Guide to 17th century surveys of Cavan

This article by Michael McShane first appeared in Breifne The Journal of Breifne Historical Society 2019.

We are fortunate that the troubled history of County Cavan has resulted in the creation of a very large amount of survey and land ownership information which would otherwise not exist. Our colonisers certainly knew how to keep records when it came to the confiscation, plantation and taxation of lands. The six escheated counties of the province of Ulster became one of the best mapped and surveyed parts of the world, particularly in the seventeenth century, when the ownership of lands went through multiple hands before settling down into the relatively quieter period of the eighteenth century.

This article sets out in chronological order a summary of the main surveys which were carried out in this period and a link to where researchers may access the relevant documents pertaining to each survey.

Other surveys from this period are also listed and, whilst not necessarily relevant to Cavan, are useful to be aware of.

1608 Survey of Ulster.

This Survey of County Cavan was taken at Cavan on 6 September 1608, before Sir John Davies, Sir Edward Blany and William Parsons, surveyor-general.

This non-cartographical investigation was the British government’s first attempt to survey the six escheated counties of Ulster. The end result was a list of the lands held by the Crown and the Church of Ireland and also information on fairs, markets, fisheries and ferries. As J.H. Andrews points out,[1] the survey was defective both in conception and in execution. Much land had been left out and the surveyor’s methods of determining the actual areas was based on incorrect assumptions of the size of traditional local measures such as the ‘polls’ of Cavan, the ‘tates’ of Fermanagh and the ‘balliboes’ of Tyrone.

A transcription of the survey of Cavan is published in Analecta Hibernica.[2] It cites the seven baronies of Cavan and lists the names of ballibetoes, i.e., ballybets comprised in each barony and the number of Polls within each ballybet. The names of the individual polls are not provided.

In Cavan, the townland or ballyboe/Baile Bo (i.e. cow land) was known as a poll. According to Rawlinson MS, a poll was a parcel of twenty-four acres of arable land. It was supposed to be able to carry about twenty cows. There were sixteen ballyboes in the ballybet or Baile Biataigh, which was the chief land unit within the tuath or Tricha Ced, the cantred or district. The Tricha Ced usually comprised thirty Ballybets.

The total number of polls and the acreage of each barony is given for the temporal (Crown) lands. The incorrect assumption that a poll generally contained twenty-four acres was the cause of much confusion and resulted in numerous disputes.

The survey identifies by parish the Church lands of the barony and the number of polls contained in each. The total number of polls and their acreage is also listed.

The unreliability of  the survey caused the suspension of the project of Plantation until a more accurate document could be drawn up. The authorities were now keenly aware that a map-based survey was critical to the future success of the proposed demarcation of the lands to be granted to the servitors, undertakers, Church of Ireland and natives. Hill comments:[3]

There was nothing for it, but that a new commission of survey must traverse the whole ground again more cautiously, and with better knowledge of the points specially requiring attention.

The Cavan Inquisition of 1609

The follow-up to the haphazard survey of 1608 took place in the autumn of 1609. A commission of the English Crown was established to conduct inquisitions, settle disputes of ownership and to prepare suitable maps of the six escheated counties of Ulster prior to the commencement of the plantation.  They were also to hold assizes[4] in each county as they passed through. This military-led expedition was under the control of the lord deputy, Sir Arthur Chichester, and departed from Dublin heading first to Dundalk on 31 July, 1609. One ‘module’[5] of the inquiry was tasked with distinguishing between lands held by the Church and the Crown. On 25 September  1609, an inquisition concerning Church property in County Cavan was held in Cavan town. The report of this inquisition has been examined in great detail by Philip O’Connell.[6] Although dealing primarily with the ecclesiastical survey, this article by O’Connell lists and describes many townlands throughout the county and is invaluable in tracing the development of townland names in this period. He also presents and collates the data from the 1590 inquisition of the same region which he had extracted from the original manuscript which was preserved in what was then the Public Record Office, Dublin (now The National Archive). This very comprehensive examination of the Church-held lands also contains considerable records of townlands/polls long since lost and forgotten.

Bodley maps of 1609

Another critical ‘module’ of the instructions to the commissioners was to make an accurate survey and measurement of the arable lands in each county. This work was separate from, but carried out it in parallel with, the other elements of the expedition. This commission, which was led by Sir Josias Bodley, was tasked with the preparation of the detailed set of maps which were to provide precise information of each townland of the six escheated counties. The ultimate purpose of these maps was to allow the Crown allot proportions/estates to the British planters, Church of Ireland and ‘deserving’ Irish who followed in 1610 and after. The survey work for the County of Cavan was carried out in the last week of September 1609 and the maps were drawn up in the following months and finally completed in late February, 1610. It should be noted that the maps were put together with verbal evidence from locals with knowledge of their respective areas as opposed to a methodical survey and in time they did not stand up to close scrutiny.

