The Index to Townlands, the key to identifying all land divisions in Ireland, is for first time being made available online as a fully searchable database. This has only been made possible through the hard work and commitment of two Australians: historian, Perry McIntyre and genealogist, Terry Eakin, both IGRS members. Having spent two years carefully inputting the data from the original 1901 publication, they have very kindly donated it to the Irish Genealogical Research Society.
There are just over 64,000 townlands in Ireland. They are Ireland’s most basic – and ancient – land divisions, measuring from just a few acres to several hundred. From the mid-19th century, just before the period of the Great Hunger, Irish land divisions became standard through the introduction of the Poor Law System in 1838. Although the Poor Law was abandoned in the 1920s, the same system of land division is still in use to this day.
Allowing for population density, the Poor Law System provided that across Ireland numbers of townlands were bundled together to form District Electoral Divisions. The residents of each DED paid the poor rate and elected the poor law guardians. Numbers of DEDs were united to form Poor Law Unions (PLU). In due course, as the 19th century progressed, PLU boundaries and subdivisions thereof were also used in the administration of civil registration, census enumeration, health care provision, compilation of electoral rolls, creation of pension boards under the Old Age Pension Act 1908 and land valuation, property registration and local tax collection.
Given that the first Index to Townlands – published in conjunction with the 1851 Census of Ireland – did not note DEDs, the 1901 edition is all the more valuable given that it also notes the DED number required to access data from the 1901 census returns, the earliest complete census for Ireland.
The new database can be use to to either locate a particular townland and the various land divisions it forms part of, or it can be used to identify the names of all townlands which fall into a given District Electoral Division or Civil Parish. Helpful links in the ‘Search Hints & Tips’ section also allow researchers to identify the locality on a set of maps dating from 1935 which denote the various boundaries of land divisions. In addition, Ordnance Survey Map numbers are noted.
Steven Smyrl, IGRS chairman, said: “we are incredibly grateful to the generosity of Perry and Terry for providing the Society with this invaluable new resource. For the first time, genealogists will be able to identify a townland even where they only have a garbled spelling and better still they will be able to establish the names of the other townlands surrounding it, which was just not possible with the original hardcopy index.”
This database is being made available free-to-all on the IGRS website. Click here IrishAncestors.ie or click on the tab “Resources – Unique Resources” on the Society’s website’s homepage.