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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: June 30, 2014 @ 9:48 am

    The Placenames Commision site: improved by abolition

    John Grenham

    After a recent column about placenames, a reader enquired why I’d left out the website of the Irish Placenames Commission, logainm.ie. I responded that their records omitted some of the divisions needed for research in nineteenth-century records, such as Poor Law Unions. But the real reason was that I hadn’t looked at the site for ages.

    And when I did look, it turns out the Commission has been abolished. Its function, to provide official bodies with an authoritative Irish language version of every place-name, is now carried out by the Placenames Branch of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

    The main aim of the website had been to make available the 70 years of scholarship that lay behind the Commission’s attempts to peel away seven centuries of English veneer. So it was very useful indeed for local history, but a bit marginal for genealogy, with the wonderful exception of the superb collection of maps buried away under its “Toponymy resources” sub-menu.

    Abolition has suited the site very well, however. Taken over by Fiontar, DCU’s interdisciplinary Irish-language school, it has deepened and expanded beyond recognition. The search interface remains a bit limited for a researcher trying to disentangle names distorted by five or more generations of Chinese whispering, but the sheer range covered is extraordinary, ranging well beyond the usual townlands and streets. It includes rivers, bogs, valleys, mountains and some gloriously exotic non- and sub-townland categories: bogs, wells, tombs, fields, standing stones and “holes”. Anything out there with a name on it appears to be fair game.

    What’s more, Fiontar has knitted everything together very smoothly and integrated it all over a fully flexible Ordnance Survey map. You now pick a county or barony or civil parish and browse all its townlands (and bridges and souterrains and islands), poke into any research on the Irish names, zoom in, zoom out, and meander around till the cows come home. Happy days.