Searching for the old homestead – a short guide to using Irish townlands in genealogical research.

Whaddya mean you're lost?  You can't get lost in Ireland! It's an island isn't it?

Whaddya mean you’re lost? You can’t get lost in Ireland! It’s an island isn’t it? And no, this isn’t an Irish signpost.  Well maybe not…….

Several months ago I published a post on townlands – Ireland’s original and ancient answer to postcodes.  This is an interesting item on using townlands as part of your genealogical research.I would suggest that readers take particular note of the similarity of townland names and their repetition in the same county. The golden rule is caveat emptor – don’t buy the first bit of information you get…..check it out, and then double check!


Good luck and happy homestead hunting!

Someone's old homestead somewhere in Ireland.

Someone’s old homestead…….. somewhere in Ireland.

Townland subdivisions – examples from Castleredmond and Townparks in Midleton

Townlands have been the basic unit of land division in Ireland since the medieval period, with origins perhaps going back much further.  some are relatively new – such as the townland of School-lands in Midleton which certainly didn’t exist before 1696, when Midleton School, or Midleton College as we now call it, was founded.  As I mentioned in my previous post on the subject, townlands (or ploughlands) are not of a uniform size – being dependent on the fertility of the land contained within the townland boundaries.  And they were not always rigidly fixed either – several of them changed over the centuries, such as the cre.  Many of them have local sub-divisions which never appear on a map because these sub-divisisons are unofficial.  Castlredmond townland, which lies between Midleton town and Ballinacurra village is a classic example.  It sprawls from the shore of the Owenacurra estuary and Ballinacurra creek to Carrigshane rock.  A sprawling townland needed to be subdivided by the inhabitants as a way of ascertaining who actually lived where.

Bailick, Lakeview, Cronin’s Rock, Rocky Road, Ashlin Road, Carrigshane Rock (which is NOT in the townland of Carrighane!) all mark out divisions of the townland.  But these names may not appear on official maps except for very specific locations or reatures, such as a road or a house.  Technically these names should only apply the specific feature but in Ireland, this is usually disregarded.  Well, rules were made to be broken.

Aerial view Castleredmond

Aerial view of the Ballinacorra and the western part of Castlredmond. The Creek of Ballinacorra runs from the bottom left to the right midground. This creek is part of the inner reaches of Cork Harbour. The stretch of water leading off from the center to the left midground is the estuary of the Owenacurra River which flows from the north. This view is taken from the south west towards the north east. Ballinacorra village is right at the end of the creek. Ballinacorra House and its farm buildings are on the centre foreground (bottom of picture). Slightly to the left of these (follow the angled wall) is a small peninsula on which stands the ruined medieval St Colman’s church and graveyard. On the other side of the wall from the churchyard is a high tree-covered mound in the ground of Ballinacorra House – most likely a motte or earthwork castle from the late 12th or early 13th century.  Castleredmond stretches from the shoreline in the centre to the top and right of the photo. Bailick is the shoreline by the Owenacurra estuary, Charleston is the north bank of the creek leading to Ballinacorra. The wooded point in the left midground is Ballyannon Wood dating from at least the 17th century.

In fact the subdivisions were derived from local usage and existed for the convenience of the inhabitants themselves. For example, if you take the townland of Castleredmond, which lies between Midleton and Ballynacorra, this covered 486 acres, 3 roods and 33 perches, containing 259 inhabitants in what was then a mostly rural district in 1881 when these figures were published.  Now many of these inhabitants probably lived close to the wharf on the Owenacurra estuary in the west.area.  But there might be clusters of inhabitants in other parts, say bordering the Youghal Road or on the Rocky Road or perhaps on the Ballinacorra Road.   That gives four different clusters of housing where people were concentrated..Imagine a townland where several men bear the name Patrick Murphy.  There might be several Pat Murphys spread among the different clusters in different parts of the townland.  And one ot two living in more apart in isolated farms or cottages.   How would you recognize which Pat Murphy someone is talking about?  In speech a nickname was given – Pat Jim Murphy might be the Pat Murphy who is the son of Jim Murphy.  Pat Michael or Mick’s Pat might be the Patrick Murphy, son of Michael Murphy.  But an official letter is likely to be addressed to Mr Patrick Murphy, Castleredmond, Midleton, County Cork.  To whom does the postman deliver the letter?