The maps of Cavan which are now available to view online[7] and those which are held at the British National Archives are referenced as follows:

No. on map belowBaronyBritish National Archives reference number
1LoughteeMPF 1/52
2TulloghgarvyMPF 1/53
3ClanchyMPF 1/54
4CastlerahinMPF 1/55
5ClonmahonMPF 1/56
6TullyhuncoMPF 1/57
7TullaghaMPF 1/58

Fig 1: Map of County Cavan indicating the Baronies as mapped by Bodley.
No.6 Tullyhunco is highlighted

Facsimile reproductions of the maps were produced by the Ordnance Survey Office in 1861 by a new process called photo zincography. These maps can be viewed in the NLI Manuscripts Reading Room, 2/3 Kildare Street.[8]

In Breifne (2015),[9] I explored the Bodley map of Tullyhunco and compared it to current Ordnance Survey maps. It was possible to make connections between many of the Bodley mapped polls (townlands) and present-day denominations. It is interesting to note how the townland system has remained virtually intact over the centuries and how the Bodley survey permanently fixed the old Irish baile farnans, parishes and baronies for future generations. As Maura Nallen[10] says:

The Ulster Plantation scheme retained with its territorial organisation the ancient cadastral unit of Gaelic Ireland, the townland.

Distinguishing features which are noted include whether the townland is indicated as churchland or is shown to have a church in-situ. Also, natural features such as forest, mountain, bog, river or lake are easily identified and are useful for comparison with the current situation.

In his commentary on Bodley’s maps, J.H. Andrews concludes that in response to the inaccuracies which became apparent all future cartographic surveys would involve the use of the chain:[11]

Henceforth the laying-on of the chain was like a mystical rite, the agrarian equivalent of baptism or coming-of-age, which gave binding force (almost literally now of survey; metaphorically forever) to the process of perambulation and which put the seal on one Irish townland after another as ready to be owned, occupied, and civilised.

Detail from a Bodley map of Cavan

1610/11 Schedule of Plantation Grants

The detailed schedules of grants to the undertakers, servitors and natives set out the names and origin of the grantees, the designated names and areas of the proportions or manors (new estates), the names and size of the polls (townlands) contained within the proportions and the date and terms upon which the lands were granted. In most instances the names of the polls granted closely match the polls identified on Bodley’s maps but there are some variations which should be noted. These records are easily gleaned from Hill’s ground-breaking work.[12]

Loughtee was set aside for English undertakers only, Tullyhunco and Clankee were set aside for Scottish undertakers only and the remaining baronies were granted to servitors and natives. Grants by barony are presented on the following pages in Hill:

BaronyPage numbers
The Precinct of Loughtee (Loughtee Upr & Lr)pp 280-3
The Precinct of Tullochonco (Tullyhunco)pp 306-308
The Precinct of Clanchy (Clankee)pp 308-309
The Precinct of Tullaghah (Tullyhaw)pp 337-40
The Precinct of Clonmahone (Clanmahon)pp 340-2
The Precinct of Castle Rahen (Castlerahan)pp 342-5
The Precinct of Tullaghgarvy (Tullygarvey)pp 345-8

1611 Carew’s Survey

Complaints to the authorities in London[13] regarding the apathy and greed of the undertakers saw James I appoint Sir George Carew to investigate the progress of the Plantation. This survey took place in the autumn of 1611. Carew’s report is the first of a series of surveys between 1611 and 1622 chronicling the progress of the plantation. R.J. Hunter gives a detailed analysis[14] of Carew’s report in his study of the Plantation in the counties of Armagh and Cavan. Hill in his Plantation Papers[15] quotes considerably from Carew who covers the baronies of County Cavan in detail. Townlands are not listed.

1613 Bodley’s Survey

The King requested Chichester to provide further updates on the ‘Project’ as he was becoming increasingly concerned with petitions coming back to him from individuals who were experiencing problems. By direction of the King Chichester appointed Sir Josias Bodley to provide ‘an exact survey of the whole state of the plantation’[16] to guide him to where the obstructions lay and how he could remove them. Hunter goes on to describe what Bodley found on the ground in Cavan.[17] The survey was carried out between 2 February and 25 April 1613. The report on Cavan is dated 6 February.

In County Cavan, the survey focused on four key elements for the estates; building progress, urban development, industrial/agricultural functions and lack of progress on estates.[18]

A transcript of Bodley’s survey is available in Hastings Mss.[19] Townlands are not listed.

1619 Pynnar’s Survey

The lack of progress and the reports coming back to London of the undertakers neglecting their duties led to the investigation and survey by Captain Nicholas Pynnar in 1618/19. The exact date of the survey[20] was from 1 December 1618 to 28 March 1619.  Pynnar himself had been granted lands in Tullyhaw creating the manor of Pynnar.[21] His brief was to establish how many families were planted, what buildings had been erected, how prepared they were to defend their estates, how much land was still occupied by the native Irish and to clarify other areas of concern.

