(published March 2015, updated December 2022)
There are a number of complications to finding exactly where a particular place of interest is located, even when the name is known. The first is often the spelling which can vary greatly depending on the timeframe and source, and the second reason being the duplication of place names. This occurs not just among names of townlands or parishes, but also with different types of land division. For example, not only is Leitrim the name of a County, it’s the name of the County Town, it’s also used as the name for two different Baronies, one in Co. Leitrim the other in Co. Galway. Leitrim is also the name of three separate civil parish, none of which are in Co. Leitrim, and the name for over 30 townlands scattered all around Ireland, plus another 14 townlands starting with the name, e.g. Leitrim Beg.
The list of most frequently used place names is topped by Glebe, Newtown, Killeen and Deerpark, but following those are several others which might not be thought of as so common – e.g. Tully, Knockroe, Raheen, Corbally, Carrowmore and Ballynamona. (see. table 1 below)
Another complication relating to townlands and other land divisions is the overlap of different boundaries – for example there are quite a number of townlands which are split between two or more civil parishes, or between two baronies, or various combinations of these – e.g. the townland of Minmore in Co. Wicklow in divided between three civil parishes, Aghowle, Carnew and Moyacomb.
Number of Townlands
Establishing an exact count of townlands is made complex due to this overlapping of townlands as the usual townland index has entries for each of the splits, e.g. Minmore has three entries, a townland split between two Baronies will have two entries. The database based on the 1851 data has just over 64,000 entries for townlands, the Placename database has allowed for these overlaps and shows corrected counts, and they give a the number of townlands at just under 61,100. There’s a similar issue with several of the other Land Divisions as they also can have divided portions – e.g. civil parish of Taney in mostly in Rathdown Barony but has small portion in Barony of Dublin (city), the civil parish of ‘Street’ is divided between counties Longford and Westmeath.
Two separate civil parishes of the same name can also occur within the one county for example the case of Palmerstown (sometimes shown as Palmerston) in Co. Dublin, the first Palmerstown civil parish is located to the west of the city in Newcastle barony and close to the river Liffey, the other to the north west of the city in the barony of Bathrothery and near Ashbourne in Co. Meath. There are also two separate civil parishes in Co. Dublin named Clogher, both to the north of the city. There can be more than two civil parishes with the same name in the same county – e.g. three Civil parishes named Philipstown in Co. Louth, two seperate parishes named Inch in County Wexford, the three Kilmurray civil parishes in Co. Clare. To help distinguish between these duplicates parish names, the Barony is often added – e.g. Kilmurry (Bunratty), or Cloghran (Castleknock). (See examples in table 2 below)
There are also cases of what are referred to as detached portions of civil parishes. These are separated sections of civil parishes, usually embedded within a neighbouring civil parish but close to their ‘parent’ parish. Sometimes there can be a number of detached portions. One example of this is Esker civil parish is located between Clondalkin and Lucan in west County Dublin, where there are two separate detached portions of this civil parish located close to the east – both containing just one townland, the closest containing Rowlagh townland, and the next Coldcut.
One example of a detached portion with a greater separation distance is the civil parish of Fenagh in Co. Carlow where the bulk of the parish is located close to the town of Myshall with a detached portion located about 15 km to the north with a number a civil parishes between. The detached portion includes the western part of the town of Tullow. see part of Feneagh adjacent to Tullow and the section south west of Myshall
Civil parishes can extend into two or more adjacent Baronies e.g. the St. Margaret’s civil parish North East of Wexford town, is mainly in Shelmaliere East barony, but also includes a single townland in the neighbouring Barony of Ballaghkeen,
There’s also at least one example of a detached portion of a County, up to the late 1830s there was a small part of Dublin located in what is now County Kildare, this was part of the Barony of Upper-cross located just south of Blessington and included the towns of Ballymore-Eustace, part of Dunlavin, and Timonlin. The detached section is shown on the 1837 Lewis maps – see Dublin map.
Similarly, Baronies have some duplicates, e.g. there are separate baronies of Bantry in Co. Wexford and Cork, and baronies named Carbury in both Co. Kildare and Co. Sligo.
In some cases, Barony names may appear to be duplicated but turn out that these extend into a neighbouring County – e.g. Rathdown in Dublin and Wicklow, Fore in Co. Meath and Westmeath, Ballymoe in Counties Roscommon and Galway etc. These sections in separate counties are often referred to as ‘Half-Baronies’.
Parishes and Diocese
This replication of place names also occurs among both Church of Ireland and Catholic parishes – e.g. the Parishes for both denominations of Clogher Co. Louth, and Clogher in Co. Tyrone. To complicate further Clogher is also the name of both a Church of Ireland and Catholic Diocese, along with the name of towns in these two counties.
Once this duplication of names is born in mind, there are several ways to try to establish which is the correct location – e.g. which of the places named Dumore, Newtown, Kilbride etc applies. The most useful clues often come from the source of the place name, including any dates and other location details that would usually be included. Once a detailed location has been established – e.g. Dunmore townland and town, Killea civil parish, Gaultiere barony, County Waterford , then establishing details, and locating this place on maps is straightforward.
1. A civil birth or death record should show a registration district and sub-district at the top of each page, the registration districts cover quite a wide area but give a starting point. The sub-district narrows the location further. Details of these are included in a Collection titled “Townlands in Poor Law Unions” by Archive CD Books, which was compiled from details originally published by the GRO in the mid 1880s, and compiled into a single volume by George A. Handran in 1997. For marriages the same technique should usually apply for the bride’s address since marriages generally took place in the parish where she currently lived. The groom may have lived outside the parish, so might require a wider search.
