28 October 2009


“Townlands are the ancient and generally accepted divisions of the country,” wrote Thomas Spring Rice in 1824. His report was to propose which categories of boundary ought to be included in the upcoming Ordnance Survey of Ireland. Townlands were, and still are, an important measure of locality and often vital to a rural person’s sense of home. When the Ordnance Survey began no one had any idea that Ireland had over 67,000 townlands. In the years to come each would be charted and each name recorded.

Section of the Discoverer Series, 1/50,000 scale.

On the reverse of the same map, the townland map.

Ordnance Survey maps of Northern Ireland have usually included the names of townlands but not always their boundaries. However, the latest edition of the Discoverer Series has elevated the townland once again. On the reverse of the sheet, which was up to now blank, we are presented with a townland map. It is drained of colours, only using red and a few tones from a greyscale. Quite apart from any practical use it may have the townland map is also a thing of intrigue. Does the web of townlands imply a friendly landscape of interlocking communities? Or does it suggest an oppressive net of ancestral knots?

Where few people live, high boggy ground, the townlands are large. In other places they are small, I see one in south Fermanagh that is only about 150 square metres. In these cases the name it is labelled with cannot be fitted inside its border.

And what names townlands can have. Some of my favourites from Sheet 27 of Northern Ireland’s Discoverer Series are: Ummera, Tattycam, Dooross, Gubdoo, Stumpys Hill, Lusty More, Sheepwalk, Greaghatirrive, Bunnablaneybane and Bun.


  1. what does Bunnablaneybane mean? Is there a dictionary of Irish toponyms? It sounds like it should be bucolic with lots of gentle rabbits and long grass.

  2. "base of the white creek or the end (bun) of the white blean or curve" placenamesni.org or logainm.ie