Pynnar makes some interesting notes on progress in each of the Precincts including Castlerahan[22]:

Captain Culme is to build a town called Virginia, for which he is allowed 250 acres. Upon this he hath built 8 timber houses, and put into them 8 English tenants; of which town there is a Minister which keepeth school, and is a very good preacher.

A number of native Irish are listed in this survey in the Precincts of Castlerahan, Tullygarvey, Clanmahon and Tullyhaw which were allotted to srvitors and natives. Hill covers Pynnar’s survey comprehensively by barony as follows:

BaronyPage number
The Precinct of Loghtee (Loughtee Upr & Lr)p. 460
The Precinct of Tullaghconche (Tullyhunco)p. 469
The Precinct of Clanchie (Clankee)p. 451
The Precinct of Tullagha (Tullyhaw)p. 473
The Precinct of Clonemahown (Clanmahon)p. 468
The Precinct of Castlerahin (Castlerahan)p. 457
The Precinct of Tullaghgarvy (Tullygarvey)p. 458

Hunter’s commentary on Pynnar’s survey relevant to Cavan[23] is also detailed and worth consulting.

1622 survey of Cavan by Annesley and Perrot

This is essentially an update on Pynnar’s survey of 1619. P. O’Gallachair in his article of 1958[24] has transcribed the original manuscript without comment. The survey provides some evidence of native re-occupation of the lands: 

We finde planted and estated upon this land of British Birth Fee Farmers, 4 vizt: 4 having 48 acres apiece. In toto 25 families. 3 of these appeared before us. But some of them are not resident and much of ye land is occupied by ye Irish.

Townlands are not mentioned but the document gives an overview of progress on the building work and other developments being carried out by the planters.

This report differed from the earlier surveys and used actual returns from the undertakers and their tenants. The combination of these returns with the observations of the commissioners ensures that this survey was the most accurate of all the surveys carried out to date.[25]  

1623 list of parochial glebes; townlands listed

The ecclesiastical annals of Kilmore diocese of 1623[26] provide a list of the grant of glebes by James I to the incumbent clergy of the various parishes. Individual polls/townlands are named. Much of the list is taken from ‘certain articles of instruction from his Majesty dated 3rd February 1623’[27] and covers virtually all the churchland of County Cavan.

1626 letters patent containing twenty-seven grants of glebes in the diocese of Kilmore; townlands listed

The patent and close rolls of 1626[28] list the individual clergymen granted glebe lands by Charles I. The list identifies the lands by barony, proportion, parish and townland. Although limited to church lands it contains a significant number of townland names at this particular time. The list is dated 25 January 1626 and is similar in many respects to that from 1623.

Ulster Inquisitions 1604-1692

Inquisitionum in Officio Rotulorum Cancellariae Hiberniae Asservatarum Repertorium, volume II details the local hearings (inquisitions) which were held around the counties of Ulster and Leinster to enquire as to the ownership and boundaries of townlands.

These hearings took place over a number of years, but it is the inquisitions of 1629,[29] during the reign of King Charles I, which make up the vast bulk of the recorded documents relating to Cavan.

It should be noted that some of the records are in Latin and this can prove difficult to navigate but for the information which can be gleaned it is certainly worth the effort. Also, the researcher needs to understand that the calendar used at the time was not the Gregorian Calendar which we are now familiar with. The Julian calendar which was in use at the time of these inquisitions requires some careful consideration. For anyone embarking on an examination of these records it is worth referring to a study of the inquisitions of counties Fermanagh and Monaghan carried out by Donald M. Schlegel in 2008. In his book[30] he gives the background history and practical guidance on the interpretation of the inquisitions. His abstracts for these counties provide a clear template for any future work in this area.

The order in which the townlands are listed generally correspond to the original schedule of grants from 1611. This makes it possible to trace the changing ownership, name changes and aliases of many townlands. It also lists sub-divisions of townlands, most of which no longer exist. Interestingly some have morphed into full townlands in their own right.  In some instances, the names of tenants are provided as well as detailed descriptions of the physical boundaries and buildings encountered on the new manors/estates.

My 2016 Breifne article[31] on the land parcels of the barony of Tullyhunco lists the townlands and their sub-divisions by proportion/estate and provides information on the evolution of placenames.

For any researcher studying the barony of Clanmahon and the estate of Lord Lambert, Earl of Cavan there is an entry[32] concerning an inquisition which took place in Cavan on 19th October 1618 regarding Lambert’s holdings here. The record is in Latin and lists the polls/townlands of his estate the ‘maner de Lisnedareagh’ (Lissendarragh) which he was granted on 26 June 1611. It also lists the townlands of the manor of Tullocullen (Tocullen) which he acquired from the original grantee, Joseph Jones. It is helpful that a record of this inquisition,[33] along with others, is translated into English in The Peerage of Ireland (1789), vol. I. The townlands of the two estates listed here lie predominantly within the parishes of Ballintemple, Ballymachugh, Drumlumman and Kilbride.

