Ballinrobe and Ordnance Survey information

Photo:John O'Donovan 1806-1861

John O'Donovan 1806-1861

Place name books

By Averil Staunton

Standardising Place Names

The Place Name Books were compiled by John O'Donovan, an Irish scholar whose detailed studies of Irish place names helped to standardise the names and spellings of townlands. These name books were compiled in the 1830s at which time survey teams went to each townland, interviewed local people, noted variations in what names people called a townland and in the spelling of townland names, as well as consulting historical works and maps of the time period.

Spelling Variations

The Ordnance Survey Place Name  Books by John O'Donovan show the different names that were used for the same townland as well as spelling variations in townland names. Only one name and spelling was standardized and used officially after the survey of the 1830s. Once the townland names were standardized, the standard names from the maps appeared in the subsequent 1851, 1871, and 1901 townland indexes. An Irish immigrant may have used an unofficial variation of a townland name as the place of the family's origin in Ireland.

.The Name Books are available in manuscript form on microfilm at the National LIbrary of Ireland and typed versions at Mayo County Library. Some of the Name Books provide the following additional information for townlands: 

  • Name of land owner 
  • No of Catholic and Protestant families 
  • Name of the major lessor 
  • Terms of tenure of the tenants 
  • Major surnames in the townland

The Name Books may also provide information regarding townland sub-denominations and geographical features within the parish.

Using the Place Name Books

If it is suspected that two names actually refer to the same townland, the place name books can help prove that both names were used for the same townland

If a place name and a county are known, the books for the entire county can be searched parish by parish for the place name. ·

If a section of a county is hypothesized, such as near the town of Ballyshannon, County Donegal, the books for the civil parishes in the area can be examined. 

If it is known from the church records that an immigrant was from a certain parish, but a townland is not listed in the records, the name books can be consulted for details that may narrow the search such as major surnames or religion of residents.

Griffith's Primary Valuation

If an Irish county of origin is known, but the townland or parish place name spelling is uncertain, Griffith's Primary Valuation can also be used as a source. By browsing the parish and townland names within a county, which are at the front of each book, a spelling can often be identified

This page was added by Averil Staunton on 23/10/2011.