Glossary of land divisions...

This registry was established in 1708 under the Registration of Deeds Act (Ireland) of 1707.

Term Explanation

A unit used in Ireland between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries for administrative (census, taxation, and legal) purposes.

Often drawn on pre-existing Gaelic divisions, baronies consisted of large groupings of townlands within a county. The 1891 census is the last to use the barony as an administrative unit.


The county system as a form of territorial division was introduced into Ireland shortly after the Norman Conquest in the late twelfth century. The creation of counties or shires was gradual, however, and the present arrangement of county boundaries was not finalised in Ulster until the early seventeenth century.

In 1898 local councils based on county divisions were created. County councils remain the principal administrative body of local government in the Republic of Ireland but were abolished in Northern Ireland in 1973.

The counties in Ulster are:

  • Antrim,
  • Armagh,
  • Cavan,
  • Donegal,
  • Down,
  • Fermanagh,
  • Londonderry,
  • Monaghan and
  • Tyrone.

Of these, Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan are in the Republic of Ireland, with the rest in Northern Ireland.


A diocese is an area controlled by a bishop and composed of a group of parishes. The number of parishes in a diocese varies considerably. In the diocese of Connor, there were over seventy parishes, while in the diocese of Clogher there were approximately thirty-five parishes.

The network of dioceses was created in the medieval period and continues to be used by both the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic Church with only minor alterations.

The dioceses in Ulster are

  • Armagh (covering all or part of counties Armagh, Londonderry and Tyrone),
  • Clogher (Donegal, Fermanagh, Monaghan and Tyrone),
  • Connor (Antrim, Down and Londonderry), Derry (Donegal, Londonderry and Tyrone),
  • Down (Down), Dromore (Antrim, Armagh and Down),
  • Kilmore (Cavan and Fermanagh) and Raphoe (Donegal).
Manor The manor was introduced to Ireland by the Normans in the twelfth century. In the early seventeenth century grantees in the Ulster Plantation were given power to ‘create manors’. The manor provided the basic legal framework within which an estate could be managed and was vital to its successful development. The lord of the manor was enabled to hold courts leet and baron to regulate the affairs of his estate. The manor courts also provided an arena where tenants could settle their disputes.

This territorial division refers to both civil and ecclesiastical units. Civil parishes largely follow the pattern that was established in medieval times. Ecclesiastical parishes do not always coincide with civil parish boundaries. However, following the Reformation in the sixteenth century, the Church of Ireland more or less maintained the pre-Reformation arrangement.

Church of Ireland parishes are, therefore, largely coterminous with civil parishes. When the Catholic Church began its institutional re-emergence in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it constructed a new network of parishes which did not follow the civil parish network.

Poor Law Union

Under the Irish Poor Law Act of 1838 commissioners were empowered to “unite so many townlands as they think fit to be a union for the relief of the destitute poor”.

A Union was a group of parishes usually centred on a market town, where a workhouse might be built, with parishes and townlands as subdivisions. Rates, land based taxes, were collected within these areas for maintenance to the poor. They were named after a large town. The same districts later became used as General Register Districts.


Provinces are composed of groups of counties. There are four provinces in Ireland:

  • Ulster in the north,
  • Leinster in the east,
  • Munster in the south, and
  • Connacht or Connaught in the west.
Townland This is the smallest administrative territorial unit in Ireland, varying in size from a single acre to over 7,000 acres. Originating in the older Gaelic dispensation, townlands were used as the basis of leases in the estate system, and subsequently to assess valuations and tithes in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They survive as important markers of local identity.