The Ulster Inquisitions is now available on-line in pdf format and can be downloaded at:

1641/52 Books of Survey and Distribution

This document lists the native landowners and the townlands which they owned in 1641 and the Grantees under the Act of Settlement of 1652. They clearly show the shift in the ownership of land in Ireland after the Cromwellian conquest. The combined lists were compiled around 1670 and were used to impose the Quit Rent tax which was based on acreage.

It is interesting to compare the land ownership maps of 1641 (fig. 5.6)[34] and the Cromwellian grants, (fig. 5.8)[35] prepared by P.J. Duffy which indicate visually how it was only the forfeited Gaelic or Old English lands which were granted out under the Cromwellian settlement. Most of the original grantees of 1610 obtained full or part restitution of their lands.[36]

The original document is held by the Royal Irish Academy, MS. 1.iv.2. Cavan County Library have photocopy and microfilm copies.

Edited articles listing townlands in the following parishes appear in Breifny Antiquarian Society Journal as below:

ParishPublished in:
Castlerahan1925/26, 2:3, pp 279-83.
Crosserlough (Castlerahan barony) and Kildrumfertan alias Crosserlough,Clonmoghan barony1927/28, 3:1,  pp 50-7.
Killinkere (Loughtee barony)1929/30, 3:2, pp 267-8.
Killinkere (Castlerahan barony)1921, 1:2, pp 130-8.
Lurgan1922, 1:3  pp 304-07.
Mullagh, included in Killinkere (Castlerahan barony)1921, 1:2,   pp 130-8.
Munterconnaght1925/26, 2:3, pp 284-5.
Virginia & Lough Ramor, General Historical Notes1920, 1:1 pp 16-29.

1652 Commonwealth Survey

In a paper presented to The Journal of the Kilkenny and South-East of Ireland Archaeological Society in 1858,[37] the Rev. John O’Hanlon gave an account of the collections made by the Ordnance Survey Department:

The design of the whole was evidently to show the distribution of the forfeited lands amongst Cromwell’s soldiers. It is arranged in baronies and parishes. The waste lands in each parish, where waste lands were, being distinguished from the profitable lands. The value of each parish is prefixed. The volume, if an original one, as I suspect, may have been used by the Commonwealth for carrying the Acts of Settlement and Explanation into effect in 1665, for ascertaining the quantity of lands in the possession of adventurers and soldiers, and guiding the retrenchments directed by said Acts.

The survey as transcribed by Wm. Mooney in 1835[38] covers the entire of County Cavan and is listed in order of barony. It appears to be a unique document, and no similar survey has been discovered for any other county.

Sadly missing from most of this document are the names of the native tenants who remained on the lands. However, a sub category to the larger proprietors which appears to be a listing of tenants does appear solely for the barony of Tullyhaw. This includes the parishes of Drumreilly, Killinagh, Kinawley, Templeport and Tomregan.

The format, purpose and content of this work differentiates it from other surveys from around the same era including the Civil Survey of Ireland 1654-56 and the 1659 Census of Ireland. It should be noted that no Cavan returns are found in either of these sources.

A detailed transcript of Mooney’s MS.14.B.7 and mapping of the townlands by parish can be referenced in my articles which appeared in Breifne, 2017 and 2018. The first article was published in 2017 and covers the parishes of West Cavan.[39] The parishes of East Cavan appeared in 2018.

1653-54 Gross Survey by Benjamin Worsley. Cavan records not found.

The gross or estimate survey[40] was prepared under great pressure of time in chaotic circumstances. The urgent priority for the government was to allot the confiscated lands to the soldiers and the adventurers in as speedily a manner as possible. The haste with which the survey was carried out resulted in a serious underestimation of the lands available for distribution purposes and caused great discontent among the soldiers who received the earliest allotment of lands.[41] Worsley’s survey also included mapped admeasurement and County Cavan was included in this process, as was confirmed by Hardinge in his summary reports.[42] On 14 April 1654 the surveyor Simon Richardson was paid £136 for admeasuring 68,000 acres in Cavan and on 22 April  1654 Charles Bolton was paid £190 for admeasuring 95,000 acres in Cavan. Unfortunately, the records and maps for nearly all the Gross survey were destroyed in the fire of 1711 in the Council-chamber in the old Custom House on Essex Street.[43] There is no conclusive evidence of how far the survey had progressed by the time it was halted, probably in the autumn of 1654. The available warrants for payment to the surveyors lists six counties: Cavan, Cork, Fermanagh, Kilkenny, Longford and Sligo. Although thought to have been completely destroyed in the 1711 fire, Hardinge mentions that some records for the baronies of Westmeath and Kilkenny survived.[44] The Cavan records no longer exist.

