Some Field Names in the Greyabbey District

Author: Will McAvoy et al

Date: 1993

Source: Ullans: The Magazine for Ulster-Scots: Nummer 1 Spring 1993

We all can remember the names we used for our childhood haunts — not always knowing what the names meant or how old they were. What is special about these is that they have been handed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. If they are not recorded now many will be lost forever, for they are not the names you will find on official maps or in legal documents like leases.

One type of place-names that hasn’t been attracting much attention from historians is local fieldnames. Over the past few years, Will M‘Avoy has been gathering field names from farms around the village of Greyabbey in the Ards peninsula, Co Down. Starting around Mid Island (where his own family had farmed for generations), he recruited a few friends and moved on to neighbours’ farms in the townlands of Ballyurnanellan, Kilnatierny, Gordonall, Mountstewart, Ballymurphy, Ballyboley, Ballynester, Ballyboghillbo and Blackabbey.

At the end of this exercise hundreds of local place names had been collected and written down for the first time. Of field names alone, almost 250 were mapped, and this short article will give our readers some idea of the sorts of names still used locally; and how much interesting information can be gleaned from a small area.


(Pronounced FEEL locally, and usually written as FIEL in Scots) eg ‘Byre fiel’, ‘Patterson’s fiel’, etc.

Less than half of all the field names collected — only 88 in fact — had the word ‘field’ or ‘fiel’ in their name. Most of these had another word to do with farming: 19, for example, had previous owners’ names, like Caughey’s fiel, Corry’s, Carson’s, Askin’s, Blair’s, Gibson’s, Taggart’s, Patterson’s, Jackson’s, or, (with the Christian names): Andy Carson’s, Tom Keags’, Willie Morrison’s, Tom Regan’s, Old Jimmy Katie’s, James’s, and Robin Davidson’s fiel. These folk are hardly remembered today, and one, ‘Betsy Gray’s fiel’, is named for a heroine of the 1798 rebellion! There were 7 ‘well fiels’, and 2 each of ‘stable’, ‘byre’ (cow-house) and ‘lint-hole (flax-dam) fiels’, as well as one each of: a ‘hen-house fiel’, a ‘kill’ (kiln), a ‘plantin’ (tree plantation or wood), a ‘car house’ (cart-shed), a ‘stile’, a ‘peat-stack’, a ‘stack yard fiel’, a ‘yard fiel’, a ‘stack-garden fiel’ and a ‘bullock fiel’.

There were 3 ‘fitba (football) fiels’, a ‘milestone fiel’, a ‘spring fiel’, a ‘breek (brick) fiel’ and a number of fields named after the type of land — a ‘clay-hole fiel’, a ‘garden fiel’, a ‘bog fiel’, a ‘rocky fiel’ and a ‘gravelly fiel’. The shape or size of the field was sometimes described in the names, with 4 ‘wee fiels’, 2 ‘long fiels’, a ‘point’ and a ‘hatchet’ fiel. (This last is L-shaped — like an axe).

The whereabouts of the field can be part of the name too, so we have 3 ‘low fiels’, 2 ‘upper fiels’, a ‘front’, a ‘back’, a ‘middle’ and a ‘shore fiel’.

As well as these short names, some were only known by longer titles, such as ‘the fiel fornent the door’, ‘the fiel at the back o the Plantin’, or ‘the fiel on the low side o the loanen (lane)’. Only in 2 of the 10 townlands covered (Ballyurnanellan and Kilnatierny), did the majority of the field-names include the word ‘fiel’. These two townlands run onto the Strangford Lough shore, and have a good deal of flat, coastal land in them. Because these ‘fiel’ names are more common on this land, which seems to have been more recently enclosed into fields, it may be that they are generally ‘younger’ names than the rest.


(Pronounced HAL) eg Far Back Hill, Dorey’s Hill etc. Fields called ‘hills’ were the second biggest group recorded, with 62 field names containing the word ‘hill’.

These ‘Hill’ fields are not fields that contain a whole hill, in the English sense, but fields on a slope. For example, we have a field at the bottom end of a hill called the ‘bottom hill’ and the one above it called the ‘top hill’. The fields on the long ridge that runs along the north of Greyabbey Main Street are known as ‘the hills’ — but there is only one hill there. In Ulster-Scots a roadside house that ‘sits on a steep hill’ is not at the top of the hill, but built on a steep slope or brae.

The large number of these names is hardly surprising in the middle of Co Down’s drumlin county, and the labouring of these fields sometimes meant soil that had crept down the hill had to be carted back to the top of the field. This is sometimes given to explain that the horse-drawn ‘Scotch carts’ used were nearly always ‘coupin’ carts with a tipping release mechanism.

