‘The significance of the Irish townland as an analytical tool for the genealogist and local historian with an introduction and overview of CavanTownlands.com.’
The format of the talk falls into 3 parts. Part 1 poses the question ‘What is a townland?’ and provides a summarised history of the Irish Townland from earliest records to the present day. Part 2 introduces the website in a series of short video clips which describe how to go about using the website to best advantage in terms of searching for that townland of interest and a brief overview of content on the site. Part 3 delves further into the unique sources of data available on the site and gives some words of caution when using the National Archives website for genealogical research. The talk lasts 45 minutes.
We would like to thank Paula Jones, Shane Wilson, John Goggins and all at The Genealogical Society of Ireland for providing the opportunity to make this presentation. You can visit the GSI website here GSI
For those of you wishing to use this site to trace your family roots, here are a few tips on how to search by name.
There are currently five sets of data containing names of individuals, each of which is separately (but easily) searchable. The records are presented in a grid and each column of the grid can be filtered instantaneously. For example, if you are researching the 1841 Census data for the name “Reilly”, you can start typing some characters in the Surname column heading and the records are filtered as you type. There are several variations of “Reilly” in the data – “O’Reilly”, “Reilly”, “Riley”, “Reilley” – to name a few. By entering any sequence of characters in the name, the list will be filtered accordingly. You can quickly experiment with different sequences – “rei”, “ril”, “ley”, etc. to see the matches. The image below shows some of the results for a filter on Townland=”arvagh” and Surname=”eil”. As you can see, the results include several variations. This capability provides an advantage over the National Archives search function which is much slower and requires the use of wild cards to get the same result.
You can search each of the four datasets by clicking on the buttons below, or from the Main Menu > Civil Records > dropdown menu.
Commonwealth Survey of 1652 – 2,201 records
This dataset includes the names of the landowners only. There are a few exceptions where tenants’ names are included. These appear in the barony of Tullyhaw and include the parishes of Drumreilly, Killinagh, Kinawley, Templeport and Tomregan.
This dataset includes the names of the landowners mostly. There are a few exceptions where tenants’ names are included. These appear in the barony of Tullyhaw and include the parishes of Drumreilly, Killinagh, Kinawley, Templeport and Tomregan. Browse the entire list of Commonwealth Survey of 1652 records for Cavan. Filter by parish, townland and proprietor. Click on a parish to see colour-coded map of estates within the parish.
After the flight of the earls in 1607 the six escheated (confiscated) counties of Ulster which comprised Armagh, Cavan, Donegal, Fermanagh, Derry and Tyrone came under direct rule of the crown. The process of plantation began in 1608 when plans were drawn up for the granting of these counties to the various entities who were in the favour of King James I. Dealing with the Natives, the selection of suitable candidates to undertake the Plantation and a fear of invasion by the Earl of Tyrone delayed the process for nearly a year.
Click on the image below to read the full 2015 article:
The previous survey of 1608 comprised of a written description of the lands only and was not deemed adequate for the purposes of Plantation. In order to grant estates it would be necessary to ensure that the polls/townlands making up the various Proportions were allocated in a logical manner. Mapping was deemed to be the only way to guarantee that this was the case and would confirm that the townlands in each proportion were contiguous and created sensible boundaries for the estates which could then be managed with relative ease. The strategic relationship of the boundaries to natural features including rivers, mountains, woodland and bogs was also essential to the smooth management of the newly created estates.
Prior to this time very little in the form of detailed survey maps for the escheated counties existed and what was available lacked any great accuracy or information which would be useful in the process of plantation.
The survey of the six counties commenced on the 31st July 1609. A military expeditionary force, led by Sir Arthur Chichester, was assembled to carry out the work which included the holding of inquisitions, settling of disagreements regarding estates to be forfeited or otherwise, holding assizes and the actual charting of the lands.
The commissioners agreed to select out of every barony men that were able to nominate, meere, and bound every parish, balliboe, or ballybetagh ; and these were to attend Sir Josias Bodley and the surveyor, William Parsons, who were to make card [chart or map] of every country.” 