1654-56 The Civil Survey. Cavan records not found.

Clearly the early allocation of lands was poorly managed and the government set out to rectify the situation with the Civil Survey. Unlike the Gross survey, which was carried out under military control, the Civil Survey was managed by the civil and legal authorities. It was also a gross or estimate survey and was named the Civil Survey to distinguish it from the previous work by Worsley.[45] This survey did not involve the making of maps but a detailed boundary description of each barony and parish was made. Hardinge describes his understanding of the purpose of this survey thus:[46]

Many persons are under an impression that the Civil Survey was designed as the basis of the satisfactions afterwards made to the soldiers for arrears of pay due to them, and that it was rejected by the Government in consequence of complaints of its inaccuracy. Such an impression is altogether erroneous. This survey was not designed for the purpose assumed.  It was a preliminary work, essential to the discovery and description, in a legitimate and solemn manner, of the forfeited lands, and from which lists, technically called ‘terriers’, were afterwards supplied to the several surveyors for their admeasurement and mapping.

Twenty-seven counties were listed to be admeasured and the authorities prioritised the lands to be granted to the soldiers as ‘every passing day increased their arrears of pay’.[47] Cavan was listed county number 26[48] but the survey has survived for twelve counties only: Cork, Derry, Donegal, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Limerick, Meath, Tipperary, Tyrone, Waterford and Wexford. All of these have been published by the Irish Manuscripts Commission.

1654 Down Survey by Sir William Petty.

Cavan County map by Petty

Larcom in his major work[49] comments:

Before the time of Petty, except the material compiled into the early maps of Ireland by Boazio, Ortelius, Norden, Blaeu, and others, the only detailed surveys of any magnitude were those of the King’s and Queen’s Counties, about 1630; the county of Londonderry, by Raven; and the Strafford Survey. Worsley was carrying on the surveys for grants and forfeitures, which have been sufficiently adverted to already as ” grosse surrounds;” but it remained for Dr. Petty, to originate the idea of connecting the separate operations, into a general survey of the three provinces which were not comprised in the Strafford Survey. His great step was making territorial and natural boundaries the main objects, instead of estate boundaries alone; because the former were permanent and enduring, the latter in their nature fluctuating, and destined to change by the very purpose for which the survey itself was made.

Petty’s attitude to the previous surveys can be summed up in his comments ‘the same noble army might not be abused by an absurd and insignificant way of surveying then carrying on by Mr. Worsley’.[50] His scientific approach set out to record the physical and territorial boundaries instead of the existing estates which were now going to be radically altered after this next round of confiscation and regrant. Some commentators say that the Down Survey was so called because a chain was laid down and a scale made but I believe Hardinge’s claim[51] is more plausible:

A generic name, therefore, common to both sets of maps, was necessary, and that name was borrowed from the expression that conveys to the mind the operation by which the measurements of the lands in area and form were transferred to paper from the field books, and that expression was ‘laying down’. The name was applied to the maps by the Lord Lieutenant and Privy Council so early as 1658, and it has been adopted by the Acts of Settlement and Explanation, and officially retained ever since.

Petty used the Civil Survey as a guide and teams of surveyors, mainly former soldiers, were sent out under his direction to measure every townland to be forfeited. The resulting maps, made at a scale of 40 perches to one inch (the modern equivalent of 1:50,000), were the first systematic mapping of a large area on such a scale attempted anywhere. The primary purpose of these maps was to record the boundaries of each townland and to calculate their areas with great precision. Hardinge[52] goes on to say about the Down survey maps:

It was by these maps, and their index sheets, when approved by the Surveyor-General, and sanctioned by the Government, and not by the Civil Survey, that the land satisfactions were made to the soldiers and adventurers, as well as to the other interests afterwards let in by the Acts of Settlement and Explanation. And, therefore, as relates to landed estates and interests dependent upon the distributions of that period, these maps, when in existence, are the first and earliest link in the chain of title and, connected with the distribution books, decrees, and certificates of the Parliamentary Commissioners, and the subsequent letters patents under the great seal, commonly although not universally founded thereon (all of which records are now deposited in the Landed Estates Record Office, Dublin), complete the evidence of title into and out of the hands of the Crown of the proprietors of about eleven-twenty parts (as hereafter is shown) of the surface area of Ireland.

Hardinge provides a detailed table[53] for each county, including Cavan, which gives a very complete record of the maps prepared under the Down Survey which includes barony, parish, date of survey, name of surveyors, scale of maps, condition, present repository and more valuable information.

