Analysis of Clare Placenames

Donal De Barra 2018

The purpose of this project is to analyse the elements which form the townland names of West Clare.

For this purpose West Clare is taken to be the four baronies of Moyarta, Clonderlaw, Islands and Ibrickan, as shown on this map. Within the four baronies are 20 parishes and 583 townlands. In the analysis, 6 parish names have been added where there is not an synonymous townland. The town of Ennis is included but the parishes of Inagh and Kilnamona, being in the barony of Inchiquin are excluded, even though they are more westerly than Ennis.

Origin of Townlands
Townlands are the smallest administrative unit of Irish local government (excluding street names and numbers). They are used mostly in rural areas, as primary addresses – in towns and cities, street names are used instead and often urban residents do not even know the name of their townland. The network of townlands, as it now stands, was given legal definition in the first half of the 19th century.

In response to the famine of 1822 the government instituted numerous schemes of public works in order to give employment to the poor. When they attempted to levy the cost of these schemes on the lands and lords, who benefitted most from them, there were many disputes concerning land ownership and boundaries, but no official maps or other adequate documentation to resolve such disputes. To resolve this the Boundary Commission, under Richard Griffith was established.[1]

The Boundary Survey commenced work in 1824/5, marking out, on the ground where necessary, the actual boundaries of every townland. Where they felt it necessary, they subdivided the pre-existing land divisions, to create smaller units. The Ordnance Survey built on the work of the Boundary Commission to produce maps of the entire country at a scale of 6” to the statute mile. This was done in County Clare during the 1830s.

As part of their work the Ordnance Survey carried out an extensive documentary and field survey of placenames and recorded the results of their work in Field Name Books. Some, but not necessarily all of the names recorded in the Field Name Books were incorporated in the subsequent maps. The Ordnance Survey set down definitive names for each townland based on the information collected during the 1830s, and this was first published in the maps of 1842, although an earlier version of the map – the Fair Plans, being maps of each parish - was prepared, but not published. Some of the Fair Plans are available in the National Archives of Ireland.

The level of detail contained in the Field Name Books seems to have been at the discretion of the army officers who prepared them. The first column gives the Received Name and their translation of this into English. This column also has the final approved name for the townland signed with the initials J o’D (presumably for John O Donovan, although not all the initials are by the same hand). These names were gathered into an index which continues to be the basis for place-names used by the National Roads Authority. The index is the source of many of so-called mis-spellings on Clare road signs. Further information on the index here.

There was no earlier standardisation of placenames and so the second column ‘Orthography’ gives the various different spellings of the townland name and in the third column, the references to where these spellings were found.  Usually, the first reference in this column ‘BSM’ is the townland name from the Boundary Survey Map (or perhaps Boundary Survey Sketch Map, as the Boundary Commission, as distinct from the OSI, did not produce formal maps). Other references in this column, for county Clare' might typically be from Pelham’s County Map, and information obtained from  local clergy, landlords, bailiffs, and historical documents.

The fourth and fifth columns gives the situation of the townland and notes of any local features, which may include names of sub-denominations, occupiers of local houses, quality of the land, etc. Sub-denominations were often shown on the maps but their boundaries were not delineated. They did not have the same standing as townlands and were not included in the index.

Prior to the formalisation of the townland system, the lands of West Clare were usually denominated in ‘quarters’ and the earliest known list of these quarters is from a Rental of O Brien lands in Moyarta and Clonderlaw[2] dated to c1350. A high proportion of the names in that rental can still be easily identified today, and they are noted in the final column of the database.

Sir John Perrott’s Tripartite Deed of 1585[3] sets out the number of quarters in the West Clare Baronies at that time and comparing this to the present numbers of townlands gives an indication of the extent of subdivision by the Boundary Commission.






No of quarters - 1585





Boundary Commission – 1844











The Analysis

The basic listing of West Clare townlands has been extracted from the lists provided by Clare Library Here

This basic list includes a link to the Library’s page on that place and from there a further link is found to the Place-names Database of Ireland at and this database has been used in most cases to divide the townland name into its basic elements. In some cases I have used my own translation for the place-names, or have had reference to the translation by James Frost atHere

Some townlands appear twice on the Clare Library listing because the original unit may have been divided between two parishes or baronies. (Trusklieve, Knocknahooan, Derrynalecka, Gowerhass/Gower South, Crag (Kilfiddane & Kilmihil), Cahiracon). The elements of these duplications have been counted as singular in the final results. The existence of townlands divided over two parishes strongly suggests that the townland names existed before the development of the parish structure.

