Ireland is sub-divided in a unique way; four provinces into 32 counties, counties into baronies, baronies into parishes, and parishes into townlands. County Armagh has 27 civil parishes (not including Magheralin [part of county Down] and Kildarton, it being newly formed after 1851 from surrounding parishes). The townland is a unique feature of the Irish landscape and is one of the most ancient divisions in the country, pre-dating parishes and counties.
The origins of the townlands remains obscure but they are undoubtedly of great antiquity and were eventually written down in anglicised form. There are over 64,000 townlands in Ireland (over 1200 in County Armagh) and townlands can vary enormously in size from one acre to more than seven thousand acres.
They were used as the smallest geographical unit in the Tithe Applottment Survey (1815-1838) and the Griffith‘s Valuation Survey (1848-1864) and in various Census returns. The townland name usually referred to an identifiable feature of the landscape – such as Clonmore = ‘great meadow’.
Names of people who have lived in a particular place can also be reflected in the name of the townland such as Ballymacdermot = ‘McDermot’s townland’. Some townlands in Ireland derived their names from early habitation sites such as Dun (meaning fort) or Cill/Kil (meaning church).
If you are researching your family in Ireland the townland of origin is one of the best pieces of information you can have to start tracing them. The parish is also important as many counties have several townlands of the same name, for example there are four townlands called Cabragh in County Armagh.