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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 your ancestors county and the townland of origin in Ireland

If you know 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 You will find full instructions on how to use the site when you get there.

Civil Divisions

Province:There are four provinces in Ireland, Ulster (9 counties), Connaught (5 counties), Munster (6 counties) and Leinster (12 counties)

County: 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…

  • Munster: Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary, Waterford
  • Leinster: Carlow, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Longford, Louth, Meath, Offaly, Westmeath, Wexford, Wicklow
  • Ulster: Antrim, Armagh, Cavan, Derry, Donegal, Down, Fermanagh, Monaghan, Tyrone
  • Connaught: Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo

Barony: A Barony is an important county subdivision. 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 except for land records and census

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. Poor Law Unions were the catchment areas of the workhouses set up from the 1830s on to try to deal with the most destitute

Poor Law Unions became the basis of the registration districts used for state records of births, marriages and deaths

District Electoral Divisions:  District Electoral Divisions (DEDs) are subdivisions of Poor Law Unions and consist of a number of townlands

Irish Administrative Divisions

Civil Parish: There are 2508 Civil Parishes in Ireland

They were originally ecclesiastical divisions and they often cross 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

Village: 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

Dispensery Districts: Poor Law Unions were subdivided into dispensary districts following the 1851 Medical Charities Act

Supertendent Registrar’s 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

Registrar’s District: 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

Ecclesiastical Divisions

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 Ireland

Parish:  A diocese is subdivided into parishes. Early parishes of the ‘Established Church’ (Church of Ireland) usually follow the borders or were similar to civil parishes.

Post ‘Penal Law’ Catholic parish boundaries were unrelated to either civil parish or those of the ‘Established Church’

There are 1,086 parishes in Ireland

Local Divisions

Demense: (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. Today, these records are available centrally – All applications go to Welfare, Roscommon

Above is a link to old Irish divisions – Townlands are the current equivalent