Typical extract from Barony map by Petty

Articles instructing Worsley and Petty to commence the admeasurement and mapping of the forfeited lands on the basis of the Civil Survey were entered into on 11 December 1654.[54] A large portion of twenty-two counties was committed to Petty’s sole responsibility, these were the lands to be granted to the soldiers and the work was substantially completed in the autumn of 1656. Once the disbanded soldiers’ claims were satisfied, the survey was extended to cover the lands to be granted to the adventurers. This work was carried out jointly by Petty and Worsley under an Order and Instructions of Survey dated 3 September 1656. Cavan was one of the twenty-three counties on this list.[55] The committee (of which Petty was one) appointed to distribute the lands to the adventurers completed their task in the autumn of 1658.

A topographical index of the parishes and townlands of Ireland by Y.M. Goblet.

In 1933 a French academic, Y.M. Goblet, compiled an index of the townlands and parishes of Ireland identified in Petty’s maps. This work which was published by the Irish Manuscripts Commission[56] is a very comprehensive document and is worth consulting for its introduction alone, which illuminates the background to the making of the maps including Petty’s attitude to the old Irish names and how they should be treated in his survey. How the maps ended up in the French Royal Library having been captured by French privateers on the high seas as they were enroute between Dublin and London in 1707 makes for very interesting reading.[57] He also mentions the great loss of documents over the years:[58]

From this standpoint, Ireland was much favoured by Fate, because it was extensively surveyed in the middle of the XVIIth century by Sir William Petty (then Dr. William Petty) who was as much of a precursor in cartography and anthropogeography as in economics. Everybody has heard of his Down Survey and of the odd 2,000 parish maps which illustrated his work, maps which were utterly destroyed in the fires of the Dublin Custom House on the 15th of April 1711 and of the Four Courts on the 30th of June 1922. But very few people know that 214 manuscript Barony maps still remain which contain some 25,000 place-names, mostly names of townlands, and which are a splendid source of toponomastical information, until now left untapped.

Petty’s somewhat ambiguous attitude to Irish placenames is discussed in Goblet’s introduction[59] but he concludes his thoughts on this matter thus:

The basic principle of Petty’s toponomastical method is a thorough   anglicisation of the Irish place-names. He does not suggest substituting fancy English names for traditional Irish place-names as some colonists had done; for he was too “nasute” an observer of facts not to have noticed that most toponyms have a meaning or describe the ground or the landscape so that it would be absurd to change them according to fancy. What he wants is the translation into English of the Irish place-names.

Petty took an interest (a ‘virtuoso’s’ interest) in the meaning of those Irish words which are frequent elements in the composition    of the place-names. In the Southwell MS of the Political Anatomy,  he wrote that he had made a small Dictionary of these names:

‘Although I know almost nothing of the Irish Tongue, yet I have collected the following Words, by the composure of which one with another, the Names of most lands in Ireland are constituted, vizt,

‘The Dictionary’’.

Unluckily the dictionary is missing. But there is no doubt that Petty wanted to translate the Irish place-names into English and desired first of all to have a properly made and adequate Irish-English geographical vocabulary. Had he found it possible, Sir William would probably have organized an office for the translation of Irish place-names and for the making of an Irish ‘Villare’.

The significance of the Down Survey is summed up by Y.M. Goblet:[60]

Unpalatable as the Cromwellian Settlement may be, the event which was responsible for the making of the Down Survey conferred on Ireland the privilege of being in the modern world the first country mapped from direct protractions.

From his detailed examination of the maps, Goblet has indexed alphabetically each townland identified in Petty’s work. This extensive body of work makes a significant contribution to our knowledge regarding the history and development of some 25,000 place-names in Ireland. As Goblet notes himself:[61]

In conclusion, Petty’s barony and county maps offer the student of the toponomy of Ireland in the XVIIth century two sets of maps, the one completing the other, and both quite different from the D.S.  books of reference. So that an index of the place-names of both sets, with their diverse spellings in the BN maps and in the Hiberniae Delineatio makes a most extensive repertory of the Irish toponyms in the XVIIth century, most of them different from the place-names in the D.S. registers, a collection of many spellings, some of which come from  sources now lost or unknown, in fact an entirely new document, no index of the maps having ever been compiled. This index is now made and will be found herein.

The maps for Cavan which remain are available to view on the very comprehensive website.

Edited articles by Philip O’Connell listing and identifying townlands from Petty’s maps for the following parishes appear in Breifny Antiquarian Society Journal as below:

ParishPublished in:
Castlerahan1925/26, 2:3, pp 272-5.
Crosserlough (Castlerahan barony) and Kildrumfertan (Kildrumfertan, alias Crosserlough, Clonmoghan barony1927/28, 3:1 pp 43-50.
Killinkere (Loughtee barony)1929/30, 3:2, pp 266-7.
Killinkere (Castlerahan barony)1929/30, 3:2, pp 253-66.
Munterconnaght 1925/26, 2:3, pp 272-5.