The results of the analysis must be viewed as indicative only, because they depend, in many instances , on translation, where it is often difficult to be definitive.

The overall summary results are given below and these are linked to a more detailed analysis and commentary. The full database underlying these summaries is Here


Summary of West Clare Place-names Analysis.
(4 Baronies, 20 Parishes, 583 townlands)

Element     No of occurrences
Duplicates     93
Landscape Features 284
Social and land units 138
Personal names  121
Man-made 85
Ecclesiastical (separate article)  53
Fauna  36
Activity 30
Colour   29
Archaeology/folklore 15
Flora   11
English   28
Undefined  13












Duplicates.                                                                                  94
Duplicates arose in a number of ways.;

  • Townlands which are split between two parishes (presumably because the townland existed as such, prior to the parish formation).
  • Townlands which were split by addition of the suffix Beag, (Beg) or Mór (more). Where the suffix has been merged with the other part of the name to form a single word it is not counted as a duplicate i.e. Doonmore and Doonbeg. Most of the other divisions differentiated by Beag and Mór already existed at the time of compilation of the Book of Survey and Distribution[4]. Townlands which were divided into Beag and Mór after 1641 are:
                    In Clonderlaw barony: Aillroe, Shannakea, Glenconaun, Cross,
                    In Moyarta: Moyadda
                    In Ibrickan: Knocknahila
  • In some cases the Boundary Commission made further sub-division giving names like Knocknahila Beg, Knocknahila More North, Knocknahila More South, and Moanmore North, Moanmore South, Moanmore Upper and Moanmore Lower.
  • The Boundary Commission frequently divided large townlands into smaller units by attaching a suffix – West, East, etc., Upper, Lower. But some divisions using the suffix East and West existed in 1641 i.e. Moveen, Moyarta and Rehy (all Moyarta barony).

Where the townlands are all adjoining, they are assumed to have been a single unit originally and only counted once.

Landscape Features:                                                                          284

Element   No of occurances
Fiadh, Coill, Ros, Garrán, Droighin, Driseán, Fearnóg, Fothar, Úll, Cuillean, Brisleach, Casair, Craobh, Sailleach, Sceagh, Eidhneach, Caorthann, Iúr, Muine                                 48  
Doire 15  
Total Woodland   63
Cnoc, Cruach, Árd,, Ceann, Bár, Binn, Sliabh, Mount, Hill, Drom, Eadan, Leaca, Leitir, Tullach,   85
Mágh     19
Cloch, Carraig, Boireann, etc     18
Inis, Oilean, Island   15  
Feadáin, Glaise, Uisce, Dobhair, Tobar, Fountain       10
Lough     10
Aill    6
Móin/Muing   6
Carn, Carnaun, Cnapóg, Cruinneas    5
Ros, Rinn    5
Cúil    4
Gleann   4
Leac   4
Achad, Gort, Field    3
Cor   3
Poul    3
Uaimh   3
Gaoth    3
Bearna   2
Blean   2
Dabhach   2
Fraoch     2
Bun, Camóg, Eanach, Erribal, Trá, Imeal, Léim, Sraith, Áth, Buine, Calladh, Cluthar, Coimead, Gainimh, Sneachta.         1 each
























The total includes 13 place names that include 2 natural features (i.e Moylougha – plain & lake)           


Social and Land Units                                                         138

Element With personal name Total
Baile  25  39
Lios   11 22
Ceathrú 0 18
Cathair   6 12
Clochán  0 8
Ráth  4 7
Dún/Dúnach/Daingean 3 9
Buaile (Summer pasture)  3* 9
Castle  1 3
Tír  - 3
Town  1 2
Both (hut) 1 4
Leath Bhaile, Cuige, Seiseamh, Leath Ceathrú, Trian, Common, Fort, Tigh, Hall, Burg, Crioch, Town, Acres. 1 1 each

*  Uí Duláin, Uí Briain, and Boolynagleragh - taken to refer to Uí Cléirigh rather than clerics.                                                                

Personal Names                                                      121
Most of the personal names are prefixed by Baile, Ráth, Lios, etc.

