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.