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Local Studies

Index of Townlands of County Kildare

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A Note About Townlands

Townlands in all parts of Ireland were once held in common by one or more groups of related families who lived in house clusters to which the name bally was given. This was in turn anglicised as town, and hence the name townland.

The townland as a basic Celtic land unit has its origins in the remote past but is still in continuous use today as an administrative and geographical unit.

There are precisely 62,205 townlands in Ireland, averaging 326 statute acres each, although the size varies enormously across the country. No other country in western Europe can claim territorial divisions of such antiquity.

The oldest versions of townland names are to be found among the first written records of the medieval period. These acquired legal standing at an early date, and some from at least 1150.

The townland units became the only means of distinguishing between small areas locally and as such, their layouts have been familiar to people over the centuries. The general outline of the townland framework as we know it today originated in very different social and economic circumstances. It was virtually completed for the whole country by the beginning of the seventeenth century.

By the nineteenth century it was the unit by which the estate system of land ownership was administered. It was used for the determination, allocation & collection of rents. It was also used by the state as a unit of taxation, as well as for postal direction, census enumeration & the compilation of other statistical data. Townland names generally refer to a physical feature in the landscape.

Karel Kiely, M.A.
Genealogist, Kildare Collections and Research Services
Secretary of the Irish Family History Foundation