This Irish Genealogy site offers the Irish descendant (from New York, Canada, UK, Australia...) the chance to trace their Irish family tree and search for their surname origins and the records of their Irish ancestor's birth, marriage or death.
Kyle J. Betit is a professional genealogist, lecturer and author residing
in Salt Lake City, Utah. Kyle specializes in Irish and immigration research.
Kyle Betit is Research Director of ProGenealogists, Inc., in Salt Lake City
and the author of the Irish Genealogy Pages at
Place names and geographical divisions are very important for successful
genealogy research in Ireland. Land in Ireland is divided into different
jurisdictions, religious and political, in a way that can be complicated
to understand. Provinces are divided into counties which are divided into
civil parishes. Civil parishes, in turn, are made up of townlands, each
of which is an area of land with a certain acreage and set of boundaries.
Within the official townlands, there may be other smaller subdivisions such
as field and farm names. Sometimes these smaller subdivisions are referred
to as “sub-townland denominations” or “minor place names.” Villages and
towns also fall geographically within one or more townlands. Cities often
include more than one civil parish.
A “denomination” in a historical Irish record usually refers to a particular
place within a parish, such as a townland, village, or part of a townland.
There are also small communities within townlands not large enough to be
villages or towns; these communities have unique names and may only include
a few houses.
In the systems of the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland (Anglican),
provinces are divided into dioceses (each headed by a bishop). The dioceses
are divided into church parishes. And again church parishes are made up
of townlands and towns.
In records of an emigrant (such as a tombstone, family papers, death certificate,
or published biographical sketch), the most common Irish place names given
are provinces, geographical regions, counties, parishes, townlands, and
townland sub-denominations. Often, the place name cannot be found on a road
map or atlas or in a gazetteer. Not being able to identify the location
of a place name will halt your efforts to find immigrant origins. Successfully
identifying a place name in Ireland not only identifies the emigrant's origin,
but it also opens up the possibility of searching a variety of other record
The following are some of the geographical subdivisions of Ireland, from
largest to smallest.
Historical Provinces: The four historical provinces are Ulster
(north), Leinster (east), Munster (south), Connaught (west). Most often
passed down in family lore among immigrants are the provinces of Connaught
and Ulster. This is especially true for Catholic immigrants from Connaught
and of Protestant (including Presbyterian and Church of Ireland) emigrants
The corresponding provinces of the Roman Catholic Church and the Church
of Ireland are called Armagh (for Ulster), Dublin (for Leinster), Cashel
(for Munster), and Tuam (for Connaught). Each province is headed by an archbishop.
Geographical Regions: There are geographical region names
in Ireland which an immigrant may have identified as a place of origin.
For example, family tradition may hold that an ancestor was from Connemara,
the mountainous and coastal region of western Galway; the "midlands" in
the County Longford area; the "lake district" in County Fermanagh; or the
Dingle peninsula in County Kerry.
Counties: The island of Ireland has 32 counties. 26 counties
are in the Republic of Ireland. 6 of the Ulster counties are in Northern
Ireland In the case of county names, a quick search of a map or reference
book will tell you what the correct standardized county name speling really
is. For example, you may find Caban in a record, but it is really Cavan;
Derri is Derry (or Londonderry), Mao is Mayo, and Mead is Meath. Following
is a list of the Irish counties, divided by historical province:
Londonderry or Derry
Parishes: Ireland has both civil parishes (government units
grouped together into counties) and church or ecclesiastical parishes (grouped
together into dioceses, in the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland).
The names and boundaries of the two types of parishes often differ. It is
important when tracing a Catholic ancestor to know both the civil parish
and the corresponding Catholic parish in which the ancestor lived. Brian
Mitchell's A Guide to Irish Parish Registers (Baltimore: Genealogical
Publishing Co., 1988) lists the Catholic parishes corresponding to each
civil parish. Samuel Lewis' 1837 Topographical Dictionary of Ireland
lists, under each civil parish, the Roman Catholic parishes and chapels.
Local Catholic parish histories are also useful.
Townlands and Sub-denominations: Immigrants often identified either
their townland of residence or a sub-denomination name within the townland
as their place of origin. The spelling of townland names varied widely and
was not standardized until the 1830s. Often townland names are formed from
Irish Gaelic words.
Cities, Towns and Villages: The terms “city” and “town” had technical
meaning in Ireland, and a city or town was an incorporated place. There
were many smaller villages that did not have a corporation throughout Ireland.
Be cautious if you discover that your Irish ancestor was supposed to be
from a city or town. Immigrants often stated they were from a certain populated
place such as Athlone (a town on the border of counties Roscommon and Westmeath),
when they really were from outside the populated town in a nearby townland.
