Armagh City and County: named

We informed you earlier that the county names – indeed the concept – was an English innovation. Perhaps it is time for elaboration.

Our counties were made shire ground, under their present names, by Sir John Perrott in 1586 when he was lord-deputy of Ireland. He not having confidence in the vigilance and care of Henry O’Nial and Sir Henry Bagnell (of Newry) to whom the governance of Ulster had been entrusted, projected the division of the greater part of the province into seven counties, of which Armagh and Down were two, and the former took its name from the chief town in it.

On the question of the name of that ‘town’: the past importance of this ancient city was remarked by several historians many of whom describe it as the chief city of Ireland. St Fiech who flourished in the sixth century calls it the seat of empire; Giraldus Cambrensis, the most notable historian of his time referred to it as the metropolis; and even in the decade of which we speak above, Cluverius styles it the head of the kingdom adding that Dublin was next in rank to it. The original name was Druim-sailech [the hill of the sallows] afterwards changed to Ard-sailech [the height of the sallows] and later still to Ard-macha – either from Navan fort in its vicinity, Eamhuin-macha, the regal residence of the kings of Ulster or {as some feel more likely} from its physical situation Ard-macha meaning ‘the high place or field’.

Previous to Perrott (according to Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary 1837) the property of the county had rested with the families of O’Nials, the MacCahans and the O’Hanlons. As a result of the English conquest by the start of the seventeenth century it was principally vested in those of MacHenry, Acheson, O’Nial, Brownlow and O’Hanlon, exclusively of the great territories settled on Moharty which the MacCahans had forfeited in rebellion and a large tract of country called Oirther (afterwards Orior) a district in the southern part which was also escheated to the crown by rebellion of a branch of the O’Hanlons.

The above description is of course the language of an Englishman. The reality is that even those Irish who at first conspired with the Saxon to disenfranchise and disempower their fellow countrymen were not trusted and soon it came their time too to be unceremoniously dumped and labelled as rebels – their lands being seized (escheated) by the Crown! 

We earlier told the story of the O’Hanlons in our district (see O’Hanlons in Tudor times here).


 … Fr Coigly …

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