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Ireland’s Internal Divisions in the 19th Century



Provinces        The four provinces, Ulster in the north, Leinster in the east, Connaught (Connacht) in the west, and Munster in the south derive their names from the ancient kingdoms of Ireland:  Uladh, Laighean, Connaught, Mumha.  The fifth kingdom of Meath became merged in the province of Leinster.  Other ancient kingdoms such as Aileach and Oriel had become integrated with Ulster since the 17th century.

Counties         The division of Ireland into counties began with King John in 1210 when he constituted twelve of the present-day counties:  Dublin, Kildare, Meath, (later divided into east and west), Louth, Carlow, Kilkenny, Wexford, Waterford, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, and Tipperary, King's and Queen's counties were constituted during the reign of Queen Mary and the following under Elizabeth I:  Longford, Clare, Galway, Sligo, Mayo, Roscommon, Leitrim, Armagh, Monaghan, Tyrone, Derry, Donegal, Fermanagh, and Cavan.  The origin of Antrim and Down as counties seems uncertain and the last county to be formed was Wicklow which was divided from Dublin in 1605.  Many counties have towns of the same name, e.g., Dublin, Limerick, Cork, etc..

This division reflects the imposition of the English system of local government in Ireland.  Begun in the twelfth century, the thirty-two county framework was completed with the creation of Wicklow in 1606.  County boundaries usually reflected the lordships of major Gaelic families.  The four provinces of Ireland -- Ulster, Connaught, Munster and Leinster -- owe their origin to the pre-eminence of the families O'Neill (Ulster), O'Connor (Connaught), O'Brien (Munster) and Mac Murrough (Leinster).  It was these families that strived for the High Kingship of all Ireland in the centuries before the Norman invasion of the twelfth century.  The Irish families reflected in the county divisions owed allegiance to these provincial kings.

LEINSTER                (LAIGHEAN)
Carlow, Dublin, Kildare, Killkenny, Laois (Queens), Longford, Louth, Meath, Offaly (Kings), Westmeath, Wexford, Wicklow

MUNSTER                (MUMHA)
Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary, Waterford

Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo

ULSTER                     (ULADH)
Antrim (NI), Armagh (NI), Cavan, Derry (NI), Donnegal, Down (NI), Fermanagh (NI), Monaghan, Tyrone (NI)

Baronies         The barony is an obsolete division of great antiquity based on the great Gaelic family holdings.  There were 331 baronies, in all Ireland, and they reflect the Irish clans.  Baronies and counties became established in the government land surveys of the seventeenth century.  They were turned into civil divisions by the English for the purpose of the 19th century land valuations.
Dioceses         Three ecclesiastical synods -- Cashel in 1101, Rathbreasail in 1111 and Kells in 1152 -- imposed a diocesan organization of four provinces: Armagh, Cashel, Dublin and Tuam, each headed by an archbishop andunder them twenty-two bishops in charge of as many dioceses.  These diocesan boundaries have remained virtually constant to the present day and are in use by both the Catholic and Anglican Churches.  The number of disceses has, however, varied with consolidation through time by both the Catholic and Anglican Churches.  Dioceses have little or no relation to the boundaries of the counties, the latter having been created long after the dioceses.  It is the Church of Ireland dioceses, as exisitng in the midnineteenth century, that are mapped out.  Until 1834 the dioceses of the Church of Ireland were grouped into four provinces.  The number of provinces was then reduced to two, Armagh and Dublin.

Parishes          Parishes were of two kinds, ecclesiastical and civil.  The civil parish again used for last-century valuations, was normally smaller in area than the ecclesiastical parish and often differed in name from it.  There are about two and a half thousand ecclesiastical parishes in the whole country.

Civial Parish   From the seventeenth century the so-called civil parish, based on the early Christian and medieval monastic and church settlements, was used extensively in various surveys.  By the mid-nineteenth century the pattern of civil parishes was well established.  By 1841 the population of Ireland had risen to 8,175,124 and this was reflected in changing parish boundaries.  New parishes were created by either subdividing larger ones or by withdrawing townlands from adjoining parishes.  For example, in 1765 Montiaghs Parish in County Armagh was separated from Seagoe Parish, while in County Londonderry Carrisk Parish was created in 1846 by withdrawing eleven townlands from the adjoining parishes -- three from Balteagh, three from Bovevagh and five from Tamlaght Finlagan.  The civil parish essentially covered the same area as the established Church of Ireland.  The Roman Catholic Church, owing to the Reformation of the sixteenth century, had to adapt itself to a new structure centered on towns and villages.  There are currently 2,508 civil parishes in Ireland.  Civil Parishes frequently break both barony and county boundaries, indicating they were drawn up at an earlier period.

Townlands      The townland is the smallest and most ancient of Irish land divisions, and its identification is essential to researchers who wish to pinpoint the precise origin of their ancestors.  The townland was a small rural division of the parish.  Its average area was three hundred and fifty acres.  The census of 1901 showed sixty thousand four hundred and sixty-two such townlands.  The townland was named at an early period, and is usually referred to a very identifiable landmark in the local area such as a mountain, a bog, an oak forest, a village, a fort or a church.  The townland became standardized as a basic division in the  seventeenth-century surveys by people with little knowledge of the Irish language.  As a consequence many place names were either lost or had their meaning or construction altered.  A record of townland names, shapes and sizes for all Ireland exists in the Maps of the Ordnance Survey completed in 1846 at the scale of six inches to one mile.  There are 60,462 townlands in Ireland.  An example would be:  Ballycorrigan, County: Tipperary, Civil Parish: Templeachally, Poor Law Union: Nenagh.  Indicating that a leading Corrigan family was seated there not later than the middle of the 17th century.

Poor Law Unions        Under the Poor Law Relief Act of 1838, Ireland was divided into districts or "unions" in which the local rateable inhabitants were to be financially responsible for the care of all paupers in their areas.  These Unions comprised multiples of townlands within an average radius of ten miles, usually with a large market town as centre, in which the 'Poor House' was located.  Most of these Poor Houses may still be seen and many are still in use--for other purposes of course.  These unions, which didn't respect county boundaries, were usually centered on a large market town.  By 1850, 163 unions had been created.  The Local Government (Ireland) Act, 1898, adopted the poor law union as the basic administrative division in place of the civil parish and barony.  The poor law unions of Ireland were subdivided into 829 registration districts and 3,751 district electoral divisions.  Townlands were now arranged according to these divisions, with parishes and baronies being retained only as a means to make comparisons with records gathered before 1898.

Probate Districts        In 1858 a principal registry and eleven district registries were established for the purpose of proving wills and granting administrations.

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Chapter 1

Our Island Home
Symbols of the Four Provinces
Ireland's Internal Divisions in the 19th Century
Maps of Ireland
Chronology of Irish History