Townlands Introduction


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The townland is a feature unique to the Irish landscape, with its origins going back many centuries. The largest divisions in the country were counties, then baronies, then parishes and finally townlands. There are something like 62,000 townlands in Ireland today.


In pre-Christian times this island was divided into 'tuatha', which means 'districts', and these were under the control of chieftains and their name was taken from the dominant family. The boundaries had to be clearly defined because the leader in each territory wanted to protect the symbol of his wealth, which was cattle in those days.


So the limits of his territory were often defined by means of a river, stream, ditch, trees or wall. With the arrival of the Normans in the 11th- 12th Centuries, the system of townlands was introduced in order to make administration easier. In the new civil parish, which often coincided with the limits of the truth, there were anything from five to thirty or more townlands grouped together, and in many cases the old mimes were retained.






However, many names were lost and changed because of the attempts to Anglicise the old Gaelic words. The townland was a division used in the Tithe Applotment Hooks, the Censuses and Valuation Books.


When MacDonnell, the Earl of Antrim, came to Ireland, he gave grants of land to landlords, who in turn rented parts of it out to tenants. The farmers divided their plots up in their own way, many using field names to distinguish parts of their farm.


This name could refer to the geographical position or maybe referring to a feature in the field. These names, many of which referred to features of the landscape, were passed down through the generations and in general they were not recorded. Many of the spellings of Irish words are phonetic and others are lost forever.






The Cushendun Townlands Project


The Purpose of this Project was to research information on our local townlands, and disseminate it among the local and wider community through erection of signs, production of a booklet, and other educational activities.

The parish of Cushendun extends from the sea to the head of the Glen (Glendun) and northwards along the sea coast to the promontory of Torr. Within the parish there are 58 townlands, nearly all of which are crossed by public roads.


The aim of this project is to identify each townland by erecting a roadside sign, which is inscribed with its name in English and in the original Irish, together with a translation.


We will also be erecting a large map of our townlands in the Village.

These permanent signs will act to raise awareness of these ancient subdivisions of the countryside, which after many centuries are in danger of passing out of usage. The signs will help people to read the local landscape, subdivided as it is into townlands which correspond to the ladder pattern of fields on the valley sides.


Providing a translation of the Irish name will allow identification of the geographical feature from which the name derives.


We hope that local people will use these names as their postal address, so that they will regain the currency they once enjoyed.


The roadside markers themselves will become a distinctive feature of the Parish in the same way as the cast-iron milestones, which line the Coast Road from Lame to Ballycastle, and  will enhance the local environment and heritage.


Although the names of townlands are not a tangible or visible part of the local heritage, they are as worthy of preservation as the landscape itself. As they derive from prominent features of the landscape, whether topographical or of human construction, they provide an insight into how earlier inhabitants viewed and interpreted the countryside they occupied.


Thus they form a link to the age in which they were first used, as expressive of that time as constructions such as crannogs, raths or standing stones.



Nowadays fewer and fewer people earn their living solely from a family farm, or live on the farm which their ancestors worked for generations.


Townland names no longer play a role as identifiers of farming families. Thus the present generation are less aware of this part of their heritage.


The need for this project was certainly compounded by the actions of the Post Office and local Council in imposing road names that ignore townland names.


 The townland is a valuable piece of our history, reflecting earlier times. It can sometimes give information about the family which was associated with it, the local landscape and even the buildings that once stood there.


The introduction of postcodes and house numbers by the Post Office in the early 1970s threatened the local usage of these small divisions, but the Post Office has since come to acknowledge the heritage value of these old names.


In addition, housing developers have given names to groups of dwellings in a townland which owe nothing to heritage or landscape - names which grate on anyone with a feeling for the local heritage.


The signs erected in each townland will be a visible reminder of the old names and will assert their continued legitimacy for the present generation and ensure that they are not buried through neglect.


They will be a monument to past generations and communities and traditions.



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