Also be careful about statements that an immigrant was from Cork, Dublin,
or Londonderry (Derry). These are the names of both cities and counties,
and the distinction can become blurred. Also, these cities were ports from
which emigrants left Ireland. What was stated in family tradition as the
family's place of origin could have actually been the place of departure,
and the emigrant may have been from an entirely different county.
You may have found an Irish place name in a record where your ancestor settled
abroad, or a place name may have been passed down in your family tradition
of where your ancestors came from in Ireland. The following are some sources
that can help you to figure out where exactly that place is and what sort
of place name it is.
The 1851, 1871, and 1901 versions of the General Alphabetical Index to
the Townlands and Towns, Parishes and Baronies of Ireland may be used
to find the official spelling and the location of each townland in Ireland.
The 1871 (FHL #476999 item 2) and 1901 (FHL #865092) indexes are available
on microfilm at the Family History Library. The 1851 edition was reprinted
by the Genealogical Publishing Company and is widely available in book form.
The townland names of Ireland have been placed in a computerized database
on the Internet in the IreAtlas Townland Database web site:
. The townlands are also indexed online in the Irish Ancestors pages of
the Irish Times web site
. These databases can be used to pinpoint the location of a townland.
Maps for Use in Ireland
The second edition (2002) of Brian Mitchell’s A New Genealogical
Atlas of Ireland includes maps of each county divided by civil parish,
Roman Catholic parish, barony, and poor law union. The book also shows
what dioceses parts of counties are in, and where Presbyterian churches
The modern Discovery Series (Republic of Ireland) and Discoverer
Series (Northern Ireland) maps, produced by the Ordnance Survey Ireland
and the Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland, are useful for getting
to a townland.
1. Topographical Dictionary of Ireland by Samuel Lewis, first
published in 1837, gives sketches of each civil parish, town, barony and
county in Ireland.
2. The Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland, 10 volumes published
in 1844, is similar in its content to Samuel Lewis' work [available at the
Family History Library on microfilm].
3. The Registry of Deeds geographical indexes ("Lands Indexes") can
be used for a county to identify a localized place name that does not appear
in other geographical sources and indexes. If the place name, such as an
estate house name, is mentioned in a deed it is indexed in the "Lands Index."
By reading the deed itself where the place name appears, a parish or barony
where it is located should be discovered. These indexes are available at
the Registry of Deeds in Dublin and on microfilm at the Family History Library.
Family History Library: 35 North West Temple Street, Salt Lake City, Utah,
84150-3400; Tel: 801-240-2331 or 800-453-3860 x22331; Fax: 801-240-5551;
General Alphabetical Index to the Townlands and Towns, Parishes and Baronies
of Ireland. Based on the Census of Ireland for the Year 1851. 1861.
Reprint, Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1984.
Grenham, John. Tracing Your Irish Ancestors: The Complete Guide.
Second Edition. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, Ltd., 1999.
Handran, George B. Townlands in Poor Law Unions: A Reprint of Poor Law
Union Pamphlets of the General Registrar's Office. Salem, MA: Higginson
Book Company, 1997.
Lewis, Samuel. Topographical Dictionary of Ireland: Comprising the Several
Counties, Cities, Boroughs, Corporate, Market and Post Towns, Parishes and
Villages with Historical and Statistical Descriptions. London: S. Lewis,
Mitchell, Brian. A Guide to Irish Parish Registers. Baltimore: Genealogical
Publishing Co., 1988.
Mitchell, Brian. A New Genealogical Atlas of Ireland. Second Edition.
Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2002.
McKay, Patrick. A Dictionary of Ulster Place-Names. Belfast: Institute
of Irish Studies, Queen’s University, 1999.
Nolan, William and Anngret Simms, eds. Irish Towns: A Guide to Sources.
Dublin: Geography Publications, 1998.
The Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland. 10 vols. Dublin: A. Fullarton,
Radford, Dwight A. and Kyle J. Betit. "Irish Place Names and the Immigrant,"
The Irish At Home and Abroad 5 (1) (1st Quarter 1998): 7-14.
Radford, Dwight A. and Kyle J. Betit. A Genealogist’s Guide to Discovering
Your Irish Ancestors. Cincinnati, OH: Betterway Books, 2001.
Stockman, Gerard (vols I-VI), Nollaig Ó Muraíle (Vol. VII), gen. eds.
Place-Names of Northern Ireland. 7 vols. Belfast: The Northern Ireland
Place-Name Project, Department of Celtic, The Queen's University of Belfast,
Kyle J. Betit is Research Director of the professional
genealogy research firm ProGenealogists, Inc., in Salt Lake City. He is
a widely recognized speaker, author, and educator in the field of Irish
Genealogy. He is co-author with Dwight A. Radford of A Genealogist’s Guide
to Discovering Your Irish Ancestors (Betterway Books, 2001). He makes frequent
trips to Ireland to conduct research for clients. You may contact Kyle
by e-mail at email@example.com
or visit his Irish Web Pages at