A very comprehensive description of the entire undertaking is given in ‘The Maps of the Escheated Counties of Ulster, 1609-10’ by J.H. Andrews. I briefly summarise here some of the salient points which are relevant to this article and I highly recommended this paper for further reading on the subject for those interested in the minutiae.
Records show that eight men were appointed specifically as surveyors as part of this expeditionary force. They were:
Irish surveyor-general was paid £100
Escheator and clerk of the crown in Ulster was paid £30
Sir Josias Bodley
Superintendent of the Castles in Ireland was paid £133 6s. 8d.
Transcriptor of the exchequer was paid £26 13s. 4d.
Junior assistant who was paid £20
Deputy to Parsons was paid £30
Assistant to Parsons who later became one of the most respected cartographers of his time and was paid £30 for his services
Draughtsman assigned to colouring the maps was paid £10
Parsons, Bodley, Davenport, Merrick, Rolls and Raven were employed for the ‘surveying and plotting’ of the six counties and afterwards ‘framing and drawing up the plots and descriptions’. Sexten was chiefly involved in the administration of the effort and Rawson was to colour the maps. At the time both Bodley and Parsons were credited equally with the overseeing of the mapping process but Bodley later claimed that the survey and the maps produced was ‘his invention wholly’ This may well be true as Parsons was not well respected by, amongst others, Thomas Raven as having any great skill in this regard and he is not accredited with having ever made a map on his own without technical assistance. Also his professional conduct has been called into question:
‘His then fellow worker, Parsons, had the reputation of doing strange things in his surveys for himself and his friends ; and assuredly some such jobs must have been perpetrated in that survey.’
Progress was good and Armagh had been finished by the 10th of August, Tyrone by the 24th and Coleraine within a day or two of the end of the month. Donegal was complete, or nearly so, by the 12th of September and Fermanagh by the 20th. The commissioners struck camp in Cavan on the last day of the month, and the surveyors were paid up to the 3rd of October. They had mapped nearly 5,700 square miles in sixty-seven days.
 Rev. George Hill, An historical account of the Plantation in Ulster at the commencement of the seventeenth century 1608-1620. (Belfast 1877) p.153
 J. H. Andrews, The Maps of the Escheated Counties of Ulster, 1609-10. Proceeding of the Royal Irish Academy. Vol 74 (1974)
 J. H. Andrews, The Maps of the Escheated Counties of Ulster, 1609-10. Proceeding of the Royal Irish Academy. Vol 74 (1974) p.142
 Rolf Loeber, A Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Ireland 1600-1720. (1981) p.23
 Rev. George Hill, An historical account of the Plantation in Ulster at the commencement of the seventeenth century 1608-1620. (Belfast 1877) p.194
 J. H. Andrews, The Maps of the Escheated Counties of Ulster, 1609-10. Proceeding of the Royal Irish Academy. Vol 74 (1974) p. 142
The Survey of Cavan and allocation of lands
Cavan was the last county of the six to be surveyed. The commissioners, of which there were eleven, began to assemble in Cavan town on the weekend of the 22nd of September. The Inquisition was held on Monday the 25th. Local knowledge was provided to the commissioners by the following jurors:
Garrett Fleminge, Esquire.
Hugh McDonell Brady.
Owen boy O’Ferally.
Mulmore McCale [Cahill] Reilie.
Donell McFerall Oge McKernan.
Tirlagh Oge McKernan.
Shane McCalmoyle Brady.
Mahowne McOwen Brady.
The commissioners were fortunate that much of the work on Cavan had already been completed and valuable time was saved:
As to the temporal lands, they had already vested in the Crown by the deaths in quick succession of three chiefs of the O’Reilly’s, viz., Sir John O’Reilly, his brother Philip, and their uncle Edmond, who were all slain fighting on the side of Hugh O’Neill Earl of Tyrone, and whose estates, therefore, fell to the Crown by a law in this country which, under such circumstances, dispensed with the necessity of any legal proceedings. All that had to be done was, simply to ascertain by inquisition whether they had fallen when in actual rebellion, and this fact was sufficiently established by an investigation at Cavan, on the 19th of August, 1606. The commissioners and jurors in 1609 were, therefore, saved any trouble as to the general question of temporal lands ;
While this work was ongoing in Cavan town, Bodley, Parsons and the other surveyors were travelling throughout the county gathering the necessary information for their map making purposes.