Placenames containing personal names with common currency in modern Clare (GV = Incidence of the name in Griffith Valuation of c.1855) include:
O Hogan; O Honan; Lenihan (Linnane);  O Leann - Leyden (Ballyleaan, Caherlean, Tirmaclane); Dolan, GV has 2; Kett; Bracken; MacUaithne (Green); Mac Droighneáin (Ballymacrinan); O Gleeson; O Neill;  Dooley, (Slievedooley) (GV has 0); Reddan; O Corrain, (GV has 9); O Móráin (Binvoran and Kilmoraun); Mac Caw (Ballymackea); O Neylan; Mac Curtáin (not Mac Cruitín per J O’D); Mescal; Mac Craith; Clohessy; Kirwan; O Guithín,  (GV has 0); O Cathasaigh; Morris; Macauliffe (Ballymacaula x 2) (GV 0); O Ceallaigh (Cahircalla); O Miodhcáin; O Donnahue; O Faoláin/Whelan (Ballyillaun); Mac Códa, (GV has 1, Cuddy); O Clérigh (Boolynagleragh); Murrihy (Lisvurriheen).

Other names:
Ailldavore - Cliff of Dá  Mhór  - Big David!

Ballyartney and Bohyodaun are attributed to the families Harney and O Fuadain – neither name occurs in GV.

Ballygeery, Cloonkerry, Knockerry, Rathkerry, Lisgureen, Capaghnageeragh and Kilkerin – the first five of these at least, appear to refer to the same family-name - either Guerin, O Gara or Geery,  Capaghnageeragh may be the garden of the sheep? The Book of Survey & Distribution (1641) offers Lisgirrine as an alias for Lismuse (Ibrickan). Kilkein is likely an Ecclesiastical name.

Balleen, Glenletternafinny – Both names suggest the surname Finn but the latter may refer to the  Fianna.

Ballylannidy - suggests Baile Oilean Shíoda but there is no island nor substantial  watercourse, possibly Baile Clann Shíoda – Sheedy?

Ballynote and Ballyurra (Kilrush) - O Node and O Hurra according to but neither name in GV unless O Hurra is O Hara.

Ballyvoe - Town of O Buaidh, or may derive from the term Ballyboe, as used in the north of Ireland to denote a land division, alternative to Baile.

Ballyvohane – Uí Buadhcháin, Boohan which is well attested in West Clare, seems to be a different surname from Bohan, assuming that the latter is from the Norman, De Bohun – Norman names are rare in West Clare’s older placenames.

Boolybrien - Brian or O Brien’s Booley

Caherea, there are two townlands of this name, also Ballyea (Killone) – Aodh or Uí hAodh.

Caherfeenick – unclear whether Feenick represents a first name or surname, or perhaps some other meaning?

Cahermurphy (Kilmihil) is named after Murchadha Mac Gorman.

Clarefield (Kilrush) - gives ‘De Clare’s Field’. The Miracles of Senan[5] relates a legend of how Richard De Clare invaded Corca Baiscinn and was repulsed by the miraculous intervention of St Senan.

Cloonlaheen - There are two Clare townlands of this name (Islands and Ibrickan). Laithín may have been a family name or a ‘saint’? Also Rahlaheen in Newmarket on Fergus.

Cloughaunsavaun -Savaun/Savin may be a surname or the place-name may mean the Clochán sa Bháin = House cluster in the bawn.

Cragbrien - According to Frost - Brian Mac Giollreagh (Gallery)

Danganella and Drumellihy -  probably refer to Healy and the later was divided by the Boundary Commission between its then contemporary owners -
                Mac Donnell

Doonogan and Caherogan are geographically close and may refer to the same person, where Ógán is a first name rather than a surname.

Glenconaun in Kiladysert may refer to the character in the Fianna mythology - Conán, who also figures in the legends of Mount Callan. GV does not record the surname in Clare.

