Administrative Land Divisions in Ireland
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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:

Closson Press
Apollo, PA 1988

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

There are also other books available concerning this subject. They are:
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.

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. Most document 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. Boundaries generally 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:
County Cork:


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 during the 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.

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 that overlapped 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 union. 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 the 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.


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 purposes.
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 early medieval 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 ones, thus 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 2508 (records vary) Civil Parishes in Ireland. They often break both the county and barony boundaries. The Civil Parishes were the major administrative division until 1898, therefore, becoming important civil divisions in their own right.



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

"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.
IREATLAS: IreAtlas Project
(Type in townland, it lists what counties have that one. Type in county, it gives the townlands.)


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 Publishing Company in 1984.

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 maintained in 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 diocesan structure 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 Anglican 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 organisation.
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 established to prove wills and grant administrations. The boundaries of these districts were either baronies or counties.

Acknowledgements: Materials for this writing were obtained with the help from the following individuals:
  1. Possum--a member of the Fianna study group. Gave assistance in finding materials concerning Brian Mitchell's book; PARISH MAPS OF IRELAND
  2. hla--a member from the Ireland chat sessions sponsored by the IIGS. Assistance was given concerning Brian Mitchell's book; PARISH MAPS OF IRELAND
  3. Diana Hanson--genealogist, and instructor of a course called Ireland
    Genealogy. Some of the information was obtained through her Lesson number five--Parish Registers

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:

'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 inches1 sq. foot
    9 sq feet1 sq yard
    30 & 1/4 sq. yards1 sq pole
    40 sq poles1 rood
    4 Roods1 acre
  • Lineal Measure
    12 inches1 foot
    3 feet1 yard
    5 & 1/2 yards1 pole or perch
    40 poles1 furlong
    1760 yards1 mile

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