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PLACES - Ireland LAND (WHERE type questions)

a) Administrative Divisions and Place Names
b) common words used in Place Names
c) Gazateers and Maps
d) Griffith's Valuation 
e) Tithe Applotment's



Administrative Areas of the Republic of Ireland

Following the Government of Ireland Act 1920, 26 of Ireland's 32 counties left the United Kingdom and formed the Irish Free State. In 1949 this became the Republic of Ireland.

The CCC is for “Colin Chapman Code’  a key to abbreviating Country and County names into a universal 3-letter code.

















































King's County / Offaly (1)














Navan (2)


Queen's County / Laois (3)









































Counties  below were in Ulster but are part of Republic of   Ireland
    Monaghan Monaghan MOG Monaghan
    Cavan Cavan CAV Cavan
    Donegal Donegal DON Lifford

 Northern Ireland

Ulster (4) UIE Antrim Antrim ANT Antrim / Belfast
    Armagh Armagh ARM Armagh



Derry Londonderry / Derry LDY Londonderry
    Down Down DOW Down
    Fermanagh Fermanagh FER Fermanagh
    Tyrone Tyrone TYR Tyrone



  1. The name "King's County" (or simply "King's") was changed to "Offaly" in 1921.
  2. Also known as "An Uaimh".
  3. The name "Queen's County" (or simply "Queen's") was changed to "Laois" in 1921. It is sometimes spelt "Laoighis" and is also known as "Leix".
  4. The six counties of Northern Ireland are also part of the Province of Ulster.


  Administrative Divisions and Place Names



Church of Ireland Parish

The coming of the Henrician Reformation to Ireland in the sixteenth century led to a split of the Medieval Church into the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church of Ireland. A parallel rift occurred in parish boundaries. The Church of Ireland retained the old medieval system. As this Church was now a state/civil institution, the new English administration adopted the parishes of this church and used them as units of civil administration.

As Church of Ireland and civil parishes were essentially the same unit, searches for families who belonged to this Church are simpler, at least from the point of view of territorial units.

Catholic Parish

Catholic families are recorded in the civil parish for government records but in the Catholic parish for Church records.

Catholic parishes were defined by the beginning of the nineteenth century. They were usually larger in size than the Civil/Church of Ireland parish. In most cases the boundaries of both parishes bear no relation to each other and names also differ. Catholic parishes were used only by the Catholic Church and were the primary division with which members of this Church identified.

Converting from Civil to Catholic Parish

In many cases you will have identified the Civil parish in which your ancestor's family lived, e.g. in Griffith's Valuation and wish to proceed to a search of the corresponding Catholic parish register. In this case it is necessary to convert from Civil to Catholic parish. The Catholic and Civil parish maps of each county are shown under County Sources and will facilitate such a conversion.


File - IRL-Parish-Registers-National-Library.pdf - Download

Parish Registers for each County - List compiled by National Library of Ireland.



Ireland and its counties are sub-divided by 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 remain obscure but they are undoubtedly of great antiquity, much older than parishes and counties.

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 approximately 62,000 townlands in Ireland 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. Anything from five to thirty townlands may be grouped together to form a civil parish. From the seventeenth century onwards, land was let by landlords on a townland basis and townland names were recorded in a variety of documentation concerning land. For instance, the rentals of estates were organised according to townlands, the Tithe Applotment Books used the townland as its smallest division, and the townland was also used as a distinct unit in the Census and Valuation Books.

Townlands existed long before the parishes and counties. The original Irish names were eventually written down in anglicised form as they sounded to English court scribes. A good example of names being written down in anglised form as they sounded can be found in the
Raven maps (T.510/1). It is possible to trace how they became increasingly anglised in the General Alphabetical Index to the Townlands and Towns, Parishes and Baronies of Ireland and in the Ordnance Survey maps.

A townland name in its original Irish form often referred to an easily identifiable feature of the landscape such as Carraig (meaning rock) or Tullagh (meaning a hill) or a botanical feature such as Annagh (meaning marsh). 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 Ballywalter, Ballyrussel and Ballysavage. Many townlands throughout Ireland took their names from early habitation sites, both ecclesiastical and secular. Examples in this category include names with Rath (meaning fortification), Dun (meaning fort) or Chill (meaning church) in them.


Townlands turn up in Irish research and nowhere else. 

 The townland existed long before the 14th century, perhaps from as early as the 1100s. It was a meaningful entity, and it was how a small, local community identified itself. Townlands seemed to derive from what defined a family holding, and in some rural areas until recent times, the townland name was the postal address.

