Administrative Land Divisions in Ireland
ADMINISTRATIVE DIVISIONS OF IRELAND
Although there are a number of sources that refer to Administrative
(Geographical) Divisions; there seems to be one key source. Two books
have been written concerning this topic, by Brian Mitchell:
PARISH MAPS OF IRELAND
There are also other books available concerning this subject. They are:
Apollo, PA 1988
A NEW GENEALOGICAL ATLAS OF IRELAND
Brian Mitchell has written "A New Genealogical Atlas of Ireland", (c)
1986 Genealogical Publishing Co.. ISBN 0-8063-1152-5, Library of
Congress 85-82530. It shows the counties, dioceses, and probate
districts of Ireland, in addition to the parishes, baronies, and poor
law unions of each county. Maps and text.
(One known error in the book, parishes for Co. Kildare.
NOTE: It does NOT show the location of
Townlands. The publisher is at http://www.genealogical.com/ireland.htm
TRACING YOUR IRISH ANCESTORS
by John Grenham
This book includes a series of maps covering all of the Catholic Parishes
of Ireland and a county by county source guide.
GENERAL ALPHABETICAL INDEX OF TOWNLANDS AND TOWNS, PARISH AND BARONIES OF IRELAND
This book is based on the Census of Ireland for the year of 1851. It shows
the barony, county, parish, and poor law union in which the 70,000 townlands were situated in
that year. with appendices containing separate indexes of parishes and baronies.
O.S. map # is in the first column of 'The Index'
See for excellent map links!
LDS microfice Map Numbers for Townlands
In order to do Irish research accurately, there is a great need to
understand the divisions where the person you are searching actually
lived. A lot of people refer to their home as a town when it
may actually be referring to a parish or maybe even a townland.
This can be very confusing if not understood and may add a lot of
unnecessary frustration on the part of the researcher. The
first thing to do is to locate the parish that the townland is in.
This is best done by consulting a listing of parishes, cities, towns
and place names to determine which parish, and what county the
ancestor lived in. The above Index to Irish Townlands, Parishes, and
Baronies will list the townlands and give a number of parishes, counties
and baronies. This book may be located at most genealogical libraries. Also it can be searched online at the
Archives of the Ordnance Survey at
A bit of history. Boundries and names have changed repeatedly through the centuries.
In 1584, the English created these new counties;
- Province of Ulster:
Monaghan, Tyrone, Armagh, Coleraine, Cavan, Donegal, and Fermanagh.
Tirconnell was formed into a county by the lord deputy Perrot, about 1585.
Named Donegal after its chief town. He also created county
Tyrone at the same period, from part of the ancient Tyrone.
Province of Connaught:
Galway, Roscommon, Mayo, and Sligo.
- Province of Leinster:
Wicklow, and Fernes.
- Province of Munster:
According to The Book of The Abbey of Dousk, before the
Invasion, there were 180 Triochas or Cantreds, now called Baronies.
Each Cantred contained 30 Townlands;
each Townland containded 12 Ploughlands;
and each Ploughland, 120 acres. Thus---
Leinster had 31 Cantreds
Connaught had 26
Munster had 70
Ulster had 35
Meath had 18
Now, back to our topic.
First, the obvious division: Southern Ireland (the Republic of Ireland) and Northern Ireland. Maps
for these areas are at the following locations:
Division between Northern and Southern Ireland:
There are four provinces: Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connaught.
Provinces are the largest
division and generally reflect the ancient Irish kingdoms. These correspond
with the ancient
territories controlled by four major Irish families:
O'Neill in Ulster, O'Brien in Munster,
O'Connor in Connaught, and MacMurrough in Leinster.
The county is the principal unit of local government. There are twenty-six
in the Republic of
Ireland and six counties in Northern Ireland, for a total of 32 counties.
collections are organized on a county basis. The county division reflects
the imposition of the
Norman/English system of government on Ireland. The county network was
begun in the 12th
century and was completed in 1606 with the addition of County Wicklow.
reflected areas controlled by the lordships of major Gaelic families.
Counties also are
subdivisions of provinces, and people living in a province owed allegience
to the ruling family of
that province. Ulster has nine counties, six of which opted to remain in
the United Kingdom at
the time of the split in 1921, while the remaining three elected to join
what is now the Republic
of Ireland. The six counties that remained in the United Kingdom
are: Antrim, Down,
Armagh, Fermagh, Londonberry and Tyrone, which now comprise Northern
Ireland. The other
three: Donegal, Monaghan, and Cavan are part of the Republic of Ireland.
To see the county divisions, check the following web sites:
A Barony is an important county subdivision. It is thought to be a Norman
division although it's
precise origin is unknown.. They are also believed to have been established
government land surveys in the seventeenth century. This is now an obsolete
division. It was
widely used in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries.
There were 331 of these,
each ruled by a baron, but the boundaries tended to reflect the holdings of
the major Irish clans.
There are generally between seven and ten baronies per county, although
Cork has twenty and
Louth has only four. Census records also mention half-baronies which are
when a barony
occupies parts of two counties.