Kilcrony Church, holy well and graveyard shown on the OS map. It was called Cill Croine in the O Brien Rental of c1350.[6] See Lisheencrony.

Kilfarboy - O Buidhe (Queally) – see my paper ‘The 63 Quarters of Ibrickane’ coming soon to this website.

Knockanalban - Hill of the Scot – person not known. This has been translated as Hill of the white cliff, but early spellings of the name[7] suggest derivation from Cnoc an Albanaigh, i.e. the Scotsman.

Lisbiggeen - Uí Bhigín or perhaps the fort of Reed-mace? (Dinneen)

Lisdeen, Lisheenydeen, Kilmacduane – Uí Duibhín/Devine, GV has 6, mostly in Clare Abbey. May be related to Mac Dubhán/Downes/ Mac Guane, etc.

Lisheencrony, (Moyarta), Rathcrony (Ennis) - Crony, probable that these were ecclesiastical names. Henry Blake[8] believed that Creadán, Cuán and Cróine were three saintly brothers (see below, Kilcredaun and Kiltrellig).

Loughburke - Burkes Lake.

Mountshannon, (Islands barony) may refer to the river or the family name or even Saint Senan.

Rahona East - suggests Úna/Ona but perhaps the plural of Rath is  intended as there are numerous ancient enclosures shown on the

Rinnmackaderrig - suggest Mac Derg as a surname but may be Macha Dearg, red  tillage plots?

Thomastown – There is no indication of whether the name originated in English or Irish. [9]

Mac Baskin - According to the mythology the name derived from  Baskin, one of the three sons of Conaire Mór (A.D. 165). It may also refer to the Basque people having arrived by sea, in prehistoric times as related in the early Irish origin legends. Modern DNA research shows a very strong link between the Irish and Northern Iberia Here

Man-made                                                   85

Cluain - 31 (10 with a surname).  The basic meaning of ‘Cluain’ is meadow or pasture but often the name had strong ecclesiastical implications (Clonfert, Clonmacnoise, etc.) and probably referred to a woodland clearing by ascetic monks, especially in wet or marshy land[10]. Cloonakilla, meadow of the church, occurs twice, in Kilmihil and Killchreest. Cloonyogan in Kilfarboy refers to a noted Killaloe ecclesiastical family – O Hogan. The two Cloonlaheens may also refer to a saint.

Ceapach - 5 - meaning a tillage plot. Enclosures for cattle or tillage occur under many names – field, gort, bán, faiche (lawn), achad, léana, túr, páirc, garraí and inis – in all there are 25 names.

Roads, in the form bealach, bóthar, coor (corner) have 4 occurrences.

Both, a hut, often with ecclesiastical conotation, occurs 3 times.

Cross occurs 3 time but it is unclear whether a cross-road or standing cross are intended.

Cabhal (ruin) and Sonnach (pallisade) occur twice each.

Other man-made items with single occurrences are  Cleath (hurdle), Céibh (Quay), Feart (grave), Gad (withie) Clár (board), Droichead (bridge), Cléibh and Ciseach (both meaning wickerwork).



This forms a separate article Here


The 36 elements indicating fauna are:

Element No. of occurances
  Wolf (bréagh)   5
Sheep, (caoire, réithe, mutton)  3
Pigs, (banb/bonham, torc, hog 4
Goats (gower)   3
Horses (gearan, groi 2
Crows   (corróg)    3
Calves (gamhan, laoi 2
Dogs (cú/con 2
Gulls (faoileán 2
Rabbit  (coney) 2
Crane (cor 1
Fox (sionnach)    1
Ants (siongáin) 1
Flocks ?  (alva 1











Bréagh. As a Clare place-name this is  spelled either Breaghva or Breaffa and O Donovan seems to have been the first to offer the interpretation Bréagh Mhágh – Wolf Plain. The note on the OSNB page for Breaffy North (Kilfarboy), says “Breachmhagh, meaning not determined – Wolf field”. It is acknowledged in the DIL in the form Bréch meaning wolf[11]. But it is strange that there should be five occurrences of the same compound - Bréagh Mhágh - in such a small area of west Clare. The element – Breagh might also be translated as either good, false or speckled.
The name Breaghva occurs in Cork, in the barony of East Div. of East Carbury, West of Bandon, and O.S field namebook for that states "Meaning uncertain"

