IRISH TERRITORIAL DIVISIONS



The administrative divisions in Ireland consisted of a variety of land units in descending order of size: Province, County, Barony, Parish and Townland.

BARONY

Originally the landholding of a feudal baron, the barony is now an obsolete administrative unit that is mid-way in size between a county and a parish. The system of bringing Irish local kingdoms into the feudal system of baronies began in the medieval period but did not extend to the whole of Ulster until the early 17th century.

Large baronies were later subdivided until there were 58 baronies in the area that comprises the present day Northern Ireland.

COUNTY

A territorial unit equivalent to the English shire, it was created by the English administration in Ireland as the major subdivision of an Irish province and dates from the 13th to the 17th century. The counties as they are today were planned in 1584 but many existed long before this date.

Antrim and Down had been counties from the 13th or 14th centuries but their modern boundaries were not settled until 1605, while the modern boundary and the new county name of Londonderry did not come into existence until 1613 although it had existed from Anglo-Norman times with different boundaries and under the name of Coleraine.

PARISH

An ecclesiastical unit of territory that came into existence in Ireland in its present form in the 12th and 13th centuries and was continued by the Established Church of Ireland after the Reformation. It was then adopted as a civil administrative area but over time the boundaries of some civil and ecclesiastical parishes came to vary from each other. Roman Catholic parishes, for example, when re-instated, were often redrawn to suit the needs of their parishioners. Because civil parishes may extend across rivers that were often used to delineate the boundaries of counties and baronies, civil parishes can be in more than one county and in more than one barony.

PROVINCE

This is the earliest and largest administrative division in Ireland dating back into prehistory and early historic times. There were originally five Provinces in the island of Ireland with provincial 'overkings' who were supported by the kings of the smaller local kingdoms within them. However, by the 17th century this had been reduced to the four modern Provinces of Ulster, Connaught, Leinster and Munster.

Present day Northern Ireland comprises six of the nine counties established in the Province of Ulster - the Ulster counties of Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan lie in the Republic of Ireland.

TOWNLAND

The townland is an ancient unit, dating back to pre-Norman times, and is the smallest administrative division throughout the island of Ireland that is still in use. It is the common term or English translation for a variety of small local land units that varied in name and meaning throughout the island of Ireland.

In the north there had been a large division called a 'ballybetagh,' generally divided into around 12 'ballyboes', but into around 16 'tates' in the area of Fermanagh and Monaghan. The 'ballyboe' was notionally of 120 acres and the 'tate', 60 acres, but these measurements clearly referred to useable land in an area that might also include marsh and mountain waste. The 'ballyboe' might be further divided into three 'sessiaghs' while the term 'carrow' (Irish 'ceathramh', a 'quarter') may refer to either a quarter of a 'ballybetagh' or a quarter of a 'ballyboe'.

The 'ballybetagh' disappeared after the Plantation and the subdivisions became the modern townlands, the average size of which, in most of Northern Ireland, is now c.350 acres but c.180 acres in Fermanagh. The spelling of townland names is subject to considerable variation due largely to the difficulties of representing the pronunciation of Irish language names in English spelling.

DISTRICT ELECTORAL DIVISION/WARD

The District Electoral Divisions (D.E.Ds) were originally established under the Poor Relief (Ireland) Act 1838 as poor law electoral divisions but their present names up to 1972 were fixed under the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898. They formed the territorial units in rural districts for the election of members of Rural District Councils. The equivalent territorial unit for the purpose of elections in county boroughs, municipal boroughs and urban districts is the Ward.

In the larger urban areas there will be a number of Wards but in the smaller urban areas the entire urban district acts as a Ward. In 1973 new district councils were set up and these 26 districts were subdivided into 526 Wards which were in turn grouped into 98 District Electoral Areas for local government elections. However, these District Electoral Areas and Wards are different in composition from pre-1973 D.E.Ds and Wards.

[This article is reprinted with the kind permission of the author.]

 

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