 The townland is the smallest administrative division, and all other divisions are made up of townlands. Anywhere from five to 30 townlands comprise one civil parish. In other words, size varies from the smallest, which is less than two acres, to the largest—more than 7,000 acres. This is an indication of land quality: the better land was divided into smaller townlands.

At the time of the Plantation of Ireland, part of the policy of resettlement was to introduce the English system of land tenure. In their leases, the proprietors described land according to townlands for the simple reason that there was in 1608 no proper survey of the confiscated areas. In addition, for the several general land surveys later in the 17th century, the townland was the basic land unit. Thus it became standard in land transactions, and estates were mapped with reference to townlands.

Nearly 200 years later, the British government undertook a townland survey of Ireland to create a detailed mapping at a scale of six inches to the mile. The maps were to be supplemented with "aide-memoires," or written descriptions of details that could not fit on the plans. The Ordnance Survey Memoirs, completed only for the northern counties, were the result. On the maps, townlands were all marked, including some newly created, generally those identified with prefixes like Upper, Lower, North, South, etc. John O'Donovan was hired to standardize the names so that duplication was avoided. His workbooks survive in Ireland and can sometimes help in the identification of a place name. It was this official mapping that made permanent the townland names found in the various indexes, in particular the widely available General Alphabetical Index to the Townlands and Towns, Parishes and Baronies of Ireland Based on the Census of Ireland for the Year 1851 (originally published in 1861; reprinted, GPC, 1984).

Records based on townlands and commonly consulted by genealogists are census returns, tithe applotments, Griffith's Primary Valuation and subsequent valuations, taxes, deeds, the spinning wheel lists, rentals of estate lands, and maps. Knowing the townland where ancestors lived may prove significant in setting a family apart from others of the same surname. To be useful, however, the townland needs to be in context—what parish, barony, and county is it in? However, sometimes the problem is the reverse: the townland is unknown, and a record must be used to discover it.

To place a townland, begin with the one of the various indexes to townlands published in association with the census returns.  Townlands can also be referenced according to the Poor Law Unions created in the middle of the 1800s (Townlands and Poor Law Unions, by G.B. Handran, Higginson, 1997).

If a family can be positively identified, then records such as valuations and tithe applotment books will indicate which townland a particular family lived in at that point in time. On the other hand, knowing the townland does not automatically pinpoint location. Among the 60,000 and more names, there is duplication. Also (though not such a difficult problem), it may not be possible to distinguish between a townland name and the name of the parish, e.g., Faughanvale Townland is in Faughanvale Parish in County Londonderry.

Knowing the townland focuses research, both geographically and with respect to records. As far as geography is concerned, one example is the modern discoverer/discovery series of maps—1:50,000 sheets issued by the Ordnance Survey offices of Ireland and Northern Ireland; these include townland names. For records, the Registry of Deeds is an example. It has an index to grantors and a place index based on townlands that allows searching by region, whether or not your ancestor was a likely grantor.

The Northern Ireland Place-Name Project, which comes under the Department of Celtic Studies at The Queen's University of Belfast. The Institute of Irish Studies at the university has published a Dictionary of Ulster Place-Names (Patrick McKay, 1999) and the first seven volumes of The Place-Names of Northern Ireland (so far covering Down and parts of Antrim and Derry).


 Topographical Index of the Parishes and Townlands of Ireland in Sir William Petty's Manuscript Maps (available through the FHL in Salt Lake City and Family History Centers), 

alert researchers to types of possible spelling variations. Some other recommended sources are

To a certain extent, the 17th-century records show us the native Irish system of landholding, only partly modified by the English administration. However, the early 19th-century mapping of Ireland by the Ordnance Survey was concerned with making a workable system, with the English-language term "townland" replacing all the variable local units, such as poles, horsemens' beds, tates, and ballyboes.

Some land divisions, which local people may think are official townlands, never made it into the Ordnance Survey list. Dr. Muhr pointed out that, in the past, most townlands had at least three subdivisions making up the name that dominated unvaried through time. By way of example, she mentioned two: (1) Derryhenny, parish of Lettermacaward (once part of Templecrone), in Donegal and (2) Gortnagarn, parish of Cappagh, in Tyrone. Neither is in any published or Web-based official list of townlands. An index of these names, with their locations, would be a very helpful finding aid.

At the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland you can explore place names of the six counties of Northern Ireland in several categories, including townlands. These can be examined in alphabetical lists according to county, parish, or major estates. There are some excellent maps as well.