Bailick Cottage

Bailick Cottage. This is actually a very substantial house – a middle class ‘cottage’ from the early 19th century (seen here) with more recent extensions, all giving the house a charming appearance. It stands on the Bailick Road, or Bailick as it is popularly called, in the townland of Castlredmond.

One way of getting over this was to insert a local designation into the address – somewhat unofficial, but useful for the postman.  So, Pat Jim Murphy might live in a cottage on Bailick Road and might give his address as Patrick Murphy, Bailick, Castleredmond, Midleton while Mick’s Pat could be Patrick Murphy, Lakeview, Castleredmond, Midleton.  Perhaps there’s another Patrick Murphy called Pat John, or PJ, for identification, living on Bailick Road – he might liver near Charleston Maltings (run by Bennetts) so his address might be given as Patrick Murphy, Charleston, Bailick, Castleredmond Midleton.  Remember these are not entirely official designations, but they were useful for the postman who had to distinguish between the several Patrick Murphys living in one townland.  It is possible that similar designations might appear in the local church registers – but this was entirely at the discretion of the priest or clergyman.  The practice was probably also used by local landlords who sublet to small tenants.


Tarquin Blake’s atmospheric image of the north (entrance) front of Lake View House in Midleton. This early 19th century late Georgian villa was a lovely house, but sadly is neglected by the current owner, a property developer, and is subject to vandalism. The house gave its name to a whole area of Castleredmond townland. The pointed windows on the left indicate a billiard room, not a chapel. The Check out Tarquin Blake’s  vwebsite, below, for more striking photos.

I have suggested that these subdivisions of townlands were somewhat unofficial, but sometimes they were recognized by the Post Office – Lakeview Terrace still stands at the northern end of Castleredmond right next to the modern by-pass,  The small terrace of three good houses appears in the first edition Ordnance Survey map so it has been in existance since the early 1840s or late 1830s.  But it takes its name from the large house next door – Lakeview or Lake View in the original designation.  This house was inhabited by Mr Swithin Fleming, a lawyer, from the 1830s to the 1880s.  The lake viewed from the house was actually a broad stretch of the estuary of the Owenacurra River to the west.  I suspect that the view as better from the upper floor of the house since the site stands well back from the estuary, at the top of the slope.  Today, Lakeview is the name given locally to this area of the townland of Castleredmond – indeed the junction of by-pass with the Midleton to Ballinacorra Road is called Lakeview Roundabout (Rotary to you Americans), and the nearby service station is called Lakeview Service Station.  But the houses in the area can be designated ‘Castleredmond’ or ‘Lakeview, Castleredmond’.

Why does all this matter?  In searching for one’s Irish ancestors, it is necessary to be careful that the correct person in the correct part of the townland be identified.  If you are dealing with a name like Murphy, MacCarthy, O’Sullivan, O’Brien, O’Neill etc, this can pose difficulties.  If there is another placename linked to the family this can prove to be a subdivision of the townland name – a very useful aid in finding one’s ancestral homestead – even if it is now a ploughed field.

Midleton has several areas like this in different townlands.  For example, the townland of Townparks, which covers the town center and extends well south of the Roxborough River, includes two areas with very local identification within its boundaries. These are Coolbawn and the Rock.  They are not official designations – Coolbawn is the locally employed name for Brodrick Street.  Imagine the confusion on the faces of a visitor who is told you can find the Farmgate Restaurant on Coolbawn.  Now there are not many streets in Midleton – just five in fact.  These are Main Street, Thomas Street, Connolly Street, Oliver Plunkett Street (formerly Bridewell Lane), McDermott Street (formerly Free School Lane)….and Brodrick Street.  Every other route is a road or lane, as in Mill Road, Youghal Road, Cork Road, Old Cork Road, St Mary’s Road (still called Chapel Road by locals) or Bridewell Lane (now Oliver Plunkett Street- although its dimensions haven’t changed – it’s still a lane!), Church Lane, Coach Horse Lane (self-explanatory really) Dickinson’s Lane, Darby’s Lane – and the former Free School Lane (which is still a lane!).

Brodrick St Terrace

The late Georgian terrace on Brodrick Street…..or is it Coolbawn? Confused. Not really. Just remember who’s asking for directions – it’s Coolbawn to the locals, but Brodrick Street to everybody else! Simples! The second house from the right was recently sold and is undergoing restoration at present. Yippie!

