Celebrating Ulster's Townlands



Signpost: Townlands

  9. Place Names and Migration

Dundonald Co. Down: Raven map detail: North Down Heritage Centre.

Dundonald Co. Down: Raven map detail: North Down Heritage Centre.


Logo: Townlands

Scottish names also came with the settlers, such as the Gaelic house names Stormont and  Rowallane. Stormont was understood by its owner to mean “Storm Mount”, but in Perthshire Gaelic meant “place for crossing the mountains”. Rowallane from Ayrshire means “beautiful promontory” and beauty is still there in the famous Ulster garden. Dundonald Dún Dónaill “Dónall’s fort” outside Belfast seems to have adopted the final -d from the Scottish spelling of Dundonald near Kilmarnock.
  The local name Stye Brae for the Belfast district of Castlereagh (“the speckled castle”) means “steep hill”, but it may also allude to the Scots proverb “Set a stout heart tae a stye brae”, where the stye brae stands for the challenges of life. The sketch was sent to a young Scotsman in 1906 as he embarked on his medical career.

Distribution map of Scots place-names in Northern Ireland: Helen Murphy EHS

Distribution map of Scots place-names in Northern Ireland: Helen Murphy EHS


Some Scots names have become the names of townlands. The most frequent Scots name is Calhame, from cauld hame “cold home”. It is more common in Ulster than in Scotland, and occurs as a townland and a minor name, including Irish-speaking parts of Donegal. Banbridge Council’s recent sign for Colhem Lane also shows the name in the townland.

Camowen Road sign; plus townland; Ranelly 

  Other Scots names, all in Co. Antrim, include Milkyknowes, Mistyburn, Clatteryknowes, Hurtletoot and Whistlebare. The word knowe is also used in the north of England and means “small hill, knoll”, while clattery probably comes form Scots clarty “muddy, dungy”. The townland called Whappstown is named from the bird called in Scots whaup “curlew”, while Gowks Hill in Down is from Scots gowk “cuckoo”.

Irish place-names in the USA, Pat O' Donnell UAFP.



Whin rather than gorse is almost universal for that plant in Ulster: it too is the Scots term and there are several Whinny Hills. Glaryford, although not a townland, is a Scots name meaning “muddy ford”, from Scots glaur. The tidal whirlpool called the Routing Wheel in Strangford Lough is from Scots routing which means “roaring” and the Routing Burn forms a boundary in Co. Tyrone. Sliddery Ford in Co. Down is the English or Scots version of the even more expressive Irish Áth na gCloch Beó “ford of the living stones”. 


The first map shows the distribution of possibly Scots names recorded on the Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 map.  It is clear that there are more of these in the north of Northern Ireland than in Fermanagh or south Armagh and Down, reflecting areas of Scottish settlement. Many however are Gaelic stream names followed by Scots burn, which, like the words brae and sheugh, is now generally used in Ulster English. 

Ulster Settlers in the USA took both Scots and Gaelic names along with them, and the second map shows names from Ireland transplanted to the Americas. 

While many towns, villages and smaller landscape features in Ulster have English language and in some cases Scots names, most townland names are Gaelic in origin.


Sketch 1906 of the "Stye Brae" to be climbed by a young medical student: Mary Muhr


Scots names on LGD townland index map 6, 1974

Scots names on LGD townland index map 6, 1974