At the close of the commissioners’ labours in Cavan, the last county of the six, Davys penned his concluding epistle to Salisbury, evidently in high spirits that his opinion on the subject of the termon lands had been amply borne out by special examination, and that he was about to leave Ulster in profound peace ! “ We are now come to the Cavan,” says he, “ which is the last period of our long progress, and have there performed our several services in the same manner as in the former counties.
On the 3rd of October 1609 they headed back to Dublin in confident mood.
They have left the province of Ulster in more complete peace and obedience than has ever been seen since the Conquest. 
Two months, at least, was requested to complete the work on their return to Dublin:
And now although they have ended this journey, for this day their camp is broken up, they have not yet ended their business; for the making up of these inquisitions in form of law, the drawing of the titles into the cases, the engrossing, enrolling, and exemplification thereof, the absolute finishing of the maps, the limiting and setting forth of the parishes, precincts, and proportions, which must be done upon the maps, with divers other real parts of the main service, are to be performed after they return home, which will require extraordinary labour and diligence, and two months’ time at least.
The work was not completed until late February in 1610. It was mid March before their results were finally presented to the King and his ministers. Six bound books of maps, one for each county, were presented along with the written description of their findings.
Among the papers carried by the two Plantation Commissioners, Davys and Ridgeway, to London was the following tabulated form of the numbers, names and quantities of the great precincts (or baronies) in the escheated counties “which may be clearly disposed to undertakers”
Tullyhunco was then subdivided into 6 Small proportions deemed suitable for planting (the proportion of Drong was left in native hands) and in April 1609 the lands were allocated by lot to the Scottish undertakers thus:
Sir Alexander Hamilton
Sir Alexander Hamilton
Sir Claude Hamilton (son of the above)
 Philip O’Connell, The Cavan Inquisition of 1609 (The Breifny Antiquarian Society’s Journal, Vol III, pp. 361-386 1934)
 Rev. George Hill, An historical account of the Plantation in Ulster at the commencement of the seventeenth century 1608-1620. (Belfast 1877) p.185
Perhaps overlooked in earlier studies of the Bodley maps is the significance of the large blocks of territories outlined in various tinted colours. From a close examination of the Tullyhunco map it is clear that the 3 areas (from the left) outlined in brown, orange and green represent the parishes of Scrabby, Killeshandra and Kildallan. This is the first time that the ancient Irish parishes have been presented in cartographic format and in such detail thus providing a comprehensive record of the townlands in each parish at that time. Scrabby is shown to comprise 10 townlands, Killeshandra 81 townlands and Kildallan 46 townlands.
Much has been written in numerous articles and publications about the questionable methods used to prepare the maps and the many inaccuracies which are evident throughout the final set of charts as presented to King James I, in March 1610.These criticisms may be fair on one level but I personally cannot overestimate the significance of this monumental achievement which was completed in a very short period of time and with very limited resources. The sheer scale of the task, even in terms of available technologies today, was enormous. The ability to deliver the level of information within the timescale allotted was formidable. What transpired was the implementation of a very creative process of information gathering which was cross-referenced to physical features on the ground resulting in these magnificent groundbreaking maps. It was Bodley’s ability to use his unique skills and in a fashion which had never been attempted before which brought about this stunning set of records and the preservation of ancient townland names which would surely have been lost otherwise. The 1609 maps provide the historian with a unique time-capsule which can be used to trace back and link some of the earliest townland names to their present day counterparts. No set of maps at this scale of detail pre-exists for the counties covered. It is the baseline for the cartographic study of the townlands which were fortunate enough to have been included in the process. Bodley went on to map many other parts of Ireland. His legacy is still with us today and is testament to his skill and ingenuity.
