Irish Place names

Identifying Irish Place Names

When searching placename databases, the use of wildcards, in particular the asterisk (*) representing any series of characters, is essential. Replace all vowels with a * and see what you find.

Townlands Indexes: Produced on the basis of the returns of the 1851, 1871 and 1901 censuses, these list all the townlands in the country in strict alphabetical order. The 1851 Index uses the forms of place-names standardised by the Ordnance Survey. The full 1851 Townlands Index is now available online at Irish Ancestors, where civil parishes are mapped, and also at and The 1901 Townlands Index is online at

Addenda to the 1841 Census: Also known as the 1841 Townlands Index, this is also based on the census returns, but organises townlands on a different basis. They are grouped alphabetically within civil parishes, which are then grouped alphabetically within baronies, which are grouped by county. The organisation is very useful in tracking down variant townland spellings; once it is known that a particular townland is to be found in a particular area, but the later Townlands Indexes do not record it, the general area can be searched in the 1841 Addenda for names which are close enough to be possible variants. NLI Ir 310 c 1

Townlands in Poor-Law Unions: Produced by the Office of the Registrar General for use by local registration officers, this series of pamphlets lists townlands in each Registration District, or Poor-Law Union. It is useful in attempting to identify placenames given in civil records. NLI Ir 9141 b 35. It has been reprinted as Townlands and Poor-Law Unions(ed. Handran, 1997 Higginson, Salem Ma.) and is the basis of the listings on this site.

Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, Samuel Lewis, 1837. This goes through civil parishes in alphabetical order, giving a brief history, an economic and social description, and the names and residences of the 'principal inhabitants'. It also records the corresponding Catholic parish, and the locations of Methodist and Presbyterian congregations. The entire text is downloadable free from The relevant entries for each civil parish are part of the civil parishes sourcelists on this site.

Ordnance Survey of Ireland: There are three main OSI sources of value in tracking down the many unapproved or 'sub-denominational' place names that escaped standardisation in the 1830s:
1. Manuscript indexes to placenames on the original OSI 6' maps includes many sub-townland names which are not found elsewhere. Microfilm copies in NLI are:

  • Pos. 4621 Cork, Clare, Kerry.
  • Pos. 4622 Tipperary, Galway, Leitrim, Mayo.
  • Pos. 4623 Sligo, Antrim, Armagh, Cavan, Donegal, Roscommon, Waterford, Limerick.
  • Pos. 4624 Kildare, Carlow, Down, Dublin, Fermanagh, Kilkenny, Offaly, Longford, Louth, Meath, Monaghan.
  • Pos. 4625 Laois, Tyrone, Westmeath, Wexford, Wicklow and Derry/Londonderry.
2. Ordnance Survey Name Books, complied by John O'Donovan in the course of the Survey, record local naming practices and traditions. Microfilm copies are at NLI, with microfilms for Ulster at Queen's University, Belfast and typescript versions at
3. Ordnance Survey Ireland's has a free version of the current map of Ireland, which can be overlaid on superbly clear copies of the original 1830s 6'-to-a-mile maps and the much more detailed 25'-to-a-mile maps from the 1890s and early 1900s. These can be invaluable, not only in identifying a place-name, but in judging the geographical and topographical relationships between areas where different families may have lived. PRONI has an even more detailed set of historic OSI maps for the six counties available through the Historical Maps viewer on its website,

Placenames Commission: The Irish Placenames Commission was established in 1946 and advised on providing authoritative Irish forms of place names for official and public use. It is now defunct, but the website it established ,, is now hosted by Dublin City University. It provides access to almost all of the research carried out over the last 70 years. It is most useful for the Irish origins of names, local history rather than genealogy in other words, but its database includes thousands of names - rivers, mountains, local nicknames - not covered in any of the official 19th century publications. is an open-source, volunteer-run digital mapping project rivalling commercial mapping services such as Google and Microsoft. allows the locating of all townlands whose names are in current use, together with their positions relative to adjoining townlands.

Other works of general interest include Yann Goblet's Index to Townlands in the Civil Survey 1654-6, (Irish Manuscripts Commission, 1954); Locations of Churches in the Irish Provinces, (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1978) NLI Ir 7265 i 8; The Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland, (1846), NLI Ir 9141 p 30.

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