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Research into placenames
Much work is going on into placenames in Ireland. The Townlands in Ulster publication (Local history Studies, Crawford,W.H. and Foy,R.H. 1998) lays out a framework for the study of townlands and emphasises the importance of maps, valuation records and other printed sources in tracing the evolution of places in Ulster. They perceive townland names and even townlands themselves to be under threat and fear the loss of such a rich historical record. The Northern Ireland Placename project has its origins in a commission for the Department of Celtic by Department of Environment in Northern Ireland in 1987. In the series Place-names of Northern Ireland they use a technique of gathering early spellings from printed sources in Latin, Irish and English combined with field-based research. The earliest records are in Irish or in Latin and date from about 1450 years ago. The 17th Century plantation may have swept away some placenames but also leaves us with considerable records of those. Some records have been lost in fires in the Irish public records - first in 1711 and later in the Four Courts during the Irish Civil War in 1922. Maps and other printed sources are also consulted. Often these allow the authors of the series to identify townland names with much more accuracy than was available to O'Donovan for example in the early 19th Century. The focus is particularly on townlands as they are unique to Ireland, ut the names of other land areas, natural and built features are also recognised as important. Unfortunately, in what can only be seen as cultural vandalism, the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Nelson McCausland, withdrew funding from this project in 2010. The work that has been produced has been of the highest quality. However, the closure of the project has meant the breaking up of a team of individuals committed to this important work, and the loss of their combined expertise, perhaps irretrieveably.
Some work in the Republic of Ireland is being done though official channels such as the Placenames Commission and the Placenames Branch, the Government Department responsible for researching and verifying placenames in Ireland. Others such as the Cork and Kerry Placenames Survey are set up by individuals. This survey was established by Dr Eamon Lankford in 1996 to collect placenames and preserve the history and heritage that they represent "before they are lost forever". The strategy is well thought out. Field maps of a townland are distributed through the school system and made available to parents and grandparents. All places with names are indicated on the maps and this information is supplemented with surveys by graduates during the summer months. Dr Lankford believes that this methodology improves on that used by the Ordnance Survey in the 1830s and 1840s when the surveyorsoften relied on Protestant clergy and other non-locals for their placename information. He notes in the article "Collecting all the placenames under the sun" (Irish Times 14.2.03) "In the 1840s just three names were were collected by the OS in the survey of Currahys in the Muskerry Gaeltacht. In the Lankford survey 160 years later, 260 names had been collected." The names of field boundaries, rocks, hill slopes, inlets, submerged rocks and so on are being collected. As Mr O Cuiv, Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs in the Republic of Ireland says, placenames "...tell us so much about ourselves, our heritage and our culture". They must not be allowed to decline.
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