Land Subdivisions in Ireland

I had forgotten just how complicated Irish genealogical research can be for people who are not familiar with the way land is categorized in the various censuses, BMD records etc. I googled “townlands” and found the following wiki:Townland Wiki and read there that “a townland is the smallest officially-defined geographical unit of land”. The townland is often the key to finding where ancestors lived. Without street addresses, the townland became the address of the family in question.

I also found the following interesting website which lists a list of the documents and records available in Ireland including the land subdivisions:

Here is a list of townlands of Ulster:Ulster Townlands

There is a great website for searching for towlands in

I found the following very useful summary, in the help section of the online:  Griffith’s Valuation

Griffith’s Valuation Help

Administrative Land Divisions in Ireland

County: this is the main land unit for local government and there are 26 counties in the Republic of Ireland, with a further 6 counties in Northern Ireland.

Barony: there are 331 barony divisions in Ireland and this is thought be originally a Norman land unit. A county has on average between 7 and 10 baronies, though this may differ in a few cases. Baronies vary in size and may extend over more than one county on occasion. Baronies are no longer used as a unit for land government.

Parish: This actually refers to civil parishes rather than church ones, but these were originally religious divisions. Most Church of Ireland parishes correspond to a civil parish, though Catholic parishes may extend over more than one civil parish. Civil parishes also vary in size and are grouped together to form a barony.

Union: The Union was introduced as the most basic unit of administration under the Poor Law system in 1838 as the Barony and Parish units were felt to be unsatisfactory because of their unequal sizes. Initially the country was divided into 130 Unions and this was adjusted to create smaller unit sizes, so that by 1850 there were 163. Unions are no longer in use as an administrative unit.

Townland: This is the smallest land division, but may vary widely in size. There are over 64,000 townlands in Ireland and this unit is still in administrative use today. It is the smallest land unit in Griffith’s Valuation. A number of townlands, varying between 5 and 30, make up a civil parish. Many townlands from different areas share the same name.

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One Response to Land Subdivisions in Ireland

  1. I notice the mention of a Constabulary District and Subdistrict on 1911 census returns, in addition to all the other categories listed here.

    Then there’s the District Electoral Division itself, which seemed to be some kind of townland-grouping organizational unit for the purpose of getting representatives into the local Poor Law board.

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