Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The Naming of Irish Townlands


Bird’s father’s oldest habit, we’re told, is
taking words apart like old clocks to show the gears still ticking inside.”.

SOURCE: Our Missing Hearts. Celeste Ng. 2022.

The naming of Ireland’s townlands makes me think of how fish and seaweed get washed up in an inter-tidal zone. The townland names that have stuck did so because of high or low tides (think of fluctuations in political power) and whether such tides may have converged with calm waters or high winds (the ebb and flow of local passions). Such results are not unique to Ireland. They have occurred on every continent and continue to happen in many countries to this day - particularly when colonizers and earlier residents have butted heads over the same land over a long period of time.


SOURCE: The Down Survey maps of 1656-58
The two townlands in Co. Armagh connected to my JACKSON ancestors are highlighted.

For the Irish, the twin impacts of literacy and dialects have also had a huge impact. Their version of English was long influenced by a mix of London English (often merchant class), the English of Northern England (quite different from the London English), as well as the kind of English spoken by settlers from Scotland (decidedly different again). Then there is also the Irish Gaelic and the Scottish Gaelic to toss into the mix. The random intermingling of all of these linguistic streams led to each region developing their own accents or dialects, many of which were barely understood by those who lived a mere day’s ride away on horseback. The people doing the record keeping did their level best, but surely there had to be a goodly dab of guesswork in the records that they created.

 The whole process makes me think of my experience with the English of Edgar Knox, the owner of our old family home at Killynure. He grew up with a rural Co. Tyrone accent. One evening, during my 1995 visit, he described a building project, and said something that sounded to my Canadian ears like fleurbirds. That was when I learned the first linguistic trick of decoding dialects and applying it to townland names. Start by swapping out the vowels. Floorboards was what he had meant.

The Cree of Northern Manitoba were also surrounded for a few centuries by at least four languages. In their case: English, French, Cree, and Dene. In his memoir Permanent Astonishment, Thomson Highway describes how some of the places where he grew up got named. One place near Perch Bay was called Thighderry by the Dene (translates as Sandy Point), but to him as a speaker of Cree it sounded like Thigh Daddy. He tells of a Cree midwife, Pitooria Wasask who named the place where her family lived Seepees-seek meaning Where the Little River Is. Made sense. It was beside a low point of a river that was named seepeesis or little river. When names both feel right and sound right to the locals, then they tend to stick.

Liscalgot, one of the townlands where my Irish ancestors farmed, has been recorded in several versions: Liscollgett, Leaskilalkitt, Leaskalkill, Lissecolge, Liscolgett, Liscolgil, Liscolgea, Leaskalket and Liscolgeth. Regardless of the spelling, it means the fort of the stagnant water. Urker, another of the townlands where my family farmed, is on the western border of Liscalgot. It also had several variant spellings: Urcher, Orcher, Orhor and Urgher. Translated from Gaelic the name means a cast or a throw. Perhaps this was a reference to an ancient burial custom where the bereaved carried a stone to be thrown into a cairn or heap in memory of a deceased person. This inclusion of meaning and story in the naming of Irish townlands is similar to that of the Manitoba Cree midwife when she named Seepees-seek.

I recently posed a 565 page + document of Memorials of Leases connected to Co. Armagh with hundreds of hyperlinks from townlands.ie matching their current official names with the older versions. Hopefully, this will increase the odds of myself and others tracking their ownership over centuries. It may also be that this digital record will become even more necessary for future researchers. In some schools today, cursive is no longer even taught, so goodness knows how future researchers will fare. After all, the cursive used in many historic documents is hard enough to decode as it is – even for those who know how to write in cursive.

One student reshaped his senior honors thesis ...; another reported that she did not pursue her interest in Virginia Woolf for an assignment that would have involved reading Woolf’s handwritten letters. In the future, cursive will have to be taught to scholars the way Elizabethan secretary hand or paleography is today.

SOURCE: Gen Z Never Learned to Read Cursive: How will they interpret the past? Drew Gilpin Faust. The Atlantic, September 16, 2022

A few more approaches that I have found helpful when working with townland names.

  • When matching earlier versions with later ones, note when townlands are contiguous, especially when they repeatedly change ownership in clusters over several decades.
  • Experiment with different options while saying the townland name out loud. To Thomson Highway it was the sound of the words which explained why the Cree for Santa Claus became Saanchi Giloss and why a Cree child baptised as Jean-Baptiste became known as Samba Cheese. It’s the same way that floorboards became fleurbirds.
  • Finally, when dozens of variants occur in a single document, treat the document like a Rosetta Stone. In Irish townland records, the word otherwise is often the bridge between names that started as Gaelic, were later shaped by English, and then were finally recorded by urban officials. In the memorial appended at the end of this blog, the word otherwise occurs 75 times. In this instance, it is not only the vowels that shift, but also the consonants: Teacum  otherwise Teocrom  otherwise Teonom  otherwise Tivecome upper & lower 2 Cartrons of Tivecrom  otherwise Teevecrom  otherwise Carton  otherwise Cororum  otherwise Coruorum  otherwise Tefferom  otherwise Towerorwen.

