Celebrating Ulster's Townlands



Signpost: Townlands

  7. Place and People Names

Map of Carrickfergus Castle. 1560 British Library Cotton Augustus I ii 42.

Newry and St. Donard's chapel on Slieve Donard, 1609 Escheated Co Map, barony of Orior PRONI

Logo: Townlands

In 13th -century Scotland people believed the port of Carrickfergus “Fergus’s castle” commemorated king Fergus who led the migration to Argyll. In Ireland at the same period it was said to be named from Fergus, senior warrior in the Ulster Cycle stories Emania. Whether legend or history, many places have been named from people. 

Hills north and south commemorate an early Ulster royal family based in Co. Down.


Slieve Donard “St Domangart’s mountain” in the Mourne mountains commemorates a 6th century saint entrusted by St Patrick to watch over the area. It once had a little church on top like Croagh Patrick mountain in Mayo, shown here beside the plan of Newry in 1609.


Slieve Donard from Murlough: National Trust



The Cave Hill or Benmadigan “Madagán’s peak” above Belfast appears to be named from kings called Madudhán “little dog”, the caves are shown on 16th-century maps of the area.

Benmadigan, J.M. Nicholl UM

Benmadigan, J.M. Nicholl UM


Earlier chieftains of the family had forts after which townlands were named, such as Rademon “Demmán’s rath” (which does not survive) and further north Duneight “Eochaidh’s dún”, which has been turned into a Norman motte. South of Lisburn is the townland of Lissue “Aed’s fort”.


Duneight Co. Down: Gail Pollock, EHS

Holy well at Greenan Fort, Co. Donegal: Kieran Clendinning


Another family which has left its name in Ulster is that of the O’Neills, descendants of the 5th century Niall of the Nine Hostages. The peninsula of Inishowen in Donegal was named “Eoghan’s island” after Eoghan son of  the family’s Niall, but as power increased, their territory was named Tyrone or “Eoghan’s land”, Aileach “stony place”, now the Greenan. Their fort was above the city of Derry.


View west from "The Greenan" fort, near Derry: Kay Muhr UPNS


Family names were often given to medieval castles, such as the castle of Termonmagrath  “church land of the McGraths”, a parish in counties Fermanagh and Donegal which produced several famous ecclesiastics. The Norman family of Walsh (a surname meaning “from Wales”) built Walshestown Castle in Lecale, Co. Down. 

Termongrath Castle, Co. Donegal/Fermanagh: Kieran Clendinning  



Commanders and settlers at the Plantation also gave their names to places.

Charlemont, originally a fort on the Blackwater, was named from the English commander Charles Lord Mountjoy, while the village of Mountjoy near the village of Coalisland took its name from a castle which he built as a military station. At the same period Mount Norris in Armagh was named from general Sir John Norris, Poyntz Pass between Cos Armagh and Down from lieutenant Charles Poyntz, who defended it in 1600. 

Walshestown Castle, Co. Down: EHS