A townland (Irish: baile fearainn) is a small geographical division of land used in Ireland. The townland system is of Gaelic origin, pre-dating the Norman invasion, and most have names of Irish Gaelic origin. However, some townland names and boundaries come from Norman manors, plantation divisions, or later creations of the Ordnance Survey. The total number of inhabited townlands was 60,679 in 1911 and the total number recognised by the Irish Place Names database is 61,098 including uninhabited townlands, mainly small islands as of 2014
In Ireland, a townland is (generally) the smallest administrative division of land, though a few large townlands are further divided into hundreds. Whilst the concept of townlands is based on the Gaelic system of land division, it was in the 1600s that they became mapped and defined by the English administration for the purpose of confiscating land and portioning it out to English investors or grants to English planters. The first official evidence of the existence of this Gaelic land division system can be found in church records from before the 12th century.
The term “townland” in English is derived from the Old English word tun, denoting an enclosure. The term describes the smallest unit of land division in Ireland, based upon various kinds of Gaelic land division, many of which had their own names.
The term baile, anglicised as “bally”, is the most dominant element used in Irish townland names. Whilst today the term “bally” denotes a town or urban settlement, its precise meaning in ancient Ireland is unclear, as towns had no place in Gaelic social organisation. The modern Irish term for a townland is baile fearainn (plural: bailte fearainn). The term fearainn means “land, territory, quarter”. It is from the Proto-Indo-European root *wer-, which is also related to the English wordware, a valuable commodity.
The Normans, despite not having a serious influence on townland names, adapted some of them for their own use, possibly seeing a similarity between the Gaelicbaile and the Norman bailey, both of which meant a settlement.