The point of local designations is that they sometimes tell us something about an area – Coolbawn is the AREA in which Brodrick Street stands, being originally the whole area bounded by the Owenacurra River to the west, the Roxborough River to the south, Main Street to the east and the south wall of St John the Baptist’s Church on the north.  The name suggests an meadow between two streams (check!) and subdivided into paddocks, prior to the building of Brodrick Street.  However, Coolbawn now refers to Brodrick Street itself in popular parlance….to the dismay of visitors!

Rock House

Standing on remains of the limestone spur that gives this area of Townparks its name, Rock House was recently sold and is undergoing refurbishment – including a whole new roof.

The Rock is somewhat different.  This lies just south of the Roxborough River on higher ground.  Crossing Lewis Bridge over the Roxborough Riverg at the southern end of Main Street, the road splits in two.  The route to the right continues up a steep hill, passing Holy Rosary Church towards Convent Cross (a T-junction at the top of the hill where St Mary’s Convent once stood) and then continues down the other side towards Ballinacorra via Castlredmond (and its Lakeview subdivision).  From Lewis Bridge the other road forks off to the left cutting through the rock (!) towards Castlemartyr, Youghal and Waterford.  The Rock is literally that!  A rocky outcrop of limestone. Actually if you drive along the Youghal Road, you’d be hard pressed to spot it.  There seems to have been a spur of limestone going from the hill towards the north.  This seems to have been cut through at a very early date to create a direct road to Youghal, but this was probably too narrow for most carts or coaches. For a long time the main route to Youghal ran up St Mary’s Road and through Ballinacorra. Gradually the need to ease the passage of heavily loaded carts in and out of Midleton and the desire to speed up the mail coaches to and from Youghal led to a change. The limestone rock was cut away, perhaps to provide building stone, and a wider road was created.  The good news for carters and coachmen was that this route was a much gentler slope for draught horses.  By the end of the 1700s this area where the two roads fork began to be built up – and it’s been called the Rock for as long as anyone can recall.  The Coppinger family, who had property on the north side of the Roxborough, built the National Bank of Ireland at the Rock in the 1830s.  They later built Rock Terrace next to their bank in 1861.  Yet the terrace on the rock itself doesn’t even have this name, being simply The Rock!

Rock Tce

No 1, Rock Terrace, is one of four houses built by the Coppingers in 1861. The ISC made out in yellow brick was long thought to represent Isaac Samuel Coppinger – but who was he? I can’t find him. In fact the initials might be John Stephen Coppinger, or in Latin Johannes Stephanus Coppinger – much more likely! This house, recently sold, is also undergoing thorough refurbishment – even the brick has been cleaned and is now showing up the century and a half of grime on the rest of the terrace. The former National Bank of Ireland, later Bank of Ireland, The Rock, is on the left.

Thus, if you are looking for your Irish ancestors, it is worth bearing in mind that even a small townland can have unofficial subdivisions within it. This is a particularly useful point to recall if your ancestor is one of several people with exactly the same name living in the townland at the same time – remember, the number of names in use in the nineteenth century was remarkably limited by our standards.

Tarquin Blake’s Abandoned Ireland website:

Happy Thanksgiving from Boston, County Clare, Ireland – no zip code required!


Boston in north County Clare. The Irish name means the little meadow or little bog of the skulls!

So, there’s a snowstorm about to hit the north eastern states, including the city of Boston (the one in Massachusetts, that is). Well, one Boston that won’t be getting a snowstorm on 27th November 2014 is the one in Ireland! Now we all know that Boston, Massachusetts, USA, is named for Boston in Lincolnshire, England. Indeed if you just Google ‘Boston’ you get the name popping up all over the place, from England to South Africa, to Suriname (!) and the Philippines (understandable, I guess!). And it seems that we have THREE (yes, THREE!) Bostons here in Ireland! One is a townland (remember those?) in the middle of the country in County Laois. There is apparently another spot near Cratloe in south-east County Clare (on the way from Shannon Airport to Limerick City). And there is the little village of Boston at the edge of the Burren in the north of County Clare (close to Gort in County Galway!) On the map it is located just north of Lough Bunny (yes, really!). In fact I’m not quite sure if the word village should be applied to it – it’s a straggle of houses beside a country road, with a post office, school and church. Somehow, I don’t think they’ll be doing a big dig there anytime soon. Oh, and the weather on Thanksgiving Day will be a mite warmer than the in Massachusetts! The Irish name of the place is interesting – the little bog of the skulls! Presumably someone dragged out some prehistoric skulls near there in years gone by.

