Celebrating Ulster's Townlands

 

 

Signpost: Townlands

  18. Early Churches in Place Names

Ecclesiastical hillfort of Dunmisk, Carrickmore Co. Tyrone: EHS

Ecclesiastical hillfort of Dunmisk, Carrickmore Co. Tyrone: EHS

Logo: Townlands

Most of the terms for churches are borrowed from Latin. The commonest word for a church was cill, as in Killevy at the foot of Slieve Gullion in south Armagh Cill shléibhe “church by the mountain”. Cill often appears with the names of saints: Kinawley in Fermanagh which is “St Náile’s church”, Kilbride in Co. Antrim “St Brigid’s church”.
  An early church on the old routeway into Ulster was marked by a carved pillar stone at Kilnasaggart “church of the priests”. Ternoc whose name appears on the stone is likely to be the saint in the Scottish name Kilmarnock “my Ernóg’s church”.  In Scotland cill was later sometimes replaced by the Scots word Kirk, as in Kirkcolm “St Columba’s church”, and occasionally this happened in Ulster, as in Kircubbin in the Ards.  

 

Circular graveyard of Donaghrisk, Co. Tyrone: EHS

Kilnasaggart inscribed pillarstone, Co. Armagh: Keiran Clendinning

Kilnasaggart inscribed pillarstone, Co. Armagh: Keiran Clendinning

 

 

The earliest word was domhnach  meaning “belonging to the Lord”. Traditionally all churches named Donagh were supposed to have been founded by St Patrick, like Donaghrisk “church of the marsh”,  and Donaghmore “great church” with its magnificent stone cross, in Tyrone. Other church terms were Eglish “church” and aireagal “oratory”, as in Errigal Keerogue, “St Ciarán’s oratory” in Tyrone.

La Loo church and bullaun, Ballinderry, Co. Antrim: Keiran Clendinning

Donaghmore Cross, Co. Tyrone: EHS

 

Saint's tomb at Banagher church Co. Derry: EHS

Saint's tomb at Banagher church Co. Derry: EHS

  Some words were similar to those in Welsh. One, beannchar appears in Wales and Co. Down as Bangor, in the rest of Ireland as Banagher. Another is lann, as in Lambeg, lann bheag “little church”. La Loo near Ballinderry, also Co. Antrim, was probably Lann Lua “St Molua’s church”, the saint who founded Lismore in Scotland. Both beannchar and lann refer to lands which were fenced off for church use. These terms are not common in Scottish place-names.
 

At La Loo there is a hollowed stone or bullaun. These may have been used as fonts. Other notable features of the early Irish church were handbells and the tall towers from which they were rung. Lannaglug in Tyrone is Lann na gclog “church of the bells”, and there is Tullynaglug “knoll of the bells” in Fermanagh. A round tower and bullaun appear in the Antrim townland of Steeple, an English name for the early church site. Later the commonest word in Irish became Temple, as in Templepatrick “St Patrick’s church” Co. Antrim, and Templenaffrinn “church of the offering/mass” in Fermanagh. However names like Clones “Eos’s meadow” and Armagh  "Macha's height" are a reminder that not all church sites had church names. 

Eglish cross and graveyard, Co. Armagh: Kieran Clendinning

Eglish cross and graveyard, Co. Armagh: Kieran Clendinning

Round tower in the townland of Steeple, Co. Antrim: EHS

Round tower in the townland of Steeple, Co. Antrim: EHS

 

Map of Clones Co. Monaghan c.1591 from the State Paper Office no.458, "A Platt of Cloneys an Abbey in MacMahon's Countrey": Ulster Journal of Archaeology iii 1855 p.28.

Map of Clones Co. Monaghan c.1591 from the State Paper Office no.458, "A Platt of Cloneys an Abbey in MacMahon's Countrey": Ulster Journal of Archaeology iii 1855 p.28.

Graveyard and crosses, Errigal Keerogue Co. Tyrone: Kieran Clendinning

Graveyard and crosses, Errigal Keerogue Co. Tyrone: Kieran Clendinning

 

Church of Killevy, Co. Armagh: Kieran Clendinning

Map of Armagh churches from the Escheated County map of Armagh barony, 1609 PRONI (note that on this map east and west are reversed)

Map of Armagh churches from the Escheated County map of Armagh barony, 1609 PRONI (note that on this map east and west are reversed)

 

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