POOR LAW UNION
In 1838, the Poor Relief Act was put into effect and Ireland was divided
into regions or "unions"
in which the inhabitants were to be held financially responsible for the
paupers in their region. In
other words the tax payers paid for the poor. These unions had boundaries
county boundaries and were usually centered around a large market town.
Initially there were
130 and eventually by 1850, there were 163 poor law unions. Between 1838
and 1852, there
were 163 workhouses built throughout the country, each at the center of the
workhouses were normally situated in the large market town, and the Poor
Law Union comprised
the town and it's catchment area, with the result that the Unions in many
cases ignored the
existing boundaries of parish and county. The workhouse in the town
provided relief for the
unemployed and destitute, generally under very harsh conditions. Records
were kept of the
inhabitants. These can provide useful research material.
In 1898, the
Local Government Act
adopted the Poor Law Unions as the basic administrative unit in place of
civil parishes or
baronies. The unions were subdivided into 829 Registration Districts and
3751 District Electoral
Divisions. Townlands were arranged according to these divisions, with
parishes and baronies
being retained only to make comparisons with records gathered before 1898.
Poor Law Unions of Counties Letrim and Rosecommon:
See Poor Law Unions.
See Poor Law Unions.
Poor Law Unions were subdivided into dispensary districts following the
1851 Medical Charities Act.
SUPERINTENDENT REGISTRAR'S DISTRICT
Poor Law Unions became known as Superintendent Registrar's districts in
order to record births,
marriages, and deaths as a result of the 1863 Acts for the Registration of
Births, Deaths, and Marriages.
Dispensary Districts became known as Registrar's districts in order to
record births, marriages
and deaths as a result of the 1863 Acts for the Registration of Births,
Deaths, and Marriages.
There are three kinds of parish:
Quod Civilia, where there is a parish which is used for civil
Quod Omnia, where the parish boundaries are the same for both Civil
and Ecclesiastical purposes.
Quod Sacra. A parish for Ecclesiastical purposes only.
This was used extensively in surveys from the seventeenth century, based on
maonastic and early Christian church settlements in Ireland. By 1841 the
population of Ireland
had risen to 8,175,124 and this caused a further dividing of the parish
boundaries. This may be
when FORMOYLE was created. New parishes were created by dividing the older
causing townlands to appear in different parishes in the records.
For example: Carrick Parish in
County Derry was created by taking eleven townlands from the adjoining
parishes of Balteagh
(3), Bovevagh (3) and Tamlaght Finlagan (5). There were either 2428 or
Civil Parishes in Ireland. They often break both the county and barony
boundaries. The Civil
Parishes were the major administrative division until 1898, therefore,
civil divisions in their own right.
PARISH LOCATOR from GENUKI
This is the smallest administrative division and on average covers about
350 acres It is the most
ancient geographical unit in Ireland and the one in which researchers
struggle to identify when
searching for their ancestors. Many townlands share the same name. For
example: there are 56
Kilmores and 47 Dromores. County Derry has 1247 townlands grouped into 46
civil parishes. A
full list is available in the Valuation Office. The townland was named at
an early period and
often the name was derived from some local physical feature or landmark
such as a mountain,
bog, forest, a village, or a church. The townland became standardized as
the unit of
measurement during the seventeenth century surveys. The townland names
were originally in
Irish Gaelic, but they became modified as a result of English speaking
clerks writing the names
as they heard them, using the Latin alphabet to approximate Gaelic word
sounds. The Ordnance
Survey completed in 1846 contains maps at the scale of six inches to the
mile of each of the
60,462 townlands in Ireland. An index to these was published by Alexander
Thom in 1861 and
reprinted by the Genealogical Publishing Company in 1981 under the title
GENERAL ALPHABETICAL INDEX TO THE TOWNLANDS AND TOWNS, PARISHES,
BARONIES OF IRELAND.
"When testifying before the Select Committee on County Cess, Griffith
was asked whether the boundary of a townland is the boundary of a parish,
are the boundaries in any degree commensurate? He responded:
'The boundaries of parishes are always boundaries of townlands; that is to
say, one townland cannot be contained in two parishes; it sometimes happens
that an estate may lie on both sides of the boundary of a parish, and that
the townland in each parish is called by the same name, and is considered to
be one townland, but in such cases I have always divided the townland, and
added the word upper or lower, east or west, to the original name, to serve
to distinguish them. As each parish will be separately assessed, it is
necessary that no confusion should arise as to the boundaries of any
denomination or division belonging to it, consequently in all cases the
boundary of a parish must likewise be the boundary of a townland as far as
that parish or the county assessment is concerned.'"
Townlands are grouped into Civil Parishes, which are
grouped into Counties, which are grouped into provinces.
(Type in townland, it lists what counties have that one. Type in county, it gives the townlands.)
