To be able to search
successfully for records in Ireland, you must be familiar with
the terms listed below. All of these administrative units will
be important in your research, but your ultimate goal is to
find the townland and the county where your ancestor originated
from in Ireland. If you have the name of a place or location
and do not know whether it is a parish or a townland, or want
to know what district a townland is in, you might like to try
this excellent searchable database of townlands in Ireland: IreAtlas
Townland database You will find
full instructions on how to use the site when you get there.
Province: There are four provinces in Ireland, Ulster (9
counties), Connaught (5 counties), Munster (6 counties) and Leinster (12
The County is the principal unit of local Government. There are 32
counties in Ireland, 26 in the Republic of Ireland and 6 in Northern
Ireland, varying greatly in size and population. Generally speaking, they
are much larger and more populous than American counties. The
counties exists as follows:
- Antrim, Armagh, Cavan, Derry,
Donegal, Down, Fermanagh, Monaghan, Tyrone.
- Galway, Leitrim, Mayo,
- Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick,
- Carlow, Dublin, Kildare,
Kilkenny, Laois, Longford, Louth, Meath, Offaly,
Westmeath, Wexford, Wicklow
Barony: A Barony is an
important county subdivision. It is thought to be a
Norman division although it's precise origin is unknown.
There are generally between seven and ten baronies per
county although Cork has twenty and Louth has only four.
A barony can occupy parts of two counties in which case
it is referred to as half a barony. There are 331
baronies in Ireland. Up
to the end of the nineteenth century, counties were
subdivided into baronies, although they were not much
used for administrative purposes and thus figure little
in the records relevant to genealogical research. There
were about 325 baronies in the country.
Poor Law Union:
The Poor Law Act of 1838
introduced another administrative division - The Poor Law
Union. Initially there were 130 and eventually 163 Poor
Law Unions. Between 1838 and 1852, 163
workhouses were built throughout
the country, each at the centre of an area known as a
Poor Law Union. The workhouses were normally situated in
a large market town, and the Poor Law Union comprised the
town and its catchment area, with the result that the
Unions in many cases ignored the existing boundaries of
parish and county. The workhouse in the town provided
relief for the unemployed and destitute, generally under
very harsh conditions. Records were kept of the inmates
and these can provide useful research material.
These were the catchment areas of the workhouses set up
from the 1830s on to try to deal with the most destitute.
They became the bases of the registration districts used
for state records of births, marriages and deaths.
Poor Law Union
Civil Parish: There are 2508 Civil
Parishes in Ireland. They were originally ecclesiastical
divisions and they often break both county and barony,
boundaries. They became important civil divisions in
their own right. Civil parishes were the original
units of administration of the medieval church in Ireland
and were used right up to the end of the nineteenth
century for local and central government. Because of
this, they are extremely important for Irish genealogy,
providing, for example, the only means of connecting a
placename to the Roman Catholic records which cover it.
Gen.ie uses the civil parish to connect localities to the
records which relate to them.
A village is a clustered human settlement or community,
larger than a hamlet, but smaller than a town or city. Though
generally located in rural areas, the term urban village may be
applied to certain urban neighbourhoods. Although many patterns
of village life have existed, the typical village was small,
consisting of perhaps 5 to 30 families. Homes were situated
together for sociability and defence, and land surrounding the
living quarters was farmed.
Townland: There are 60,462
Townlands in Ireland (65,000 recorded in the 1851
Townlands Index). It is the smallest administrative
division (i.e. smallest officially recognized
geographical unit in rural Ireland) and on average covers
about 350 acres (varying in size from a few acres to
several thousand). Many Townlands share the same
name - for example there are 56 Kilmores and 47 Dromores.
District: Poor Law
Unions were subdivided into dispensary districts
following the 1851 Medical Charities Act.
Registrars District: Poor Law Unions became
known as Superintendent Registrar's districts in order to record
births, marriages and deaths as a result of the 1863 Acts for the
Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages
Dispensary Districts became known as Registrar's
districts in order to record births, deaths and marriages
as a result of the 1863 Acts for the Registration of
Births, Deaths and Marriages.
Diocese: This is a large ecclesiastical division.
There are 22 dioceses which in turn form part of 4
archdioceses. These are similar to the four provinces of
Parish: A diocese is subdivided into parishes.
Parishes are usually composed of the aforementioned civil
parishes. However, modern Catholic parishes do not follow
this general rule.
Demesne: (pronounced 'Do-maine): The term refers
to the lord's land, as distinct from tenant's land. An
'ancient demesne' refers to Crown land. In effect,
tenants of land belonging to the Crown had special
privileges, even though the land may later have been
given to another lord.
General Registrar's Districts
These are the areas where births, deaths, and marriages were compiled. Even
today, these records are kept at the district level.
information contained in these pages is provided solely
for the purpose of sharing with
others researching their ancestors in Ireland.
- © 2001 Ireland Genealogy Projects,
IGP TM By
Pre-emptive Copyright - All rights reserved