Placenames of County Longford


Placenames are a rich source of information on the physical features of a place and, in many cases, its inhabitants. A research tool for local historians, teachers, students, genealogists, placenames are also important for our diaspora.

One of the most important primary sources for local placenames is the Ordnance Survey field name books for County Longford which was compiled generally in 1835-36. Longford Local Studies has a collection of typescript copies, with the originals in the National Archives of Ireland.

Origins of the Ordnance Survey Field Name Books

In 1824, a British parliamentary committee recommended that the scientific mapping of Ireland should be undertaken to determine exact townland boundaries. This would allow for accurate valuations to calculate rates payable on all properties. For this, it was decided that the Ordnance Survey, established in Britain in 1791, would be extended to Ireland. As in Britain, the Ordnance Survey was placed under the jurisdiction of the army. Major Thomas Colby was the director in London and Lieutenant Thomas Larcom was appointed as his deputy with responsibility for Ireland.

The preparation of the survey involved fieldwork in every townland in Ireland. The survey was done by soldiers and included the measuring of boundaries, preparing of sketch maps and compiling of topographical descriptions. It was decided that the scale should be six inches to one mile to allow for the required level of detail.

The project included the collection of information on placenames, archaeological and historical sites, topography and local folklore. This was the responsibility of a team of antiquarians, including John O'Donovan, Eugene O'Curry and George Petrie, who comprised the Topographical Department.  The Ordnance Survey Field Name Books were submitted to the Topographical Department, with details such as the meaning of placenames checked using various sources and the findings noted. Antiquarian and Topographical Department member, John O'Donovan did fieldwork in each county and his letters, written to Ordnance Survey headquarters in the Phoenix Park, are an invaluable source in themselves.

Guide to using the Ordnance Survey Field Name Books

The Ordnance Survey field name books were prepared according to townland and civil parish. The civil parish was generally the equivalent of the Church of Ireland parish and was used for official purposes.

At the beginning of each parish or townland description, versions of the name are given from various sources. Generally, they are abbreviated. Abbreviations used are:

  • A.F.M./Four Masters: The Annals of the Four Masters, compiled by four Franciscans in Donegal in 1632-36.
  • B.S.S.M./B.S.S.: boundary survey sketch map (prepared during the survey).
  • County map/Edgeworth map: map of the county prepared by William Edgeworth and published in 1814.
  • Down Survey: the survey done under the direction of Sir William Petty, 1655-59, to identify land for confiscation. Parish and barony maps were prepared to accompany the survey.
  • Educ. Report 1826/H. of C. Educ. Report: Second report of the Commissioners of Inquiry on Education in Ireland (1826), which listed the locations of schools.
  • Inq. Temp. Jac. I/Car. 1/Gul. & Mary: Chancery Inquisitions were authorised by the Court of Chancery. They described the extent of property held either by a deceased person whose lands were to revert to the crown, or one whose lands had been confiscated. They were common prior to the widespread use of maps. The inquisitions were mainly in Latin, and dated by reference to the year of the reign of the monarch. 'Jac. I' refers to James I (1603-25), 'Car. I' to Charles I (1625-49) and 'Gul. & Mary' to William III (1689-1702) and Mary II (1689-94).
  • J. O'D.: John O'Donovan (1806-61), antiquarian and Gaelic scholar, who contributed so much to the Ordnance Survey.
  • Ph.: parish.
  • Td.: townland.
  • Trig. stn.: trigonometrical station
  • Chain and link: units of measurement. A chain equalled 66 feet or 100 links. A link equalled 7.92 inches
  • County cess: tax levied on property occupiers by the grand jury and used to fund the payment of county officials and the building and maintenance of infrastructure including roads
  • Mearing/Mereing: a boundary between properties or townlands