IRISH TERRITORIAL DIVISIONS
The administrative divisions in Ireland consisted of a
variety of land units in descending order of size:
Province, County, Barony, Parish and Townland.
Originally the landholding of a feudal baron, the barony
is now an obsolete administrative unit that is mid-way in
size between a county and a parish. The system of bringing
Irish local kingdoms into the feudal system of baronies
began in the medieval period but did not extend to the
whole of Ulster until the early 17th century.
Large baronies were later subdivided until there were 58
baronies in the area that comprises the present day
A territorial unit equivalent to the English shire, it was
created by the English administration in Ireland as the
major subdivision of an Irish province and dates from the
13th to the 17th century. The counties as they are today
were planned in 1584 but many existed long before this
Antrim and Down had been counties from the 13th or 14th
centuries but their modern boundaries were not settled
until 1605, while the modern boundary and the new county
name of Londonderry did not come into existence until 1613
although it had existed from Anglo-Norman times with
different boundaries and under the name of Coleraine.
An ecclesiastical unit of territory that came into
existence in Ireland in its present form in the 12th and
13th centuries and was continued by the Established Church
of Ireland after the Reformation. It was then adopted as a
civil administrative area but over time the boundaries of
some civil and ecclesiastical parishes came to vary from
each other. Roman Catholic parishes, for example, when
re-instated, were often redrawn to suit the needs of their
parishioners. Because civil parishes may extend across
rivers that were often used to delineate the boundaries of
counties and baronies, civil parishes can be in more than
one county and in more than one barony.
This is the earliest and largest administrative division
in Ireland dating back into prehistory and early historic
times. There were originally five Provinces in the island
of Ireland with provincial 'overkings' who were supported
by the kings of the smaller local kingdoms within them.
However, by the 17th century this had been reduced to the
four modern Provinces of Ulster, Connaught, Leinster and
Present day Northern Ireland comprises six of the nine
counties established in the Province of Ulster - the
Ulster counties of Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan lie in the
Republic of Ireland.
The townland is an ancient unit, dating back to pre-Norman
times, and is the smallest administrative division
throughout the island of Ireland that is still in use. It
is the common term or English translation for a variety of
small local land units that varied in name and meaning
throughout the island of Ireland.
In the north there had been a large division called a
'ballybetagh,' generally divided into around 12
'ballyboes', but into around 16 'tates' in the area of
Fermanagh and Monaghan. The 'ballyboe' was notionally of
120 acres and the 'tate', 60 acres, but these measurements
clearly referred to useable land in an area that might
also include marsh and mountain waste. The 'ballyboe'
might be further divided into three 'sessiaghs' while the
term 'carrow' (Irish 'ceathramh', a 'quarter') may refer
to either a quarter of a 'ballybetagh' or a quarter of a
The 'ballybetagh' disappeared after the Plantation and the
subdivisions became the modern townlands, the average size
of which, in most of Northern Ireland, is now c.350 acres
but c.180 acres in Fermanagh. The spelling of townland
names is subject to considerable variation due largely to
the difficulties of representing the pronunciation of
Irish language names in English spelling.
DISTRICT ELECTORAL DIVISION/WARD
The District Electoral Divisions (D.E.Ds) were originally
established under the Poor Relief (Ireland) Act 1838 as
poor law electoral divisions but their present names up to
1972 were fixed under the Local Government (Ireland) Act
1898. They formed the territorial units in rural districts
for the election of members of Rural District Councils.
The equivalent territorial unit for the purpose of
elections in county boroughs, municipal boroughs and urban
districts is the Ward.
In the larger urban areas there will be a number of Wards
but in the smaller urban areas the entire urban district
acts as a Ward. In 1973 new district councils were set up
and these 26 districts were subdivided into 526 Wards
which were in turn grouped into 98 District Electoral
Areas for local government elections. However, these
District Electoral Areas and Wards are different in
composition from pre-1973 D.E.Ds and Wards.
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