1659  ‘Census’ of Ireland

In 1865, W.H. Hardinge announced his discovery[62] of what has since been known as the ‘Census of Ireland (1659)’. This is a poll tax record, listing all persons over the age of fifteen years. The census is organised like the Down Survey by county, barony, parish and townland. The census lists the number of people, men and women, resident in each townland, dividing them into groups of ‘English’ and ‘Irish’. Unfortunately, like many of the previous records listed above, no Cavan records survive.[63]

1663/1664 Hearth Money Rolls

The Hearth Money Act which came into force in 1662 was a revenue generating tax on the entire population of Ireland levied at the rate of two shillings per hearth. The resultant lists of those who paid reflect the fact that many natives opted to live without a hearth to avoid the tax or avoided payment by resistance or evasion. The original manuscripts perished in the destruction of the Public Record Office in 1922 but fortunately some were copied before this tragic loss. These were simple records and state the name of the individual hearth owner, their parish/townland and the number of hearths declared, typically one.

The records which remain for Cavan cover the following parishes:

ParishPublished in:
CastlerahanB.A.S. Journal (1925/26), 2:3, pp 288-9 & Breifne (1987), 7:25, pp 491-3.
CrosserloughB.A.S. Journal (1927/28), 3:1 pp 61-2 & Breifne (1987), 7:25 pp 496-7.
KildallanBreifne (1960), 1:3, pp 253-6.
KilleshandraBreifne  (1960), 1:3, pp 248-53.
KillinaghBreifne  (1960), 1:3, pp 261-2.
KillinkereB.A.S. Journal (1921), 1:2, pp 147-8 & Breifne (1987), 7:25 pp 494-5.
LurganB.A.S. Journal (1922), 1:3 pp 311-3 & Breifne (1987),7:25 pp 489-91.
MullaghB.A.S. Journal (1921),1:2, pp 147-8 & Breifne (1987), 7:25, pp 493-4.
MunterconnaghtB.A.S. Journal (1925/26), 2:3, pp 288-9 & Breifne (1987), 7:25, pp 491-3.
TempleportBreifne (1960), 1:3, pp 256-9.
TomreganBreifne(1960), 1:3, pp 259-61.


This article attempts to set out a template which can be used in the study of Cavan townlands. It is not a definitive list of surveys as many other records do exist and others remain to be found. This is just a starting point for researchers who are unfamiliar with Cavan records, as I was not too many years ago. We are fortunate that many of the documents listed here are now available on-line, unlike back in 1920 when the editor commented in the first edition of The Breifny Antiquarian Journal:

To a request addressed to a distinguished Irish Antiquary on the ‘loci historici,’ or ‘the sources whence information may be obtained on the Antiquities and History of Cavan and Leitrim’, the following reply was received: I would not like at this stage to give a young society, or, as you have said, amateurs, any impulsion towards literary inquiries. Sound and useful work in that line cannot be done at a distance from large libraries and deposits of records, and a country writer will seldom be able to do more than make ‘cauld kail het again’, i.e., rehandle what has been done already in more or less readily accessible publications.

It is hoped that ultimately the combined efforts of many researchers and local historical societies will lead to the creation of a comprehensive database for all the townlands of County Cavan to be made available in an accessible format to the general public.

[1] J. H. Andrews, ‘The maps of the escheated counties of Ulster, 1609-10’ in RIA Proc., 74 (1974). p. 139.

[2] ‘Ms Rawlinson A. 237, The Bodleian Library, Oxford’ in Analecta Hibernica, 3 (1931), pp 204-13.

[3] George Hill, An historical account of the Plantation in Ulster at the commencement of the seventeenth century 1608-1620 (Belfast, 1877) p. 118.

[4] George Hill, Plantation Papers: Containing A Summary Sketch of the Great Ulster Plantation in the Year 1610 (Belfast, 1889) p. 2.

[5] J Andrews, ‘The maps of the escheated counties of Ulster, 1609-10’,p. 140

[6] Philip O’Connell, ‘The Cavan Inquisition of 1609’ in The Breifny Antiquarian Society’s Journal, 3:3 (1931-33), pp 361-86.

[7] www.

[8] National Library of Ireland 16 L 11, 12 & 13.

[9] Michael McShane, ‘Bodley’s Map of Tullyhunco, 1609’ in Breifne, 50 (2015) pp 498-535.

[10] Maura Nallen, ‘A study of eight townlands in the parish of Killeshandra 1608-1841’ (unpublished MA thesis, NUI Maynooth, 1996), p. 11. This was published in Breifne, 35 (1999), p. 20.

[11] John H. Andrews, Plantation acres: An historical study of the Irish land surveyor and his maps (Belfast, 1985), p. 57.

[12] Hill, An historical account of the Plantation in Ulster.

[13] Hill, An historical account of the Plantation in Ulster, p.447.

