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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.]