Corróg – crow. The 3 placenames I have included are Corraige, Feagarroge and Doonnagurroge. Dinneen offers coróg inter alia as ‘A scald-crow’; Garbhóg, inter alia ‘The mustard plant’

Corraige -this is recorded by Fr Gaynor as Corgrig[12] and Logainm seem to agree that the meaning is An Chorrghráig – the hamlet on the hill or promontory


The Activities represented are:
Yeoman – Knockanimana from the Irish gíománach, a yeoman, a huntsman etc. (Dinneen). Another possibility is iomána, hurling
Winnowing – Knockalehid – see Dinneen, leitheadach, a winnowing sheet, etc.
Look-out – Drumbigil – see Dinneen, bhigil, a vigil, etc.
Tradesmen – Ballynagard from the Irish ceárd. HDGP translate as forge[13]
Milling – Poulawillin from the Irish muileann a mill.
Lime Kiln – Gortnahaha  -there is no watercourse so the meaning ford is unlikely. Possibly Áith, a fire or kiln, etc (Dinneen)
Incarceration – Iniscorker from the Irish carcair a prison.
Smithy – Coolteengown from the Irish cúl tí an gabhann nook of the smith’s house.
Burning – Carrowdotia, Knockloskeraun, Molesky. – loiscrean fire for drying corn etc. (Dinneen)
Poitín making -  Knockphutteen
Fleeing, escape – Drumatehy
Slaughter – Liossanair
Trenching – Drumdigus
Fire – Cloughaunatinny (old name Clochán Mhaoil a Tine[14] – could equally be the Unroofed village of the fox or gorse). The middle element Mhaoil, “weel’ was interpreted by O Donovan as bile a sacred tree.


The colours represented are:
White – Bán. Drumbaun; Illaun (this is interpreted as Aill Bán – white cliff); Fintra; Killofin; Cloonwhite (perhaps the surname White is intended); Carrowbane; Finnor
Speckled – Breac. Knockbrack; Aillbrack; Tullabrack (x2).
Silver – Silverhill
Red – Rua. Knockroe; Aillroe; Feighroe; Lisroe; Rineroe; Tullroe
Grey – Liath. Derrylea, Cappalea; Leitrim; Greygrove; Kinlea;
Green- Glas. Glascloon; Moyglass
Yellow – Buí. Tullaghaboy; Doonaghboy
Black – Dubh. Carrowduff; Doolough



Included in this category are:
Stones – Ailcne. Carrownanelly
Sacred Tree -Bile, Loughvella; Edenvale; Bellia.
Leprosy – trusk. Trusklieve
Goblin   - Puca. Poulaphuca
Cells – Ceall. Fortfergus is given on Logainm as Lios Ceallóg – fort of the small cells.
Standing stones – Leac. Leagard; Leeds; Leaheen; Carrowlagan; Leadmore
Heritage (Investiture?) – oidhre. Knockanira
Cairn – Carn. Carncreagh;
Fairies – . Sheeaun
Scattery – Inis Cathaigh


Buttercup – Tuile. Creggaunnahilla.
Ivy – Eidhneán. Knockaninaun; Einagh; Clooneenagh. (It has been suggested by Conor Keane that some Inagh placenames may derive from éigne, salmon and in particular salmon spawning regions of rivers.)
Birch- Béith. Kilbaha.
Corn. Cornfield.
Heather- Fraoch. Freaghcastle, Freaghvaleen; Reaghfa; Carrowfree.
Rushes – luachra. Bolooghra; Barloughra.
Whortle berries – Fraochán. Gortnavreaghaun or maybe crows?
Willow herb – Rás Cloonarass (could equally mean a race?)
Bog Cotton – Ceannbhán. Cahercannavan
Sorrel – Samhadh. Illaunatoo or Sorrell Island


The townlands which are officially named with at least one element in English by the Ordnance Survey are:
Clare Commons: Clare Abbey: Clarehill: Islandavanna: Islandmagrath: Bushypark: Fountain: Mahonburg: Cornfield: Fortfergus: Freaghcastle: Silverhill: Canon Island: Coney Island: Mountrivers: Colmanstown; Mountshannon; Newhall; Acres; Loughburke; Castlepark; Greygrove; Prospect; Mutton Island; Scattery Island; Thomastown; Clarefield; Newtown; Cloonwhite.

