WalkNI.com Your definitive guide to walking in Northern Ireland

Project Reveals Origins of Townland Names in the Belfast Hills


A study by the Belfast Hills Partnership has revealed the ancient origins of some of our most well-known place names.

The Belfast Hills Townlands project also delved into where our most common placenames come from across the Belfast Hills.

The initiative which seeks to reconnect local communities with the hills that straddle Belfast, Lisburn, Antrim and Newtownabbey has been spearheaded by the Belfast Hills Partnership alongside the cross-community Irish language group, ULTACH Trust.

A leaflet has been produced, aided by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the Belfast Hills Landscape Partnership Scheme, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, the Department of Agriculture under the Rural Development Programme, and cross border Irish language agency, Foras na Gaelige.

Townlands are a unique feature of the Irish landscape - predating the Norman invasion of the 12th century.

Some derive their names from physical characteristics like rocks, trees and wildlife, while others reflect the human influence on the landscape.

Divis Mountain in west Belfast is the Anglicised version of Dubhais meaning ‘black ridge’, while Ligoniel on the outskirts of north Belfast or Lag an Aoil, means ‘the hollow of the limestone’.

Other names come from ancient royalty and deity, while others have created infamous descendants including a highwayman.

Ben Madigan/Cave Hill was where the O’Neills of northern Clandeboy were inaugurated.

This townland of Ballyaghagan is named after the Ó hEachaidhín family who were hereditary bards to the O’Neills. Many became Hagan and Hawkins. Neece O’Haughian terrorised the Antrim Hills from the Braid to Colin Mountain, until he was captured and hanged at Carrickfergus in 1720.

Carnmoney is the site of the large Iron Age rath of Dunnaney Fort, or Nancy’s Fort, which probably derives from the Irish Dún Áine meaning ‘the fort of Áine’ – an ancient sun-goddess.

Some names reflect the rich Christian heritage of the hills including Shankill – ‘the old church’.

It is also likely that Budore – the townland still reflected in the road of the same name running through the hills and meaning ‘hut or cell of oak’, refers to the site of an early Christian hermitage.  

Lizzy Pinkerton, Manager of the Belfast Hills Landscape Partnership Scheme said: “We hope our townlands leaflet will give a new insight into local placenames, allowing people to see this special landscape in a whole new light.”

Aodán Mac Póilin, director of ULTACH, said: “Gaelic place names can enrich our understanding of our environment, our history and even our mythology and folklore. We were delighted to have this opportunity to work with the Belfast Hills Partnership to interpret and celebrate this important part of our living heritage.”

Leaflets are available in libraries or can be obtained by contacting the Belfast Hills Partnership on 02890 603 466.

For more information, click here.