Townlands and Modern Addresses
Those of us in search of ancient place names and ancestors may be unaware of the fact that townland names are disappearing from general usage in Northern Ireland. Contributing significantly to this trend has been the modernization of the postal address system in the UK. In Northern Ireland, the changes have involved assigning names and numbers to country roads. Many of the roads have been given the name of one of the townlands along the route, which may at first sound positive, but it can cause confusion and suppress the names of other townlands.

Where road names have been adopted, the name of the townland has ceased to be part of the official address. In fact, townland names are not used by the post office and are not in its database. So while locals may continue using townland names, to the post office, they may convey nothing.

Does this road name adoption matter? Very definitely, for two reasons: (1) Post office personnel may be able to find rural addresses, but others have difficulty; (2) Very important aspects of local identity and cultural heritage are lost when townland names are no longer used.

The Ulster Place-Name Society first warned of the renaming dangers more than 20 years ago. They see the creation of a new Northern Ireland government and the new millennium as an opportune time to restore townlands as an element of rural addresses. One way of doing this is to match each townland name to a postal code. 


Tax records are useful in Irish research because they reveal an individual's place of residence at a given time. As mentioned, knowing place and date of residence is extremely helpful in Irish research.

Irish tax records fall into two classes: pre- and post-1661 records. Pre-1661 records are of taxes created under the English feudal system and extracted by the crown. Post-1661 records are of taxes assessed and extracted by the local districts.

Many types of Irish taxes were assessed prior to the nineteenth century. The most important Irish tax records, however, are Tithe Applotment books and Griffith's Primary Valuation. Both are nineteenth-century sources and serve, to some extent, as census substitutes. Both are extremely useful in locating people and identifying the townland and parish in which they lived. Griffith's Primary Valuation can also be used to determine names of estate owners, making it possible to access estate records (see the “Land and Property” section of this outline).


Land records are valuable genealogical sources, because they may reveal where and when your ancestor lived; where your ancestor lived previously; family information, such as the names of children, heirs, spouse, other relatives, and neighbors; the occupation your ancestor pursued; other records that may mention your ancestor; and the progression of estate ownership or tenancy from one generation to another.


Deeds are often valuable land records. Registration of deeds began in 1708. However, many did not register their deeds, because deeds had to be registered in Dublin and a fee was required. Marriage settlements, leases, mortgages, and wills are also found with deed registrations.

Two separate indexes to Irish deeds exist: surname and county. The surname index is arranged by grantor (seller or transferor of land). The county or land index is arranged alphabetically by county and then by the place-name (town or townland) within the county. Larger cities have their own indexes within the county index. Irish deeds and their indexes are stored at the Registry of Deeds in Dublin (Henrietta Street, Dublin 1, Ireland). For an excellent overview of records at the Registry of Deeds, see:

Begley, Donal F., ed. “The Registry of Deeds for Genealogical Purposes.” In Irish Genealogy: A Record Finder (see the “For Further Reading” section).

Grenham, John. “The Registry of Deeds.” In Tracing Your Irish Ancestors: The Complete Guide (see the “For Further Reading” section).

The Family History Library's copies of Irish deeds are listed in the Locality Search of the catalog under the following headings:



Estate Records

Estate records are another valuable set of property records. Most Irish lived on large estates owned by a minority of the population. Land owners usually hired agents to keep records of transactions involving their families and/or their tenants. Estate records vary in content and duration and may include deeds, leases, rent rolls,and account books, among other records. A brief explanation of estate records is found in “Land Records” in John Grenham, Tracing Your Irish Ancestors: The Complete Guide (see the “For Further Reading” section of this outline).

To locate estate records you need to know the name of the estate owner. If you can locate your ancestor in Griffith's Primary Valuation(see the “Taxation” section of this outline), you may also find the name of the owner of the estate your ancestor lived on.

Estate owners often lived away from their estates. Some lived in England. Many of the records of owners living in England have been deposited in English archives. The following sources identify some estate records and where they are deposited:

Irish Manuscripts Commission. Analecta Hibernica. Dublin: Stationery Office, 1930-. (FHL book 941.5 B2ah; computer number 0194681.)

Grenham, John. “County Source Lists.” In Tracing Your Irish Ancestors: The Complete Guide (see the “For Further Reading” section).

Hayes's Sources.

National Inventory of Documentary Sources in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Records. Belfast: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1924-. (FHL book 941.5 A5rn; computer number 0362042.)

