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A gazetteer is a dictionary of place-names. Gazetteers describe towns and villages; parishes and counties; and rivers, mountains, and other geographical features. Gazetteers generally list place-names in alphabetical order. Gazetteers may also be called topographical dictionaries.
Gazetteers may provide the following information about a locality:
- The most common spelling of the place-name
- County and other civil jurisdictions
- Ecclesiastical jurisdictions
- Distance from nearby places
- Religious affiliations of the population
- Major manufacturing works
- Canals, docks, and railroad stations
A gazetteer entry for Ballintoy, for example, includes the following information:
"Ballintoy, a parish containing a village of the same name, on the north coast of the barony of Carey, and of the county of Antrim, Ulster. . . . This parish is a rectory and a separate benefice in the dio[cese] of Connor. . . . In 1834, the parishioners consisted of 2,122 [Irish] Churchmen, 933 Presbyterians, and 1,064 Roman Catholics (The Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland, see below).
Several difficulties arise in dealing with Irish place-names. First, Irish place-names often come from the Gaelic or Irish language, though some have been given English variations. Second, Irish place-names were sometimes spelled phonetically in family records and documents in other countries, because many immigrants did not know the accepted spellings. The phonetic spellings can vary widely from the accepted spellings because recorders sometimes misunderstood what the immigrants said. Finally, there are many places in Ireland with the same or similar names. A gazetteer may help you resolve each of these difficulties.
Helpful Gazetteers for Ireland
- General alphabetical index to the townlands and towns, parishes and baronies of Ireland: based on the census of Ireland for the year 1851. Dublin: Printed by Alexander Thom, 1861, reprinted by Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, Maryland, multiple dates. Although this work is not technically a gazetteer, it is the best finding aid for Irish townland names. There are other years for this index, 1871 and 1901. FamilySearch Library.Best of all, the Townland Index is available for free at The IreAtlas Townlands Database The index will show, for any given townland, the acreage, county, barony, civil parish, and poor law union (civil registration district) that the townland belongs to.
- Lewis, Samuel. Topographical Dictionary of Ireland. 2 vols. London: S. Lewis and Co., 1837. Family History Library This dictionary contains historical and statistical descriptions of the counties, cities, boroughs, parishes, and corporate and market towns in Ireland. Later editions of this dictionary are available. This is available online for free at Library Ireland and also at Vision of Britain
- The Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland. 10 vols. Dublin, Ireland: A. Fullarton and Co., 1844. Family History Library; These volumes provide information similar to that in Lewis's dictionary. These volumes also provide historical and statistical comparisons based on information from the 1831 and 1841 censuses.
Unfortunately, Irish gazetteers often do not list townlands, though many place-names in records about Irish people are townlands. The sources listed below under "Finding Place-Names in the FamilySearch Catalog" may help you locate Irish townlands and identify the parish and county they are in.
Similarly, gazetteers rarely list property names, though a property name, rather than a town or parish name, may have been handed down within a family as the place where the family originated. The Irish Place-Names Commission at the Ordnance Survey Office in Dublin may be able to help you locate a property name when gazetteers fail. The address of the Place-Names Commission is:
The Family History Library's gazetteers and other guides to place-names are listed in the Place Search of the catalog under the following headings:
IRELAND - GAZETTEERS
IRELAND, [COUNTY] - GAZETTEERS
Provinces and Counties
Prior to 1922 Ireland was a united country containing four provinces, each comprising several counties:
Chart: The Provinces and Counties of Ireland
||Leix or Laois(Queens)|| Tipperary|
|| Offaly (Kings)
In 1922 Ireland was divided into two parts:
- Northern Ireland known colloquially as Ulster, but containing only 6 of the 9 counties of the old Ulster, (Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone). The capital is Belfast and the religion is Protestant, with a Catholic minority. It remains part of the British Isles.
- Eire or the Republic of Ireland is known colloquially as Ireland and formerly as the Irish Free State. This contains all of the provinces of Connaught, Leinster and Munster, as well as the counties of Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan from the former Ulster. The former capital of Dublin has been retained, and the religion is mainly Catholic.
In 1974, along with county boundary changes in other parts of the United Kingdom, the 6 counties of Northern Ireland were subdivided into 26 boroughs.
Chart: Map of Ireland pre-1 April 1974
Reproduced with permission of The Federation of Family History Societies
Chart: Map of Northern Ireland post-1974
Ireland has been subdivided into a variety of overlapping jurisdictions for different administrative purposes. The family historian will encounter these terms on maps, censuses, land valuations, church registers, Poor Law records, voting lists and other records. Their boundaries have changed over the years to reflect current population and administrative changes. The most frequently encountered subdivisions are:
The Barony was a major division of a county based on the old tribal boundaries and equivalent to an English hundred. There were 331 baronies but they are not very useful for genealogy. Maps can be found in Gardner, Harland and Smith, and in Mitchell’s Atlas.
