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Names of ancient townlands could be revived by councils under new proposal

By Noel McAdam

Published 16/11/2015

Some of the townland signs which can still be seen across Northern Ireland
Some of the townland signs which can still be seen across Northern Ireland
Some of the townland signs which can still be seen across Northern Ireland. Photo: Karolyn Cooper
Some of the townland signs which can still be seen across Northern Ireland. Photo: Karolyn Cooper

Townland names across Northern Ireland may be restored - more than 10 years after the Assembly warned the historic local areas could be forgotten.

The 11 amalgamated 'super' councils may be given the option to revive townlands in their districts, 40 years after they were replaced with street addresses.

The Assembly will be urged to back new legislation, giving the local authorities powers to restore names like Ballyore, Crossnenagh, Carrickabolie and Derrynoose.

The move in a private member's bill comes after an Assembly debate in 2002 when parties united to demand greater promotion of ancient townlands.

Phil Flanagan, the MLA behind the bill, which is due to be debated in the Assembly next week, said: "I do not think that you can understate the perilous situation of the townlands.

"There is not a consistency of approach to the promotion and usage of townlands and very many people do not know what townland they live in. For me, that is a serious problem."

Of the estimated total of 9,000 across Ireland, some 5,000 support the prefix 'Bally' and 45 of those have the name 'Ballybeag', which means 'little town', and Fermanagh alone has 2,000.

Mr Flanagan said he had always been under the impression that the townland system was unique to Ireland, although former DUP MLA Oliver Gibson told the Assembly a similar system exists in Sudan. "I have never been, but I will take his word for it. I do not know whether it originated in Sudan or here, but it is a good system," Mr Flanagan added.

"Many people across the North have lamented the fact that the usage of townlands has largely ceased since the policy change of the early 1970s. The change that I am proposing would allow councils, if they so wished, to put townlands back to use as the principal part of the address."

The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA has already carried out his own consultation exercise, which he said showed there is strong demand for the greater promotion and protection of townlands.

"Over 80 responses to the consultation were received, including responses from individuals, groups, political parties and local councils and the majority were supportive," he said.

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