Survey of Ireland The Geological Survey of Ireland commissioned the National Geographical Institute of France to take vertical aerial photographs [black & white 1:30,000 scale] of the whole of Ireland from 1973 to 1977.  An index for the photographs is held on ½” OS maps. This survey includes all parts of County Kildare.
Air Corps. Baldonnel The Air Corp hold extensive, but not full, vertical photographic coverage of the country, including Kildare, consisting of approximately 2000–3000 black & white oblique photographs, including historic sites and monuments, dating from the 1920s to the 1970s. An index to some of these photos is provided on 1” Geological Survey sheets at the GSI, indicating flight and photo number.  These are viewable at GSI but must be ordered from the Dept of Defence.
Cambridge University Committee for Air Photography (CUCAP) About 12,000 of the Cambridge collection of c. 430,000 aerial photographs including mainly oblique, but some vertical, photographs of all parts of Ireland (1951–1955 and 1963–1973) and these include photos for County Kildare.  This is generally known as the St Joseph Collection.  Contact: 0044 12 23 33 445 78; or  Photographs can be ordered direct from CUCAP.  Significant reproduction fees apply.

 Satellite Imagery

Satellite imagery is available in ever-increasing resolution on the internet, with both free and subscription-based coverage provided by Google Earth and GoogleEarthPro, and NASA’s WorldWind service. While the resolution for different parts of Ireland is variable, satellite imagery provides a useful overview of a region, and both coverage and resolution is expected to increase significantly in the near future. Satellite imagery is very useful not only for viewing individual sites, but also for landscape characterisation, as a base layer for desktop cartography (e.g. creating your own maps of an area or region) and for researching areas for which limited information is available elsewhere. For example, details of the Curragh Camp in County Kildare are not readily available in the National Archives of Ireland or the Military Archives, but satellite aerial photography of the location is available online, and maps and drawings of the site and individual buildings and structures are available through the National Archives of the United Kingdom, in Kew, Surrey, England.

The extract above is taken from A Guide to Archaeological Sources for County Kildare published in 2008.


  • National Association of Aerial Photographic Libraries, 2001: Directory of Aerial Photographic Collections in the United Kingdom, 2nd ed., Oxford, British Library.
  • Wilson, D.R., 1982, 2000: Air Photo Interpretation for Archaeologists, Stroud, Tempus.