Thomastown has earlier references as Baile Thomáis[15] and Colmanstown as Baile  Még Colmáin[16]. There is further reference to Colman in Clooncolman (Moyarta) and it may be that the reference is to a St Colman because there is a reference in the poem appended to the Miracles of St Senan, which lists the saints who would come to Senan’s aid in time of need -  “reverently come the Colmans[17].


There are four townlands with the element ‘Furoor’ for which I have no satisfactory explanation. There is a reference to ‘Forbor’ in the Miracles of Senan, but no explanation of the word![18]
The other undefined names are Lifford, (translated by Ó Cearbhaill as waterside[19]) Moyasta, Effernan, Ballyvullagan (possibly Mulligan’s homestead?).




[1]  For the history of the Boundary Commission and early years of the Ordnance Survey see A Paper Landscape, The Ordnance Survey in Nineteenth-Century Ireland, J. H. Andrews, 1975.

[2] Ancient Irish Deeds and Writings, chiefly relating to Landed Property, from the twelfth to the seventeenth century etc., by James Hardiman, Esq., M.R.I.A. in Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy Vol. XV, 1828 (hereafter O Brien Rental).

[3] A full copy of the Tripart Deed is given in The Diocese of Killaloe from the reformation to the close of the eighteenth century, by Reverend Philip Dwyer A.B., 1878, Appendix 1.

[4] Book of Survey and Distribution, being abstracts from the various surveys and instruments of title 1636-1703, Vol. IV – County of Clare, by R. C. Simmington, 1967.

[5] The Miracles of Senan at chapter 3 page 13

[6] O Brien Rental p. 37

[7] For instance Book of Survey and Distribution, op. cit. – Knockanalbony; Pelham’s County Map, 1787 – Knockanalbony; numerous documents in the Petworth House archives spell the name with a ‘y’ ending.

[8] Logainmneacha Ó Bharúntacht Mhaigh Fearta, Co. an Chláir III, by Breandán Ó Cíobháin, in Dinnseanchas Vol. IV No. 1, Meitheamh 1970, p 14.

[9] The Historical Dictionary of Gaelic Placenames refers the name Thomastown to a poem by the west Clare, 18th century poet Sean De Hóra – A Séarlas Óig  A Ghrá Uí Donnchadha which refers to “fuil na gcoileán  ngrinn ó baile Thomáis thíos”, published by Brian Mac Cumhghaill in Sean De Hóra. However the Mac Cumhghaill also mentions that Séarlas Óg [Mac Donnell] had family connections to the Matthews family of  Baile Thomais in Tipperary p.93.

[10]  Pádraig Ó Cearbhaill, Cluain i Logainmneacha Co. Thiobraid Arann, 2010, quoted in Historical Dictionary of Gaelic Placenames, Ó Riain, O Murchadha, Murray, Nic Carthaigh,  2013 (HDGP)

[11] Dictionary of the Irish Language, RIA 1990, p. 82.

[12] Kilmihil Parish, its Origin and Scraps of its History, Rev P. Gaynor, n.d. Chapter 5 (Placenames) p.2, no 62.

[13] HDGP, Fasc 2, Ballynagard

[14] There are numerous varied spellings in the Petworth House Archives such as ‘Cloghanweelitynny’ in the Illsworth Survey of O Brien estates, 1615, Petworth House Archives, C/27/60.

[15] See footnote 9.

[16] Annala Ríoghachta Éireann, 1600

[17] The Miracles of Senan, by Charles Plummer in Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie. Volume 10, Halle/Saale, Max Niemeyer (1914), at

[18] Idem, Introduction, note 4 published online at

[19] Dr Pádraig Ó Cearbhaill, Researching the Placenames of County Clare – Methodology, Sources and Restoration, in Changing Names, the dynamic world of Irish placenames and their meanings, Clare Placenames Committee 2005, available at