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Change to Placenames

While placenames are a rich testament of the past, they have always been evolving. We have seen how successive waves of colonisers such as the Norse, Anglo-Norman, Scottish and English have left their mark on placenames. However the changes that they made were not usually too great and many of the older names have survived to the present. Many of the ancient names are now under a more determined attack.

Reorganisation of the 6 counties of Northern Ireland into 26 Districts in the 1970s threatened the ancient county names. Only Fermanagh remained intact with Antrim, for example broken into Districts such as Moyle, Ballymena and Newtownabbey. These new units were at least named using existing older placenames and, despite these changes, the county names have remained in common usage. A greater threat has been the imposition of road names in rural addresses. Prior to the 1970s, rural addresses used townlands. All the Districts in Northern Ireland, except one, gave names to roads in rural areas and a number to each house. While an address before the change might have been Mrs S. McBride, Lismacloskey, Toome, Co Antrim it may have become Mrs S. McBride, 231 Moneyglass Road, Toome Co. Antrim. Thus the townland name was lost. Some of the new roads had names that drew nothing from the local placenames. One such, the unimaginatively named Coast Road, runs between Limavady and Coleraine for over 20 kilometres. The new road name renders unnecessary townlands such as Myroe, Crindle, Culmore, Ballyhenrey, Ballycarton, Glebe, Oughtymoyle, Ballymultimber, Ballyscullion, Drumavally, Lenamore, Clooney, Aughil, Ballymaclarey, Benone, Umbra, Downhill, Dunboe, Liffock, Exorna, Dartress, Articlave, Blakes Lower, Lower Quilley, Upper Magherawee, Drumaquill and Castletoodry. While older residents may continue to use the townland name, many younger residents, or those not from the area, may use the bland 234 Coast Road, Coleraine instead. The rich tradition is in danger of being lost. One District has held out against such change - Fermanagh District Council - and continues to use townland names.

Another threat to our placenames is the use of inappropriate names for new developments. The naming of new buildings has always happened but in the past the existing placenames were often reused for that purpose. Many new developments draw on terms which they believe will attract buyers of the properties. Often these try to conjure up a rural idyll with names such as Windy Hollow, Ashbourne Crescent, The Willows or Laburnum Close. It is a pity that the names of places so rich in tradition are being ignored to be replaced with anodyne placenames such as these.

These threats to placenames in Ireland are very real and, if old names disappear, a rich and ancient tradition will be lost with them.