Townlands and placenames.

Some 90% of Irish placenames derived from the original Irish language. Although the language has changed considerably in the last 1500 years, anyone who is literate in Irish can write down and identify local placenames.

For at least the first one hundred and fifty years after Ireland was first surveyed and mapped, the men that copied down Irish place-names were not literate in Irish. They tackled Irish placenames in a variety of ways.

  1. They ignored the original Irish placename and gave it a new one – this was particularly common where plantations took place. King’s county replaced Uibh Failghe – now Offaly. Queen’s county replaced Laoighis, now Laois.

  2. Surveyors translated the name from the Irish to the English to try and preserve the original (often descriptive) meaning. Doire an Ghlastoir on the border of Tipperary and Offaly became Gloster Wood, whilst Caislean an Ridire in Wicklow became Knight’s Castle.

  3. Surveyors ‘murdered’ the name by trying to transcribe in phonetically with no knowledge of the phonetic alphabet of the Irish language. So An Aill[1]  in north county Dublin became ‘the Naul’, whilst An Uaimh[2] became Navan.

The handy www.logainm.ie website is an absolute god-send to genealogists and family historians and it can take the leg-work out of identifying a placename.

Early surveyors may have garbled Irish placenames, but they left us a wonderful legacy in accurately measuring the boundaries of townlands, civil parishes and baronies in Ireland. From 1824 surveyors in the Ordnance Survey worked from measurements taken in the Down Survey (1654-56). Using over 2700 tracings tracings their main purpose was to confirm the exact location of townland boundaries, as established 168 years earlier! The result was to create a strong continuity in property boundaries from the 1600s to the 21st Century.

Small mercies, people!

[1] Meaning a cliff.

[2] Meaning a cave.

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