Fermanagh Gold Introduction

People tend to pen their ancestors in, they have a townland name, a parish name, a county name and no matter what is said to them they will focus on that one place name. It wasn't until I began to look at maps for other countries that I understood this. If I take a map of America and look at that, the states, they all have nice straight boundaries. Then, within states, the roads are straight, organised, hardly a space which looks unoccupied to my Irish mind. If I look at a map of Ireland and our counties, they're all over the place, no such thing as a straight line, they blend together, meander into one another. Not only can one county look like there are bits of it in another county, but part of a county can lie between two counties. There is no fixed definite shape or pattern to Irish counties.

As if this wasn't bad enough, counties are further subdivided, we have Baronies, Religious Dioceses which spread over a few counties, Catholic and Protestant Boundaries for somewhere of the same name not being in the same place, the Religious Dioceses are subdivided into Religious Parishes, we have civil parishes, we have towns and townlands. We also have names for houses or farms. There are Poor Law Unions, legal divisions. The numbers of religious parishes may have changed over the years, increasing or decreasing depending on how many parishioners there were in an area, depending on whether or not there were religious in the area to serve that parish.

One thing I have noticed over the years, is that people don't realise the size of the area they are dealing with. Take for example a map of Ireland, compare it to a map of the States. As an Irish person, regardless of the key telling me what distance is equal to a mile, I still tend to relate the two maps in one way or another. I once told someone that a place was only a little bit away from where they were, relatively speaking. It turned out that the friend laughed at the good of it, told me he would buy me a map and that the two places were 600 miles apart. I think Irish, the searchers from outside Ireland will generally tend to think in a manner which will suit their country. I think small, they generally think big. There will be a few who manage to get over that mental hurdle, and who will comprehend the size differences, but not many. The first thing searchers have to do is think 'small', think Irish, and always remember that here in this country for any small town or village there will be a core number of people who are descended from those who left.

Twenty or thirty years ago, when someone moved in to any town or village, they were 'blow-in's'. They still are today, but not as noticeable this isn't, because we move around more often, work brings us from place to place. Today, fewer will leave their home town permanently, they will travel home at the weekends, they will commute to wherever they work. The towns and villages are not dying as they did in the past, their populations are not necessarily shrinking like they did in the past, and so it is harder to find that original 'core' group of families. To go back through the genealogical
information on any core group of families in any town or village it will be found that each of these families is related to the other in some way, somehow.

You need to become familiar with our geography. For any county that you have a townland name for, you need to check out the various division names associated with that place. This you can do by visiting one of the townland sites available on the net. e.g. www.SeanRuad.com These really show you nothing, tell you little other than to give you more place names to be concerned with. However, then you can also visit various sites available which 'sell' Ordnance Survey maps for Ireland. Each county is broken up into a number of divisions. Each county has a number of OS maps associated with it. These do not necessarily cover only the one county, there may be information or bits of three or four counties on a map. The maps themselves are not indexed so it is necessary for you to go through them square by square looking for the townland/placename in which you have an interest. While the maps are not indexed, there are indices available at some of the sites and using these you can find out which map you actually need. These maps are relatively cheap. People ask about copies of original OS maps which can be bought from the Irish OS office, containing great detail and dating from the mid 1800's, showing the layout of the land, houses on it etc. These are expensive, but nice to have and look at. However, I don't recommend that you go out and buy any of these until you have positively identified the area in which you are interested using the cheaper, smaller OS maps.

One of the problems encountered with townland names is that any county may have had three or four townlands of the same name. This makes it hard to decide exactly where you should be interested in for definite. With the aid of these maps, you can judge the size of townlands, the closest local market town, the locations of churches and graveyards in the area. You still have to find and work your way through any records which would be available for that area, but you can make the journey smaller by concentrating initially on the biggest townland. Some of our townlands are no more than the size of a field.

If you have a place name and there is only one of that name occurring in a county, then you treat this as the centre point on a dart board. The Bulls Eye so to speak. Remember our geography, the way counties sit together, mix in with one another. You work your way round that area, making the circle bigger and bigger as your search goes on, as time passes, taking into account any places in those rings which are found in other counties.

Remember this, they were not penned in, just because someone said they came from this place or that place, doesn't mean that the closest church for their religion was actually found in that parish. You could live in one parish and the closest church could be in another parish, another county, but sit in the field next door. How many of us would walk miles and miles to our Parish church if we had another church 5 minute's walk down the road?

Think small, simple, easy, shortest route.

Published here with full permission of Jane Lyons