[14] R.J. Hunter, The Ulster Plantation in the counties of Armagh and Cavan, 1608-41 (Belfast, 2012), pp 71-3.

[15] Hill, Plantation papers,pp 179-205.

[16] Hunter, The Ulster Plantation in the counties of Armagh and Cavan, 1608-41, p. 88

[17] Ibid., pp 90-4.

[18] Annaleigh Margey, ‘Surveying and mapping plantation in Cavan, c1580-1622’ in Brendan Scott (ed.), Culture and society in early modern Breifne/Cavan (Dublin, 2009), p. 113.

[19] The Historical Manuscripts Commission 78 1947  p.165

[20] Hunter, The Ulster Plantation in the counties of Armagh and Cavan, p. 115

[21] Hill, An historical account of the Plantation in Ulster,p. 338.

[22] Ibid., p. 458.

[23] Hunter, The Ulster Plantation in the Counties of Armagh and Cavan, 1608-41, pp 120-6.

[24] P. O’Gallachair, ‘1622 Survey of Cavan.’ in Breifne, 1 (1958), pp 60-75. See also Victor Treadwell (ed.), The Irish commission of 1622 (Dublin, 2006).

[25] Margey, ‘Surveying and mapping plantation in Cavan, c.1580-1622’,  p. 118.

[26] John C. Erck, The ecclesiastical register of Ireland 1827,  pp 47-51.

[27] Ibid., p.50

[28] Calendar of the Patent and Close Rolls of Chancery in Ireland 1626,

pp 186-188.

[29] Inquisitionum in officio rotulorum cancellariae Hiberniae asservatarum repertorium Vol II. (Dublin, 1826-29), 24-Car I.

[30] Donald M. Schlegel, Abstracts of chancery inquisitions of the seventeenth century for Counties Fermanagh and Monaghan (Monaghan, 2008), p. v.

[31] Michael McShane, ‘Land parcells of Tullyhunco from the Ulster inquisitions of 1629’ in Breifne, 51 (2016) pp 498-535.

[32] Inquisitionum in officio rotulorum cancellariae Hiberniae asservatarum repertorium Vol II,2, 7-Jac. I.

[33] The Peerage of Ireland (1789), i, pp 352-3.

[34] P.J. Duffy, ‘The evolution of estate properties in South Ulster 1600-1900’ in William J. Smyth & Kevin Whelan (eds), Common Ground: essays on the historical geography of Ireland presented to T. Jones Hughes (Cork, 1988), pp 84-109 at p. 98.

[35] Ibid., p. 103.

[36] Ibid., p. 100.

[37]  John O’Hanlon, ‘An account of the collections made by the Ordnance Survey Department, as bearing on the topography and history of the county of Meath’ in The Journal of the Kilkenny and South-East of Ireland Archaeological Society, New Series, 2:1 (1858), p. 44.

[38] MS.14.B.7. Royal Irish Academy.

[39] Michael McShane, “A very Curious Survey of the County of Cavan.” The Commonwealth survey of 1652-53. Part 1, West Cavan’ in Breifne, 52 (2017),

pp 19-90.

[40] W.H. Hardinge, ‘On manuscript mapped and other townland surveys in Ireland of a public character, embracing the Gross, Civil, and Down Surveys, from 1640 to 1688’in  The Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, 24, Antiquities (1873), p. 13.

[41] William J. Smyth, Map-making, landscapes and memory: a geography of colonial and early modern Ireland, c.1530-1750 (Cork, 2006), p. 71.

[42] Ibid., p. 11.

[43] Liam Price, ‘The place-names of the Books of Survey and Distribution and other records of the Cromwellian Settlement’ in The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 81:2 (1951), p. 89.

[44] Hardinge, ‘On manuscript mapped’, p. 10.

[45] Ibid., p. 13.

[46] Ibid., p. 20.

[47] Ibid., p. 14.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Thomas Aiskew Larcom, The history of the survey of Ireland, commonly called The Down Survey by William Petty, A.D. 1655-6 (Dublin, 1851), p. 346.

[50] Ibid., p. 312.

[51] Hardinge, ‘On manuscript mapped’,  p. 21.

[52] Ibid., p. 20.

[53] Ibid., pp 68-9.

[54] Ibid., p. 22.

[55] Ibid., p. 24.

[56] Y.M. Goblet, A topographical index of the parishes and townlands of Ireland in Sir William Petty’s MSS. barony maps (c.1655-9) (Dublin, 1932).

[57] Ibid., p. x.

[58] Ibid., p. v.

[59] Ibid., p. xiii.

[60] Ibid., p. vi

[61] Ibid., p. xv.

[62] W.H. Hardinge, ‘Observations on the earliest known manuscript census returns of the people of Ireland’, in The Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, 24, Antiquities (1865), p. 3.

[63] Ibid., p. 4.