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What is a Townland?

Ireland is sub-divided in a unique way; provinces into counties, counties into baronies, baronies into parishes, and parishes into townlands.

The townland is a unique feature of the Irish landscape and is one of the most ancient divisions in the country. The origins of the townland remains obscure but they are undoubtedly of great antiquity. They existed long before the parishes and counties and were eventually written down in anglicised form as they sounded to English court scribes.

Townlands orginally consisted of a number of sub-divisions such as gneeves and ploughlands but they are now recognised as the smallest administrative division in the country. There are more than 64,000 townlands in Ireland (9700 in Ulster) and great variations are evident in townland sizes due to the fact that their shapes and sizes are related to local topography and farming practices.

Loosely related to the ancient Gaelic "Bally betagh", and to other medieval land divisions such as ploughlands and quarters, townlands can vary enormously in size, from a single acre or less to several thousand acres.

They were used as the smallest geographical unit in both Tithe Survey and Griffith's, as well as census returns, and are still in use today. Anything from 5 to 30 townlands may be grouped together to form a civil parish. Most Roman Catholic parishes cover parts of more than one civil parish.

The townland name may originally have referred to an easily identifiable feature of the landscape or a botanical feature such as Rocktown Townland of the Rock, Mullaghboy Yellow hilltop, Killyberry Wood of the place of the stakes/spits, Broagh Bank/brink and Drumlamph Ridge of the marsh-mallows/elm trees

The social customs or history of the people who have lived in a particular place can also be reflected in the name of the townland. Often these names are the only records which survive of the families who held the land in pre-plantation times. Bally or Baile (both meaning settlement) are usually compounded with personal or family names and examples can be found all over Ireland including such names as Ballymacpeake Macpeakes townland, and Tamniaran OHerrerans field

Many townlands throughout Ireland took their names from early habitation sites, both ecclesiastical and secular, and these include Rath (meaning fortification), Dun (meaning fort) or Chill (meaning church). It is unclear where Lemnaroy The red horses leap got its name.

If you are searching for your family anywhere in Ireland, knowing the Townland they came from is one of the best ways of tracing them. Knowing the Barony, Parish, etc will also be of great help to you, since many townlands share the same name - for example there are 47 Townlands named Dromore and 56 Kilmores.

To find which Civil Parish, Barony, Province etc a Townland is in, visit www.seanruad.com/



This document maintained by George McIntyre.
Material Copyright 2001 George McIntyre, Northern Ireland.