Tithes were a tax imposed on tenant farmers by the established church, the Church of Ireland. This was the main source of income for the clergy and was calculated based on the agricultural potential of the land holdings which were typically categorised in three classes related to yield, and covered both tillage and pasture land. The books are indexed by civil parish which can differ in name and location from Catholic parishes. Originally the tax was levied in kind, but this cumbersome method was replaced by the Tithe composition acts of Parliament in 1823 and 1832 which converted the tithe into a single, fixed charge on the land. The information recorded includes the names of the tenants and the breakdown of the land holding by size, quality and the tax to be levied. In some cases, the landlord is mentioned. It must be borne in mind that this tax was not applied evenly and many exemptions and omissions mean that it is an incomplete record of tenants and their lands.
We highly recommend that any search carried out using the table below must be understood in the context of the original source data. Click on the button below to see our guide to finding and understanding the images of the original Tithe Applotment Books and the issues raised in their transcription.
This is the earliest census of Cavan to be completed and c.80,000 individual records listing entire families are available to search. Cavan researchers are fortunate that a significant proportion of the 1821 census has survived. The records cover 17 of the 36 civil parishes of county Cavan and provide a complete listing of all individuals residing in those parishes. The returns include name, age, sex, occupation and home townland. The NAI has made available these records on their website but many of the indexation and transcription issues previously encountered with the Tithe Applotment Book records (1832) also apply here. Even more unusual is the fact that a search on the NAI site will produce duplicate records for each original entry. We have established that two sets of photographs were taken of each original enumerator return page. The duplicate photographs were transcribed in full and the results, which do not always match, were combined and uploaded as a single record. Of the 160,000 records presented we had to use our best judgement to decide what we felt were the most accurate transcriptions and whittle the 160,000 names down to the correct figure of c.80,000 individuals. This work also involved the re-indexation of the townland names to their correct Logainm classification and the compiling of this new dataset into a usable document. Note we have not attempted to update the surname transcriptions which, unfortunately, are not very reliable in many instances. We recommend that any records encountered be verified by cross checking with the original photographed records which can be viewed on the NAI site. You can now search the census records by filtering parish, townland, surname, first name, occupation etc. The search engine supports predictive text which makes searching easier too.
Use the filter at the top of each column to reduce the data. The Parish filter presents the list of 17 parishes, selectable by dropdown. You can filter on the Townland, Surname, Forename, Occupation and Relation to Head by entering any sequence of characters within the text. Bear in mind that names which have been transcribed are often misspelt. Results are filtered as you type.
Townlands preceded with a * are transcriptions that could not be matched to a current townland.Please bear with us as page loading may be a bit slow due to the number of records. This data is best viewed on a desktop with a big screen.
Here we visualise some of the data from the 1841 census of Killashandra. Hover over a townland to display its name. Click on a townland to get more details on its status in 1841.
Note that we have not included the urban populations of Killashandra Town and Arvagh Town in these chloropleths. Populations for surrounding townlands may be thin as the data are recorded with respect to the town and not to the townland.
For each townland, we show the the total population who were present divided by the area of the townland in hectares.
Households were asked to name all the occupants who had died since the last census, including their year of death and age at which they died. The chloropleth shows the average age of death for the deceased population in each townland.
The chloropleth shows a literacy score for the present population, aged 12 years and over, in each townland. Households were asked to enter for each occupant “Read”, “Read and Write” or “Cannot Read”. The actual responses were much more numerous than these three possibilities, but we derived one of the three possible values from the given response. (A small proportion – 1% – of values could not be ascertained and were designated “Unknown” and omitted from the analysis). We assigned a score of 1 to “Read”, 2 to “Read and Write” and 0 to “Cannot Read” and calculated the average score for the designated population.
The chloropleth shows the percentage of children who were attending school from the population who were present and aged between 4 and 12. Households were asked to enter the occupation of each occupant, or in the case of children, to say whether they attended school.
Guide to the location and navigation of the digitised images on the FamilySearch (LDS) website.
