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Guide To Irish Land Division

Many newcomers to Irish family research find the area of land division in the country to be confusing, to say the least. While acknowledging the eccentric nature of such land division, here we give what is essentially a beginner's guide. If you need to delve further into such geographical divisions, there are ample publications and websites to read after you have absorbed the basics here.  At we aim to explain and not confuse! If you have a grasp of the terms listed on the right, you will be better able to understand  the records and documents you will encounter in your research.

Townland sub-division












A townland is one of the smallest land divisions in Ireland.  There are over 60,000 of them and they range in size from an acre or two up to many thousands of acres.  The majority are in the hundreds of acres. Townlands have various origins, some bearing ancient Irish names while others were created  after the coming of the Normans in 1169.  The Gaelic names of the majority of these divisions would seem to indicate a pre-Norman date for their creation. In rural Ireland in particular, the townland names are of great importance, still forming the basis for administrative purposes. Given the common use of some surnames, families are often identified by the townland they live in. It was common to allocate the land between streams as townlands, but where streams were not suitably available, the townlands were delineated with clay and stone banks which we in Ireland like to call 'ditches'. It is unfortunate that people are no longer as particular about the townland boundaries as they were in the recent past. It is not unusual to see farms being expanded and townland boundaries being bulldozed away to exist in future only on maps.  Townland indexes are available at the National Library, National Archives and at most County Libraries. Griffith's Valuation of Ireland was based on the townland system of land division.

Ogham Stone. These burial markers are said to have been used as ancient boundary marker.

 Townland  Sub-Division

It is important to be aware of townland subdivisions when conducting your research. They seldom appear on maps but are used in church records. They are clung to with great zeal by those who know which sub-division they live in.  Very often the placename that was held most dear by an emigrant was the subdivision, and you might not find it in a reference book.  In Skeheenarinky townland, for example, the home of, one can find many subdivision names that are well known to the long established families but which are often not known to newer families.  Attycrann, Coolroe, Seefin, Lyreen, are all sub-divisions of Skeheenarinky. The Catholic Church records often used these sub-divisions as local people told the priest (who may have been a native of some other region) the immediate area they lived in and that's what was recorded. So, Hogans from Lyreen would be the same family as Hogans from Skeheenarinky. It's something to watch out for. Again, check with the County Libraries to see if there are publications documenting the sub-divisions in your townland.

Learn about Irish placenames



Some emigrants give their parish name as being the place from which they emigrated.  But which parish were they talking about? There are Catholic Church parishes, Protestant Church parishes, and civil parishes. To make matters worse, Catholic church parishes were reorganized in the early 1800s and some were amalgamated and others had their names changed.  As an example, the united parishes of Templetenny and Shanrahan in South Tipperary are now separate parishes. Templetenny has become Ballyporeen parish while Shanrahan has become Clogheen & Burncourt parish. Parishes are made up of many townlands and it is usually the Catholic parish that people refer to nowadays.  Griffiths Valuation uses Civil Parish and you will find that the Catholic Church records work well in conjunction with Griffith's.  As confusing as all this sounds, there is no need to get bogged down as the County Libraries will be able to tell you about the parish names - what they were in Griffith's Valuation and what they are called today. 

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Ireland was divided into 273 baronies. They were composed of a larger number of townlands than a parish and are said to be an ancient form of administrative unit used for the collection of taxes etc. Even though the  1901 census  was conducted  on a 'barony' system, the term has little relevance today. Strange names like 'Eliogarty' and 'Iffa and Offa West' no longer appear in modern legal documents.   

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In 1838, a system of Poor Law was introduced into Ireland which saw the establishment of a workhouse system.  This was in response to the poverty that was endemic in Ireland at the time.  Each workhouse was to cater for an area comprising several parishes and the area in question was called a Union, so called because each area was a union of electoral divisions.  Boards of Guardians - some appointed and some elected - were in charge of these areas. Unions were often similar in size to the older areas called 'baronies'.  By 1852 there were 162 workhouses in Ireland. The 162 Unions became administrative areas as the role of the Boards of Guardians became more important. Emigrants occasionaly used the name of the Union when registering their previous place of residence. As the Unions covered several parishes, it is worth keeping that in mind if having difficulty in uncovering the ancestor's records.

County is probably the easiest of the geographical divisions to understand in Ireland given that maps are usually divided up into counties.  The fact that counties are used internationally as land division areas means there is little confusion about them.  Counties in Ireland are made up of many parishes.  Ireland has 32 counties.  26 of these are in the Irish Republic while the remaining six are in the North of Ireland and are part of the United Kingdom.  County Tipperary is divided into two Local Government areas -North and South - and effectively functions as two counties.





A diocese is comprised of several parishes. These are church administrative areas and define an area comprising several parishes under the control of a bishop.

The Catholic Dioceses of Ireland-:
Achonry:  Sections of Sligo,Mayo, Roscommon. 
Ardagh and Clonmacnoise:  Almost all of Longford and Leitrim. Parts of Cavan, Offaly, Roscommon, Sligo and Westmeath 
Armagh:  Louth, most of Armagh. Parts of Tyrone, Derry and Meath 
Cashel and Emly:  Almost all of Tipperary and parts of Limerick 
Clogher:  Monaghan, almost all of Fermanagh. Parts of Tyrone, Donegal, Louth and Cavan 
Clonfert:  Some of Galway, Offaly and Roscommon 
Cloyne:  Most of County Cork 
Cork and Ross:  Cork City and parts of County Cork 
Derry:  Almost all of Derry. Parts of Donegal, Tyrone and Antrim 
Down and Connor:  Almost all of Antrim and Down and part of Derry 
Dromore:  Some of Antrim, Armagh and Down 
Dublin:  City of Dublin, most of County Dublin, Wicklow. Parts of Carlow, Kildare, Laois and Wexford 
Elphin:  Some of Roscommon, Sligo, Westmeath and Galway 
Ferns:  Almost all of Wexford and parts of Wicklow 
Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora:  Parts of Mayo, Galway and Clare 
Kerry:  Almost all of Kerry and parts of Cork 
Kildare and Leighlin:  Carlow. Parts of Kidare, Laois, Offaly, Kilkenny, Wickow and Wexford 
Killala:  Some of Mayo and Sligo 
Killaloe:  Some of Clare, Laois, Limerick, Offaly and Tipperary 
Kilmore:  Almost all of Cavan. Parts of Leitrim, Fermanagh, Meath and Sligo 
Limerick:  Most of Limerick. Parts of Clare and Kerry 
Meath:  Almost all of Meath, Westmeath and Offaly. Parts of Longford, Louth, Dublin and Cavan 
Ossory:  Almost all of Kilkenny. Parts of Offaly and Laois  
Raphoe:  Most of Donegal 
Tuam:  Some of Mayo, Galway and Roscommon 
Waterford and Lismore:  Waterford. Sections of Tipperary and Cork 

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There are four provinces in Ireland -: Munster, Leinster, Connaught, and Ulster. They contain the following counties: 

Munster -: Cork, Tipperary, Waterford, Kerry,  Limerick, and Clare.

Leinster-:  Dublin, Wexford, Wicklow, Kilkenny, Kildare, Carlow, Louth, Meath, Laois, Offaly, and Westmeath.

Connaught-: Galway, Roscommon, Longford, Sligo, Mayo, Leitrim, .

Ulster-: Donegal, Derry, Antrim, Armagh, Tyrone, Down, Fermanagh,  Cavan, and Monaghan

(Note that Donegal Monaghan, and Cavan are in Ulster but are part of the Republic of Ireland.)