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16 October 2014
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A townland is a collection of fields and Declan Forde believes that the names we give our townlands impart a sense of belonging and make us feel rooted.

History & Heritage

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listen Listen to "Townlands" radio programme

A townland is a collection of fields and Declan Forde believes that the names we give our townlands impart a sense of belonging and make us feel rooted.

image of a letter

In the first programme of the "Your Place & mine" radio series, Declan took a personal journey through the townlands of his native County Tyrone to discover his past. This journey towards his 'your place and mine' started with a letter from his granny to his father which included directions to her family home, a cottage in the townland of Cornamuck on the outskirts of Dromore, Co Tyrone.

Declan Forde speaking

Hear how his granny's written directions guide Declan to what's left of the family cottage. There's no roof left on the building, but the visit evokes thoughts of his ancestors.

John McCusker still lives in the townland of Cornamuck and in the programme he describes how much it has changed over the years. In the past every house was part of a townland where, according to Seamus Heaney, "every stoney acre has its story".

Seamus Heaney speaking

Heaney talks about his own townland -a "place of the heart's affections".

Part of our cultural heritage, many feel the townlands need to be cared for and nurtured. If their names are removed from postal addresses knowledge of which townland you live in is likely to rapidly disappear. Townland names are important because they can be a vital marker to our history and past - a road sign to where we've come from.

Mullaghbane townland boundary stone
Boundary stone
marking Mullaghbane
townland in Co Armagh.
Erected as part of a
townland community project.

But what exactly is a townland? Local historian Jack Johnston defines it as a small unit of local government - the smallest 'your place and mine' we have in Northern Ireland. They range in size from less than an acre to well over 2,000; the average is about 300 acres. Streams or old roads often act as the boundaries between them.

There's a great association between people and places, and a great number of the townlands take their names from the people who lived in them. Townlands are involved in a sense of who we are. When Amelia Earhart touched down after her Atlantic flight she was told she'd landed in Gallagher's Field. This incident shows how it's our own place that's the important one.

What do you think the Northern Ireland countryside would be like without townland names? Should they be retained in our postal addresses?

What is the name of your townland? Do you know what the name means? Has your townland a distinct character and how has it changed over the years?
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