The lists of tenant names which we provide on this website have been scraped from the National Archives website. Unfortunately the indexation and classification of the records for this particular dataset on the NAI site are notoriously misleading and incorrect on a number of levels. Prior to the mapping of the country by the Ordnance Survey (Cavan was first mapped over the years 1835-1836) there was no standardised and approved list of townland names. Even a slight variation in spelling will turn up a negative result and a significant number of townland names were either transcribed incorrectly or the names do not match the approved accepted version. We suspect about 75% of the records are concealed due to these errors. What we present in our tables is a listing of tenant names which we have re-indexed by parish and townland. We believe this is correct to about 95% accuracy for townlands which were surveyed. Note the parish of Drung has not been transcribed and is missing from this dataset. We have not checked each individual surname entry and the only way to ensure accuracy is to view the original photographed TAB pages which can be viewed on the FamilySearch website. Access here requires signing up for an account but this is free. These images also provide details on the tenants landholdings and the taxation valuations which were applied to each plot.
It should also be pointed out that, although it only applies to a few parishes, some of the records are duplicated or triplicated as the survey was updated every few years. These books, which were typically an exact copy of the previous year, ended up being transcribed and added to the collection. Thus in the parish of Annagelliff you will find entries for four years, although this is an exception. In some instances the same individual has been given an alternate spelling of surname so checking the original photographs is crucial in avoiding errors. In rare instances we have found changes in leaseholder due to death or other cause and this can be a very interesting find for the genealogical fraternity.
The table below provides an index to the images of the original TAB which can be viewed on the LDS FamilySearch website. Searching directly by Cavan on this website results in the same flawed outcome achieved using the NAI site but the list below which we have prepared will guide the uninitiated to the core images which represent the true archive which is available, albeit well concealed. You will find some entries indexed under counties Meath, Down, Cork, Fermanagh, Leitrim and Mayo so the limitations are obvious. Also, a number of parishes have been grouped into one record and these are listed below. The FamilySearch website is the best place to view the images as the search facility by image on the NAI site is very cumbersome and limited to pdf files only. The FamilySearch website provides thumbnail images of the original pages as photographed and these are relatively easy to navigate with the index provided in the table which we have summarised below:
Cavantownlands would like to thank Billy for contributing this comprehensive and highly detailed history of the townland of Corr which is located close to Cornafean in the parish of Killashandra. Billy has written many articles about this region of Cavan and this, his latest work, is the culmination of many years of research combined with a unique knowledge of local history in this area. This piece will be of great interest not only to those living in Corr and nearby townlands, but also to the wider Cavan diaspora as much of the history recounted here can be applied to the other townlands of Killashandra and indeed to the entire of the County.
1836 Name Book records for the townlands of 9 parishes first published in The Heart of Breifne.
The preparation of the six inch to one mile scale maps of the entire island of Ireland, which was conducted by The Ordnance Survey of Ireland between 1824 and 1846, required the naming of townlands, geographical features, prominent buildings and landmarks. The renowned Irish scholar, John O’Donovan, was given the task of ascertaining accurately the old Irish names of the townlands, their translation and making recommendations for the final English version to be used in the printed maps. This he did with great skill and attention to detail. He visited Cavan in 1836 and his travels are recorded in his Ordnance Survey Letters which were reports and requests written to the OS headquarters in the Phoenix Park. The orthography section of the Name Books include the received name, the final agreed name and translations as well as other versions which were encountered. The final section of the field name books under the headings ‘Situation’ and ‘Descriptive Remarks’ typically provide details on the exact location and description of boundaries along with notes on soils, farming practices, leases and rents, prominent buildings, employment and landlord names. Here we reproduce, courtesy of Anna Sexton editor of The Heart of Breifne, the summarised Descriptive Remarks which were transcribed by Liam O’Ceallaigh and published over the years 1979-1987. The nine parishes covered are: Bailieborough, Castlerahan, Crosserlough, Denn, Killinkere, Knockbride, Lavey, Munterconnaught and Shercock.