In a follow-up post, I will explore how - by simply leaning on the effects of this simple word otherwise - I have been led to reconsidering some events using this different lens. One example is the aftermath of the 1850 murder in Co. Armagh of Robert Lindsay Mauleverer, the land agent for HAMILTON, TIPPING, JONES. They were members of three families who held joint title to Urker Lodge and the fields surrounding it. How they became joint owners, and why the BALL family of Urker House was able to resist them has its roots in family relationships that date back to the late 1600s. More on that soon.

To slightly paraphrase the quote that I used to kick off this piece: taking words apart like old clocks can show the gears still ticking inside.

Stay tuned.

PS: The word otherwise was used 75 times in this single deed.

ROD: 139-536-96011. 1750 Sept 6. Richard MAGNENIS to JACKSON

Image 593 Tripartite deed James WIGLEY of Scraploft in Co Leicester, Great Britain, nephew and devisee of Andrew NOELLATE of Scraploft, of 1st pt & Richard JACKSON of City of Dublin Esq. of 2nd pt & Richard MAGINNES of City of Dublin of 3rd pt WIGLEY demised to Richard JACKSON all that Manor of Stonebridge  otherwise Forkhill [Parish Forkill, Barony Orior Upper]and lands of Loghill  otherwise Lawhill  otherwise Laughill  otherwise Longhill  otherwise Lanchill  otherwise Logehill [probably Longfield, Parish Forkill, Barony Orior Upper] Teacum  otherwise Teocrom  otherwise Teonom  otherwise Tivecome upper & lower 2 Cartrons of Tivecrom  otherwise Teevecrom  otherwise Carton  otherwise Cororum  otherwise Coruorum  otherwise Tefferom  otherwise Towerorwen, [probably Tievecrom, Parish Forkill, Barony Orior Upper],  Carncksikye  otherwise  Carrickistickin  otherwise Carrickstrycken  otherwise Carrystoitkin  otherwise Carrickastickin  otherwise Carrickstickin  otherwise Carrasticke  otherwise Carrysticksockin  otherwise Carrickistickin [Carrickastickan, Parish Forkill, Barony Orior Upper], Cleiquome  otherwise CleyQuomue  otherwise Claymen  otherwise Claynew  otherwise Clecktrummy  otherwise Cloughwinney  otherwise Clocknnive  otherwise Clockmwey  otherwise Clanen [probably Cloghinny, Parish Forkill, Barony Orior Upper]; Aghelwonenewan  otherwise Aghdonewell  otherwise Aghadonow  otherwise Aghadonow  otherwise Aghadonan  otherwise Aghador  otherwise Aghadenove  otherwise Aghadonoe  otherwise Aghenaff [Aughadanove Parish Forkill, Barony Orior Upper], ,Corrigillirin  otherwise Corgilrine  otherwise Colegreen  otherwise Coolegreene  otherwise Carrickingreen  otherwise Carrickilldreen [Carrickaldreen, Parish Forkill, Barony Orior Upper], Shean  otherwise Sheane  otherwise Sheean  otherwise Shyan  otherwise Shian  otherwise Sheen [Shean, Parish Forkill, Barony Orior Upper] Clarkhill  otherwise Clargill  otherwise Clarehill  otherwise Clarechill [Clarkill, Parish Forkill Barony Orior Upper] , Aghecloghmullen  otherwise Aghnackleymullen [Annacloghmullin, Parish Killevy (Upper Orior portion), Barony Orior Upper]; Corrignegaliah  otherwise Knocknogallagh [Based on proximity, possibly Carricknagavna, Parish Forkill, Barony Orior Upper],  Latbirget, Parish Forkill, Barony Orior Upper], Monelawne  otherwise Monelaw  otherwise Monylane  otherwise Monylaumf  otherwise Moneymore  otherwise Worrymore [possibly Money , Parish Kilmore (ONeilland West portion), Barony Orior Upper], Tawnamuddcreeny  otherwise Tawymulerire  otherwise Tonymuicrire  otherwise Tannaghmulhange  otherwise Tawnmuaghmillthreene  otherwise Tannagh … [possibly Tannaghmore, Parish Mullaghbrack (ONeilland West portion), Barony Orior Upper],  Mullaghbane,[Parish Forkill] and/or Mullaghbane [Parish Mullaghbrack] (ONeilland West portion), Barony Orior Upper], Shanroe ,[Parish Forkill], Carrigecorke  otherwise Carrighorke  otherwise Carrighlokee  otherwise Carrownecurke  otherwise Carriffnakilly  otherwise Carryickcorke  otherwise Carrycuske  otherwise Carrownecuke [probably Carricknagavna , Parish Forkill, Barony Orior Upper],  Leallemore  otherwise Legallemore  otherwise Leballymore  otherwise Levallymore [probably Levallymore, Parish Forkill, Barony Orior Upper]], Ballicile  otherwise Ballekill  [Ballykeel, Parish Forkill, Barony Orior Upper] [all in Barony of Orier [Orior Lower] Co. Armagh. WITNESS Timothy WALDO of Salter Hall, London Gent. Thomas DAY of Fleet St London Gent. Jane WIGLEY.

SEE: JACKSONs of Kirkby Lonsdale, Westmorland and Coleraine, Londonderry Richard JACKSON (1722-1787) of Forkhill [Parish Forkill, Barony Orior Upper].