You know, I can’t help feeling that Clare County Council missed a trick when they didn’t exploit this fact to make American tourists feel more at home here! Imagine flying from Logan Airport, Boston MA, and landing in Shannon Airport to be confronted with a four-fingered signpost indicating Boston MA (2,900 miles), Boston, Cratloe, County Clare (10 miles), Boston, County Laois (50 miles or so) and Boston, County Clare (35 miles – or thereabouts!). Or maybe we should just scratch the thought – it’s enough to induce one to buy an immediate return ticket to the States! Or maybe the adventure is too much to resist!

Ballyvaughan sign

Are you STILL LOST? The famous over informative signpost in Ballyvaughan, near Boston, County Clare – as it was up to 2011. A national treasure!


Ballyvaughan replacement

The cleaned up replacement. Frankly I prefer the original – it was hilarious!

I’ve attached a youtube link just to amuse you while digesting the turkey!


To find Boston, take the road north from Shannon to Galway and turn west near Tubber in County Clare:

BostonTubber map

Tubber is marked on the map – you turn off west there for Boston, naturally!

To all my American followers, Happy Thanksgiving from Ireland!  Now don’t get lost, y’all hear?

Townlands II – Ireland’s ‘original’ postcodes.

One of the most irritating experiences for an Irish person when registering for something online is the difficulty we face when asked to insert a postcode into our address.  Some websites can’t cope with an empty postcode box – so our registration gets cancelled automatically.  I usually put in a line of zeros, or 1 followed by zeros.  In the Irish postal system this makes absolutely no sense – because we don’t, at present, have any postcodes here in Ireland.  I know, I know….’how do you get mail to people?’  Well, here we usually write an address (like you do) and, especially in rural areas, the address contains a townland name, as well as the name of the post office that delivers the daily post to the stated address.  With some 62,000 townlands of various sizes, in the country – it’s as good as a postcode system.  Or at least it was, until towns began to grow bigger – and Dublin especially expanded exponentially.  To complicate matters, lazy Irish local government (county councils, town and city councils) did not bother to exercise any control over the naming of new housing developments, usually leaving this up to the normally impoverished imagination of property developers (or their marketing staff!).  Hence, near where I live you stumble across a recently built housing development called THE COTSWOLDS (!).

Perhaps at this point I should point out one tiny detail the developer of The Cotswolds may have overlooked.  The real Cotswolds is an area in Gloucestershire in the western part of England (a little north-east of Bristol).  The native stone there is a creamy, even honey-coloured, limestone, or a soft grey limestone.  Here in Midleton the stone is either a hard grey limestone fading to almost white, or, more rarely, old red sandstone.  Our local stone looks nothing like the stone in charming Cotswolds village houses and cottages.  For goodness sake, we even have red marble – although that was normally employed for decorative purposes.  But neither East Cork nor Midleton look anything like the real Cotswolds – even if you think Augustus WN Pugin’s fine pair of townhouses on Main Street could do very well in the reals Cotswolds.

Pugin Building

The two houses designed by AWN Pugin (who designed the interiors of the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament in London) and the clock tower popularly called ‘Big Ben’.  The large windows on the ground floor lit up shops.  The living quarters were upstairs.   Built after 1851, supervised by Pugin’s son, Edward, and rapidly combined into a single premises used as a hotel called The Midleton Arms.  Used as a barracks for the British Auxiliaries during the Irish War of Independence – hence the bullet holes on the facade!  Later in use as a public house and restaurant.  Now called McDaid’s Pub, it is currently up for sale!  

(FYI: the hideous structure in the background is a speculative multistory car-park that never functioned!  I do wish somebody would just demolish the wretched eyesore!)

The Cotswolds (fake Midleton version) is located in a large townland called Castleredmond.  There are several addresses called Castleredmond in Midleton.  One is located near the Christian Brothers Schools at the extreme edge of the townland of Castleredmond, Another is located in an outshot of Townparks townland that is bound on two sides by Castleredmond, A third is a large housing scheme between Midleton and the village of Ballinacorra – appropriately, this is located near the middle of Castleredmond townland.  And then there’s Castleredmond Court on the site of the old convent, but located in Townparks!  The lack of clear distinction between these different addresses has been known to create a problem for the postman.  But that problem is due to local government abdicating its responsibilities to the private developers. Normally the townland addresses work well and can be remarkably precise.

Now the Irish government is committed to spending between twenty and twenty five million Euro on a new postcode scheme that won’t even be compulsory!  Delivery companies and the emergency services say they won’t even bother with  the scheme because it makes no sense on the ground.