- Poor Law Unions
The Poor Law Relief Act of 1838 divided Ireland into civil districts called Poor Law Unions comprising groups of civil parishes united in their raising of taxes and support for the poor of their area. 163 unions had been created by 1850 and they were the basis for the later Registration Districts. Maps can be found in Mitchell’s Atlas.
- Probate Districts
In 1858, along with England and Wales, the administration of probate matters was transferred from ecclesiastical to secular hands. In Ireland a principal registry and eleven district registries were established, and a basic map can be found in Mitchell’s Atlas and in Ryan’s text.
- Registration Districts
The 1863 Births, Marriages and Deaths (BMD) Act which established civil registration in Ireland required the establishment of civil registration districts. These were based upon the Poor Law Unions and each had a superintendent who oversaw the registration of BMD in his area. See the maps of Poor Law Unions in Mitchell’s Atlas.
- Dioceses - Catholic and Church of Ireland
Both the Church of Ireland (Anglican) and the Catholic Church had a comprehensive system of dioceses across the whole of Ireland. Each diocese was headed by a bishop and comprised a number of parishes headed by ministers or priests. The two church diaconal systems were not coterminous and frequently overlapped county boundaries. Maps of Church of Ireland dioceses can be found in Mitchell’s Atlas. Roman Catholic dioceses are complex and are also indicated in Mitchell’sAtlas.
Parishes – Civil and Ecclesiastical
Civil parishes are areas of local self-government containing several townlands and hamlets in the countryside, or several church parishes in cities. There are about 2,500 civil parishes in Ireland and they usually correspond well to the Church of Ireland parishes (see maps in Mitchell’s Atlas). However, do not be surprised to see them break both barony and county boundaries.
Church parishes are the small areas containing one mother church over which an Anglican minister or Catholic priest presides. Church of Ireland (Anglican) parish boundaries are typically coterminous with civil parishes. Catholic parishes are larger and include several civil parishes. Presbyterians were mainly active in Ulster and do not have the same kind of parochial structure. Maps of these three major denominations can be found in Mitchell’s Atlas.
Cities and Towns
These are civil areas of various sizes and may be divided into several townships and parishes.
The 3,751 District Electoral Divisions (DEDs) are civil jurisdictions created for election purposes in 1898. The genealogist will see them noted on the 1901 and 1911 censuses.
Finding Place-Names in the FamilySearch Catalog
Irish records may be listed in the catalog under the country, county, parish, and city or town in which they were kept. Townlands or other small places are seldom included in a catalog listing. To find the county under which a parish or city is listed, use the see references on the first few microfiche of the Place Search for Ireland. Or type the city or parish in the Locality Browse screen of the compact disc version of the catalog. The computer will display the county under which that city or parish is listed.
Regardless of how a place-name may have been spelled at various times, Irish places are listed in the Locality Search of the catalog by the name and spelling that appears in the 1871 census as recorded in Ireland, Registrar General, Alphabetical Index to the Townlands and Towns of Ireland(Dublin, Ireland: Alexander Thom, 1877; Family History Library book Ref 941.5 X2ci; film 476999 item 2; fiche 6020345-53; no circulation to Family History Centers). This index is arranged alphabetically by the name of the townland, town, village, or place. A brief entry for each locality includes the locality's county, barony, parish, poor law union, area in statute acres, and reference for locating it on Ordnance Survey maps.
Similar place-name indexes based on the 1851 and 1901 censuses exist. The index for 1851 is only available in book format and so may not be available at all Family History Centers. The index for 1901, the General Alphabetical Index to the Townlands and Towns of Ireland, is available on microfilm and can be ordered through Family History Centers.
Other Helpful Websites
- http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/Gazetteers.html -- links to other online gazetteers and place name guides
- http://www.fallingrain.com/world/EI/ -- directory of cities, towns, and regions in Ireland
- http://ireland.kiwicelts.com/irishMap/ireMap.html -- administrative divisions of Ireland and searchable maps
- http://www.proni.gov.uk/index/local_history/geographical_index.htm -- geographical index to jurisdictions
- http://www.libraryireland.com/plnm/index.php -- Irish local names explained
- http://www.dublin1850.com -- meanings of Irish place names
- ↑ Christensen, Penelope. "Ireland Political Geography (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Ireland_Political_Geography_%28National_Institute%29.
- This page was last modified on 3 March 2015, at 02:16.
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