The Townland of Coolnasillagh in the Parish of Errigal

The townland of Coolnasillagh lies to the west of the road from Garvagh to Ringsend in a district which is generally known locally as Ballerin [see map of the locality]. Note that the official spelling of Ballerin in the documents is Boleran. Most of the population, both now and in the nineteenth century, lived in the lower part of the townland. The road which runs up the townland climbs steadily to a height of around 1000 feet. The upper part of the townland is covered in moorland and bogland.

Coolnasillagh was part of the Civil Parish of Errigal in the Barony of Coleraine. Later it was part of the District Electoral Division of Glenkeen  in the Poor Law Union of Coleraine.  The townland was also part of the Waterford Estate [the Beresfords], having originally been part of a Native Freehold granted to Manus McCowy Ballagh O'Cahan at the time of the Plantation.

1831 Census Returns Excel PDF
1835 Tithe Applotment Book Excel PDF
1832 First Townland Valuation* No house details OS map
1859 Griffith's [Tenement] Valuation

Printed pages

Valuation map
1860 to 1957 Griffith's Revision Books** Excel PDF
1901 Census Returns Excel PDF

*  Note that there are no house details in the 1832 Townland Valuation for Coolnasillagh. This is because none of the houses in the townland reached the 3.00 criterion for inclusion. I have included a copy of the first edition of the Ordnance Survey Map, c.1833 which shows the location of all of the houses within the townland.

**  Note that the Griffith's Revisions for Coolnasillagh  includes information from the later General Revaluation of Northern Ireland [1935] and its subsequent revisions up to 1957.

The figures in the table below [compiled from the official census] show how the number of people and [inhabited houses] changed during the period 1831 to 1901.

Townland 1831 1841 1851 1861 1871 1881 1891 1901
Coolnasillagh 281 [52] 275 [47] 176 [36] 167 [35] 198 [36] 170 [31] 120 [28] 136 [30]

In common with many other townlands, Coolnasillagh's population fell by 52% between 1831 and 1901. The decline began during the Famine decade of 1841/51 when the population fell by 36%. Between 1851 and 1901 the population declined by 23%. This was because there were times when the population in a decade decreased and other times when it increased. I think that this simply reflects local circumstances in the coming and going of families.

The table below shows the religious breakdown of the population in the townland in the early nineteenth century, calculated from the 1831 Census Returns.

Townland Inhabited Houses Uninhabited Houses No. of Families Total in Houses E.C. % R.C. % Presb. % Others %
Coolnasillagh 52 3 52 281 0   280 99% 1 1% 0  

The lone Presbyterian, a William Bromfield, stands out in a townland which is almost 100% Roman Catholic. The names listed in the 1831 Census Returns indicate that this is a townland dominated by O'Kanes, Mullans, etc. who would be the descendants of the O'Cahans and their attendant families who were once rulers in this area. As mentioned above, this townland was once part of a native freehold granted to Manus McCowey Ballagh O'Cahan at the time of the Plantation. Eventually it passed into the hands of the Beresford family, thus the Marquis of Waterford as the immediate lessor in the 1859 Griffith's Printed [Tenement] Valuation.

The Tithe Applotment Book of 1832 [PDF] gives the names of the main landholders in the townland. You should be able to match up these names in the Tithe Books with the names in the "earlier" 1831 Census Returns. [Excel] [PDF] and the"later" 1859 Griffith's Printed [Tenement] Valuation and locate these people on the 1859 Valuation Map - also available at 1846-64. Here it is reasonably easy to match up surnames but establishing relationships between these individuals is much more of a problem given the lack of Roman Catholic registers for the area before 1846 for baptisms and 1873 for marriages. Even compulsory registration of births, marriages and deaths after 1864 does not guarantee registration particularly in the early years of registration.

Most of this townland is on higher ground which explains some of the large acreages in the 1859 Griffith's Printed [Tenement] Valuation. The better farms are found in the lower end of the townland which is close to the Garvagh/Ringsend road. Interestingly, there do not appear to be any cottiers in this townland which suggests that most householders had some land, however small. There is some evidence in the holdings numbered 5 to 20 in the 1859 Griffith's that there may, at one time, have been two clachans in this part of the townland where the land was held in rundale. Such a system of land tenure tends to create a large number of smallholders.

Only 8 of the 33 houses listed in the 1859 Griffith's were valued at 1.0.0 or 1.5.0. Most of the houses were valued at 15 shillings or 10 shillings. There are no house details in the 1832 Townland Valuation for Coolnasillagh. This is because none of the houses in the townlands reached the original 3.00 criterion for inclusion.

The Griffith's Revision Books [available online from PRONI] will show you the changes in each holding and help you to link the names and properties in the 1859 Griffith's Printed [Tenement] Valuation with those in the 1901 Census Returns [Excel] [PDF] as well as indicating when certain families left the townland or new ones arrived. In 2010 I produced a Table [Excel] [PDF] that provide information on the changes in the townland from 1859 to 1957. Click here to see a copy of a Revision page.

The 1901 Census Returns provide both statistical and personal details of families living in the townland a century or so ago. These returns provide information on individual members of a family such as age, sex,  level of literacy, marital status, religion, occupation and where the person was born. These returns are the only source that provides details of the relationships between persons in the latter part of the nineteenth century that can be matched to the civil and church records of the period. There is also  some information on houses and outbuildings which, when decoded, can give some impression of the size and appearance of the house that each family was living in and the types of outbuildings associated with the property.

The table below shows the number of people and houses in the townland in 1901 and the religious breakdown of the population.

Townland Inhabited Houses Uninhabited Houses No. of Families Total in Houses E.C. % R.C. % Presb. % Others %
Coolnasillagh 30 0 30 136     136 100% 0   0  

No surprises here - the townland is now 100% Roman Catholic and there are now only 30 houses in contrast to the 52 of 1831. A look in the 1901 Census Returns shows that 25 of the heads of the 30 households were farmers, 4 were agricultural labourers and 1 was a caretaker. A glance at the Griffith's Revision Books suggests that, apart from some of the mountain land, virtually all of the changes in holdings were from within the families who had been residents in the townland since the 1830s and, presumably, much earlier.


The 1901 Census Returns show that seven O'Kane families, five Mullan families and four Doherty families account for half of the families in townland at the end of the nineteenth century - a pattern very similar to what it had been  in 1859 except, then, there were more families living in the townland, particularly the O'Kanes. In 1859 there were thirteen O'Kane families living in the townland at that time. Most of these families had a nickname which the valuers used to differentiate between the different O'Kanes with the first names of Mickey, James or Patrick.  The O'Kane families, particularly that of John Echlin O'Kane, are the subject of a more detailed case study.

The following are some interesting statistics gleaned from the 1901 returns. 13 of the 30 heads of households in the townland were married, 2 were widowers and eight were widows leaving seven unmarried. The seven unmarried men ranged in age from 22 to 50. There was only one young married head of household, William Mullen aged 24. The other twelve heads ranged in age from 38 to 78. The average size of household was 4.5 persons. This is relatively low and I think can be explained by the fact that probably the elder sons of the older married couples had emigrated. This theory is supported by the fact that twenty of the thirty-three farmers' sons listed in 1901 were under 20 years of age. With daughters much the same can be said except that some of these probably married locally rather than emigrate.

Copyright 2018 W. Macafee.