2. A Catholic or Church of Ireland parish record should include a reference to the name of the parish, or sometimes the church. The civil parishes associated can be established on the basis of this and used to focus the search (see the RC Parish <> Townland DB Tool). The Church of Ireland parishes were often the same boundaries as their corresponding civil parishes, but some were setup as parish unions covering several civil parishes. Catholic parishes were generally larger and covered a number of civil parishes. Later baptisms or marriages in the family can sometimes include references to the priest or parish where the person was born, and some parishes in Ireland noted details of marriage in the margins of a person’s baptism.
3. In the case where a place name reference originates from a 1901 or 1911 census return, one way to narrow the search area is to check the building returns for a house in the townland in question. The additional census forms, Form B or N, include details of the P.L.U. (Poor Law Union) Barony, Civil parish and townland. Note the place name in brackets on the census transcripts is the D.E.D. or electoral district.
4. Griffith’s Valuation uses townlands and civil parishes as per the 1851 townland Index, and the transcript should also include the name of the Barony, and the forms (accessible on the Valuation on the Library Ireland / AskAboutIreland website) can show further details – e.g. the name of a street when the area is within a town.
5. The Tithe Applotment Records were carried out before the full Ordnance Survey mapping, and land divisions can differ slightly when compared to later details in the 1851 Townland Index or Griffith’s Valuation. For example, some townlands appear in a neighbouring civil parish, e.g. several townlands appear in Powerscourt civil parish (Co. Wicklow) in the Tithe Applotment Books and later for Griffith’s Valuation in Bray civil parish, and others vanish, presumably being absorbed into a townland for the First OSI survey and 1851 Index. Other areas were not eligible for Tithe payments so were not included in the Tithes. Note that the transcripts of the Tithe records have many location errors – e.g. civil parishes joined together, lister uner the incorrect couty etc, the Tithe Location Reference Tool aims to resolve as many of these as possible.
6. Place names can be passed down through Family Stories, although like place names and personal names in general, spelling can be variable. Stories passed down can include other details which can help narrow the search area, e.g. the name of a town, or nearby geographic feature, or the name of a local person of standing or large estate. Place names passed down and given in immigration records etc are often to be the names of nearest towns or village, rather than a specific townland but sometimes the county, name of the parish, or name of the local church was used – e.g. St. Joseph’s chapel rather than Marshalstown parish. Baronies, Poor Law Unions and Electoral districts do not generally appear in these types of sources.
7. Old Letters or post cards can include names of locations or businesses, and if a return address is included, the post-town can be vital in narrowing down a location, especially where the townland name is common, or appears in a county more than once.
Locating Civil parish and Townlands
Once a detailed placename has been established, e.g. the townland, civil parish, barony and county it’s possible to use several online sources to establish its precise location.
(a) The best way to identify an individual townlands is using the first edition 6 inch colour OSI maps. The townland borders are on these maps in red, so easier to locate than other black and white maps. The civil parish shown can be used to confirm the correct townland of a particular name has been located, as can the size of the townland size in acres, shown on the maps, which should match up with the details shown on the townland Index. The map cover all of the island of Ireland, but do not include the full level of detail for some areas for counties in Northern Ireland, also the layering options which highlights civil parish borders, various building types etc, does not function for counties in Northern Ireland – OSI/ArcGIS (the 6″ options are the 1st edition maps)
(b) Lewis Topographical Dictionary, which is available on the LibraryIreland website, includes descriptions of cities, towns, counties, and most civil parishes. The entries include directions from the nearest major town or city – libraryireland.com/topog
(c) Maps of civil parishes outlines, and matching Google map extract are available on John Grenham’s Website – JohnGrenham.com
(d) The Official placename database at Logainm.ie, gives details, and shows locations of place names including townlands. The system includes district and local names, along with alternate names for many and also covers Counties in Northern Ireland. Placename Database/Logainm is a good source for these overlapping land divisions – e.g. the entry for the previously mentioned Minmore townland showing the various parishes included – logainm.ie
(e) Northern Ireland Place names website includes place name searches, and links to a map showing civil parish and townland boundaries – PlaceNameNI (ArcGIS)
(f) PRONI & Ordnance Survey Northern Ireland website online version of the early maps for Northern Ireland Counties – apps.spatialni.gov.uk
(g) Google Maps is also useful, especially for travel directions and distances and a view of the locality on streetview, and the system can include local names which are not always shown on official maps. Google maps does not include civil parish, barony or in most cases townlands names. Take care re possible duplicate place names – the Dunmore it suggests in a search may not be the one required. One good tactic is to establish a large nearby town from other sources (e.g. Poor Law Union/Registration District) and use this as a starting point on a Google Map, then try directions from there to a townland. Switch to Loganim map to sure it’s the correct location – google.ie/maps
Table 1: Top 25 Place Names
|# of Occurrences
Table 2 : Examples of Duplicate Civil Parishes within Counties.
|Civil Parish Name
Table 3 : Examples of several Duplicate town or village names.
|Town / Village
|Galway, Queens/Laois, Galway and Kerry
|Louth and Tyrone
|Galway and Waterford
|Cork, Down and Kings/Offaly
|Dublin, Cork and Louth
|Cork, Sligo, Tipperary
|Antrim Kilkenny Meath
|Armagh, Dublin Kerry
|Cork Limerick Wexford
|Mayo and Clare
Further Reading :
Irish land divisions (Irish Genealogy Toolkit / Claire Santry)