I suspect that the townland addresses will still be used by most people!  Well, they served for most of the last millenium and more – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!  But in Ireland it might be useful for local government to exercise some control over the naming of new roads and housing schemes!  No more Irish Cotswolds please! You simply cannot improve on the charm of the original English version!

Read also Townlands – the basic unit of Irish Local Identity.

Townlands – the basic unit of Irish local identity.

East Cork

Cattle posing for a photo in the East Cork countryside.  The English word townland was created to replace the Irish word baile bo which refers to a piece of land that can support a herd of cattle.

When the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland was completed in the early 1650s, the country lay in ruins – plague, famine and war had decimated the population.  The calamity was even worse than the disaster of the Great Famine in the 1840s.  In a deeply pious age, it really must have seemed as if the four horsemen of the Apocalypse had simply run amok.  But one more disaster awaited those Catholics who actually owned land – confiscation and transplantation.

The Commonwealth or Cromwellian government had to pay off those soldiers who had fought in its armies, and also pay off those wealthy merchants and landed gentry who had ‘adventured’ money to pay for the conquest of Ireland.  Back then there were very few sophisticated financial instruments the government could use to raise the money to do this.  But there was one outstanding resource that could stand in for money – land.  By confiscating the land of rebellious Irish Catholics, the Commonwealth could release a huge amount of land for paying off the Adventurers and soldiers.

But once the Catholic landowners were dispossessed and forced to migrate to the western province of Connacht, the government faced a difficulty – how to accurately quantify the amount of land released under the scheme?  There were no accurate maps of each of the localities to the granted to the Adventurers and soldiers.  Eventually, after some delays and difficulties, the ambitious surgeon-general of the English army, William Petty, stepped in and offered to survey the whole area to be confiscated.  He achieved this in barely three years (1655-1658)!  The end result was that Ireland was the first country to be accurately measured and mapped in its entirety according to the modern mapping techniques then available.  It also allowed Petty to publish the first truly accurate map of the whole of Ireland in 1685.

What has all this got to do with Irish townlands?  Well, when Petty’s surveyors examined the country they used the townland as the basic unit of territorial division.  This can be seen in the parish maps that were produced by the survey – each parish was made up of several townlands. These parish maps were the basis of the barony maps, which, in turn, led to the creation of county maps, thence the provincial maps and finally the General Mapp of Ireland.

By using the townland as the basic territorial unit, Petty made himself the godfather of the modern Irish townland.  Virtually all the townlands identified by Petty’s surveyors still exist, but new ones were also created later, usually by subdividing large townlands, or cutting a chunk out of an existing townland.  A classic example of the latter is the townland of School-Land in Midleton.  Cut out of the townland of Townparks, it represents the land given by the Brodrick family to the Elizabeth Villiers, Countess of Orkney, to persuade her to establish her intended new school in Midleton – it’s now called Midleton College (a boarding and day secondary school).  Why do this? The 1670 charter of King Charles II gave the Corporation (town council) of Midleton authority over a number of townlands (Townparks, Castleredmond, etc), but the charter didn’t mention the townland of School-Land, because it didn’t come into being until 1696, when the school was founded!   The new townland allowed the school to exist and function outside the jurisdiction of the Corporation – although it was represented on the board of governors.

Another example is Dromadda East townland near the village of Ladysbridge.  This is shown on the first edition six-inch Ordnance Survey map as consisting of just eight acres, three roods and thirty perches (8a 3r 30p) laid out in four exactly rectangular fields.  However this townland does not appear on the Down Survey maps because it was clearly separated from the townland of Dromaddabeg several years after Petty’s men surveyed the area.  Its creation must have come about through a sale of the land to a different owner.

William Petty’s use of townlands as the basic territorial unit meant that the earlier smaller territorial units were effectively lost, so today, the townland is the basic building block of of all Irish territorial divisions.  According to Thomas Larcom, first director of the Ordnance Survey of Ireland, the building blocks of Irish territorial divisions included such land measurements as the gneeve (approximately 10 acres, depending on the quality of the land), the sessiagh (c.20 acres approx.) consisting of two gneeves, a varying number of sessiaghs or gneeves made up a ballyboe or tate or townland, depending on the productive quality of the land.  Today there are 61,096 townlands in Ireland (north and south) of which 60, 679 are inhabited (2011).  Everyone in Ireland, whether they realize it or not, lives in a townland.  No wonder we didn’t need postcodes!