PARISH (ROMAN CATHOLIC)
While the Established Church (Church of Ireland) used the Civil Parish as
its unit of
administration, the Roman Catholic Church, as a result of the Reformation
of the 16th century,
developed its own parish structure. There is a book that maps the Roman
Catholic Parishes to
the Civil Parishes so that one can locate a given townland in either
structure. In government
records, the Civil Parish is the one that is used. See:
A TOPOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF
IRELAND, by Samuel Lewis. Written in 1837. Reprinted by Genealogical
A bishop's diocese was comprised of parishes. Many parishes were villages
with a church and a
clergyman. Larger towns and cities would contain several parishes.
Records of British
baptisms, marriages and burials have been maintained by law since 1538.
Not all chuches date
back to this date and also not all clergymen kept accurate records. Most
records were jumbled
together and some were written in Latin. In 1732 all records were required
to be written in
English. During the 18th century the baptisms, marriages and burials were
separate pages or registers. In the early years it was normal to only
record the father's full name
and that of his child for baptismal entries, therefore making it very
difficult to search records.
Three ecclesiastical synods in the 12th century, around 1101-1152, imposed a
of four provinces: Armagh, Cashel, Dublin, and Tuam. With each province
headed by an
Archbishop. Under them were 22 bishops, each in charge of a diocese. The
boundaries of the
diocese have remained constant and are used by both the Roman Catholic and
churches. Diocese boundaries have no relation to county boundaries,
however. In 1834, the four
provinces were reduced to two: Armagh and Dublin.
Both Erenagh and Co-arb functions go back long before the introduction of
Catholicism to Ireland, and are parts to the old Celtic religious
Herenach, erenagh, and airchinnech:
Some families lived on the Church lands and their leaders held the
hereditary title of herenach. Certain families were associated with
particular parcels usually called termons. The Erenagh was
appointed to his position by he Chief or Urragh, so the position wasn't
hereditary per se, although it often was so in practice.
The herenach was expected to maintain the Church buildings in his termon and
support the Bishop and clergy from the proceeds of the land. He was
therefore a territorial ruler of sorts. These families in the
county of Monaghan were erenaghs;
HANRATTY, O'DUFFY, McALERNEYS, MceNANEYS, CARBRYS, McCONNELLS, TRAYNORS,
McCLAVES, or Hands, KEENANS, MURRAYS, LAMBS, and O'GOANS,or Smiths.
The Co-arb was the president of a collegiate church. (i.e Abbot of a Celtic
monastry.) and had the privilege of clerical orders. As a successor of the
founder, he had a seat in the founder's Abbey, a stall in the choir and a
voice in the chapter. Although the co-arb was in orders, he was usually
married, and if one of his sons qualified by learning, he would be chosen
by the Dean and Chapter to be Coarb. Thus the Coarb-ship was in a manner
hereditary. Towards the end of the 16th century, all parishes had a Parson
and Vicar, instead of a Coarb and Erenagh, and the upkeep of the churches
was done by tithes.
At the time of the Plantation of Ulster, Sir John Davies went to
considerable trouble to determine the meaning of both these words, as their
functions were still current in Ulster until then. (Fermanagh,under the
Maguires, and parts of Donegal and Tyrone were the last strongholds of the
old Celtic religion.)
In 1858 a principal registry and eleven district registries were
to prove wills and
grant administrations. The boundaries of these districts were either
baronies or counties.
Materials for this writing were obtained with the help from the following
- Possum--a member of the Fianna study group. Gave assistance in finding
Brian Mitchell's book; PARISH MAPS OF IRELAND
- hla--a member from the Ireland chat sessions sponsored by the IIGS.
Assistance was given
concerning Brian Mitchell's book; PARISH MAPS OF IRELAND
- Diana Hanson--genealogist, and instructor of a course called Ireland
Some of the information was obtained through her Lesson number five--Parish
My name is Fran Pugh. I am researching in County Down, Northern Ireland,
for the surnames:
GAMBLE, POLLOCK, BELL, and HARRISON. Any help assistance would be greatly
appreciated. Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
'Hayes Index' - Another resource
Detailed maps were made of many estates in Ireland. Most of these maps
are among the thousands of items listed in "Manuscript Sources for the
Study of Irish Civilization" by Richard Hayes. They are indexed both
by place and by person. Always check both; a map may only be entered
under the largest townland name. The "person index" would list the
family name of the estate owner, which is presumably the name on the
deeds you are using.
"Manuscript Sources..." (aka Hayes index) has about 15 volumes and was
an expensive series of books to buy. You will only find them in a
large library. Many of the items indexed have never been microfilmed
and are only available in Dublin in the National Archives, National
Library Manuscripts Department, etc.
Meaning of Irish Place Names
Units of Measure
- Square Measure
|144 sq inches||1 sq. foot|
|9 sq feet||1 sq yard|
|30 & 1/4 sq. yards||1 sq pole|
|40 sq poles||1 rood|
|4 Roods||1 acre|
- Lineal Measure
|12 inches||1 foot|
|3 feet||1 yard|
|5 & 1/2 yards||1 pole or perch|
|40 poles||1 furlong|
|1760 yards||1 mile|
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