Rules? What Rules?!
When it comes to naming conventions and the systematic dividing up of the land, remember that this has been a joint effort between the Irish speaking itinerants and the English speaking landlords for centuries, so no surprises there are some quirks! Here are my observations and words of wisdom that I need to keep reminding myself of when I'm lost in the wilds of the Emerald Isle trying to find somewhere;
- John Grenham's Placenames page is your go-to place for trying to tell a townland from a parish.
- There is never just one spelling of a placename. There have been attempts to officially standardise spellings but older variants may persist and of course modern transcription errors add to the complexity too. For example, lots of townlands begin with Bally- but you may find the older Irish spelling of Baile- used too - make liberal use of Wildcards when hunting on-line.
- However, watch out for what looks like a different spelling actually being a distinctly separate place - try searching for everywhere beginning "Kil" and you'll see what I mean! (Kil- means church by the way so you can see how all those names arose.)
- Be aware of the use of suffixes too as not accounting for these in your search may obscure them from you - use wildcards at the end of your search term to find places ending in "Upper", "Lower", "North", "South", "East", "West", "Town" etc.
- There may be 2 names for the same place, one English (e.g. "Kingstown") and one Irish (e.g. "Dun Laoghaire") - keep a list of aliases for your areas of interest and remember to search for both occurrences. See also the excellent website, Placenames of Ireland, for translations and more information.
- A parish may not necessarily contain a place of the same name i.e. a town, village or townland.
- Parish names may also appear as townland names in other parishes! This is particularly true of names that are common descriptions e.g. Kilmore means "big church".
- Most civil parishes mapped on to a Church of Ireland ecclesiastical parish of the same name, but these may not have been unique across the counties.
- Places change their names too - Co. Offaly was previously known as Kings and Co. Laois was previously known as Queens ... oh and just to confuse things further the latter also often appears as Co. Leix. Co. Londonderry in Ulster reflects the Protestant ties to the London livery companies who got involved in financing developments there some 400 years ago - you may find it more simply named Co. Derry in many sources. Apparently it was also known as Co. Coleraine at one point, but I can't say I've seen too many references to that name.
- Boundaries in Ireland sometimes follow wonderfully logical paths such as rivers or roads before veering off across country with no obvious reason to their course. They can also change over time so you have to keep your wits about you chronologically too when searching.
- Sometimes there can be 2 parishes of the same name either side of a county border e.g. Hacketstown, Co. Carlow and Hacketstown, Co. Wicklow.
- Similarly, you may find several parishes of essentially the same name, but further sub-divided as their populations grew and the administrative burdens were split e.g. Newcastle Upper and Newcastle Lower in Co. Wicklow.
- Because of the way land ownership may have evolved within the church, all the land in some parishes may not have been completely contiguous - one parish may have consisted of 2 or more groups of townlands, separated by another parish e.g. Drumkay in Co. Wicklow. The same situation could also apply to dioceses e.g. the Diocese of Tuam had 2 small areas assigned to it that were nominally enclosed by the neighbouring Diocese of Clonfert according to the Diocese map in Brian Mitchell's "A New Genealogical Atlas of Ireland".