The Family History Library's copies of estate records are listed in the Locality Search of the catalog under the following headings:



Boundaries of townlands were expressed in terms of notable natural or man-made features of the landscape, such as hilltops, rivers and streams, walls, or roads, and very often it was these features that became the names of townlands. Landmarks, trees, plants, and animals all appear among the names; Eglish (church), Fofanny (thistle place), and Rosnamuck (wood of the pigs) are three examples ("Celebrating Ulster's Townlands," by Kate Muhr, Ulster Place-Name Society, 1999).


The majority of Irish place names, and particularly townland names, are derived from the Gaelic, or Irish, language. Some components of these names, such as Bally— (town), — more (big), or —beg (small), are particularly common. A good description of the origins of Irish place names is given in P.W. Joyce's Irish Names of Places (1893) and Irish Local Names Explained (1884, Reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1979). Because these names are ancient, there are often variations in the way in which they are spelled, particularly in earlier documents. Note, for instance, the variations in spelling between the names of many parishes and those of the corresponding Catholic parishes (e.g., Killadysert versus Kildysert).

It is not uncommon for researchers to know the name of the place of origin of their ancestor, and to find it is not listed in any guide. This may be because the name was taken down or remembered from the pronunciation used by an ancestor who may have been illiterate, Irish-speaking, or both. Thus the spelling will reflect the phonetics used. Examples include Mallah for Mallow, Carsaveen for Cahirciveen, etc. Some imagination is necessary to relate these names to their currently accepted forms. A knowledge of local accents is also very valuable in these situations.





Note that the most important reference work relative to finding a place-name in Ireland is the General Alphabetical Index To The Townlands And Towns, Parishes and Baronies of Ireland.

The Alphabetical Index to the Towns and Townlands of Ireland (Dublin: Alexander Thorn and Company, 1877) lists the townlands alphabetically and gives, for each, the parish, barony, county, and Poor Law Union to which it belongs. The parishes, baronies, and Poor Law Unions are also listed separately.

General Alphabetical Index to the Townlands and Towns, Parishes, and Baronies of Ireland . . . 1851 (Reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1984) is based on the 1851 census and gives much the same information as the above index.

Having found where an ancestor lived, some further background information on the area may be gleaned from the following publications:

A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, by Samuel Lewis (London, 1837) lists all the parishes, baronies, towns, villages, and counties in Ireland with local administrative details, an account of agriculture and industry, major local houses ("seats") and their owners, and other local information.

William Shaw Mason's A Statistical Account, or Parochial Survey of Ireland, (Dublin, 1814-1819), and Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland (Fullerton and Company, 1846) also provide very useful local information. Local history journals are also a good source of information on the history and other aspects of particular counties. 

The Irish Place Names Commission in the Ordnance Survey Office, Phoenix Park, Dublin 8, can usually assist in finding the accepted variant for difficult place-names where the above sources fail.
The first effort to create a generally accepted list of townland names came at the time of the Down Survey, 1655-59.

Sir William Petty, took an interest in the ancient names and in retaining them, but had a preference for expressing them in English. The list was published about 70 years ago as A Topographical Index of the Parishes and Townlands of Ireland in Sir William Petty's Manuscript Barony Maps 1655-59 (edited by Y.M. Goblet, Dublin, 1932).

Seamus Pender's A Census of Ireland circa 1659 (Dublin, 1939), which is based on hearth tax records, and the Patent Rolls and Inquisitions.

Patent Rolls are the registered copies of Letters Patent issued by the Court of Chancery. They recorded a broad range of grants—for land, offices, privileges, licenses, wardships, and so on. They have been described in a series of "calendars" or descriptive finding aids (listed in M. Falley, Irish and Scotch-Irish Ancestral Research, Genealogical Pub. Co., 1998, Vol. II, 254-55).

Inquisitions were of two types: "Post Mortem" and "on Attainder." The former were drawn up when a tenant of the Crown died (these cease during the 1660s), and the latter when the lands of anyone attainted (i.e., declared an outlaw or traitor by an Act of Attainder) were transferred to the Crown (these cease by 1700). These records give evidence of the descent of families and describe property and its transfer. Irish and Scotch-Irish Ancestral Research, Volume I (M. Falley, 1998) can give additional information on Inquisitions and Patent Rolls.

Only the Inquisitions (Post Mortem) are indexed (by county) for both place and personal names. The text of the entries presents a challenge—it is in Latin, including some very hard-to-follow abbreviations.