As far as ‘hill’ fields were concerned, a far greater number of these had part of their name used to place them. There were 4 ‘front hills’, 4 ‘back hills’, a ‘back hill facing the road’, a ‘wee back hill’, a ‘near back’ and a ‘far back’ hill. There were 3 ‘middle hills’, one ‘far hill’, 2 ‘top hills’, 2 ‘bottom hills’, along with a ‘Plantin hill’, a ‘lough hill’ and a ‘hill at the shore’.

There were again many ‘hills’ with personal names: Dorey’s hill, Pat’s, Lawry’s, Andy’s, M’Cance’s, Billie’s, Boyd’s, Annett’s, Sloan’s, Loughin’s and Carson’s hill.

Other features included 3 ‘well hills’, a ‘forth (ring-fort or rath) hill’, a ‘stile’, a ‘shepherd’s’, a ‘smiddy’, a ‘spring’, a ‘quarry’, a ‘stable’, a ‘horse’, a ‘barley’, a ‘kill (kiln)’, 2 ‘cottage hills’, a ‘round hill’, a ‘Priest’s’, a ‘Doctor’s’, a ‘church’, and a ‘rectory hill’. In Ballyboley there is a ‘back Kearney hill’ and a ‘near Kearney hill’.


Only 2 field names used the Scots word meaning slope — ‘brae’ — rather than ‘hill’. These were ‘burn (stream) brae’ in Ballyboley and ‘hangin brae’ in Ballymurphy. The second of these marks the location of the execution of Rev James Porter in 1798. Porter was the Presbyterian minister in Greyabbey who was hanged on suspicion of support for the United Irishmen. It might have been expected that ‘brae’ would have been in more common use here for field names, given the large number of ‘hill’ fields. Brae is still in common use as a general term for any slope and some road and laneways have particular names such as the ‘Meetin House brae’ in Greyabbey and ‘Muckleboy brae’ on the Ballymurphy Road. ‘Muckleboy’ was the original spelling of the family name used by the present M‘Avoys in this locality (including Will M‘Avoy, the collector of these names), and is recorded as such in the 1868 Griffith Valuation. As late as 1901, the Census Enumerators Returns for Mid Island were spelling Will’s grandfather’s family all as ‘M‘Ilboys’.


(Pronounced ‘BOAG’ or ‘BOGE’): eg Sam’s Bog, Far Bog, etc.

There are no fields in this area that contain workable peat. A peat bog is called a MOSS here. These fields with the name ‘bog’ in them are simply marshes or poorly drained fields. The 18 ‘bog’ field-names include a ‘Sam’s bog’, a Tam’s, a Billie’s, a Caughey’s, a Robert’s, a Matthew’s, a Sam Wright’s, an Askin’s long bog and an Askin’s Near bog. There are two ‘Far bogs’, a ‘long bog’, a ‘near bog’, a ‘wee bog’, a ‘mair (rough land) bog’ and 3 fields simply known as the ‘bog’ or the ‘bogs’.


(Pronounced MARES)

As well as the ‘mair bog’ mentioned above, one field in Ballymurphy is called ‘James Brown’s Mairs’. Mairs or Muirs is a Scotch word meaning rough, uncultivated land.


(Pronounced ‘NOWS’) eg Taggart’s Knowes.

This Scots word means a ‘knoll’, and is usually used in the plural to mean a hummocky, rough field. Of the 15 ‘knowe’ field names collected, only one (the ‘wee knowe’) does not give the plural ‘knowes’. There are 4 fields simply called ‘the knowes’, and 5 with personal names: Hall’s Knowes, Edgar’s Knowes, Frank’s Knowes, Katie’s Knowes, and Taggart’s Knowes. The other fields include 2 ‘back knowes’, an ‘old’, a ‘young’, and a ‘well knowes’.


A dozen fields were collected with names that end in ‘acre’. Only one, ‘Matthew’s Acre’, had anything other than the size as the name, eg ‘the nine acre’. There is one ‘four acre’, 3 ‘five acre’, a ‘six acre’, two ‘seven acre’, an ‘eight acre’, a ‘nine acre’, a ‘ten acre’ and a ‘twelve acre’. ‘Acres’ (in the plural) is never used. The actual measurement is Cunningham Measure — for example the ‘seven acre’ in Black Abbey contains 9 statute acres. Obviously, the numerals are (or were formerly) pronounced in the Scots forms, and the names run together to give ‘senagher’ for ‘seven acre’, ‘echtagher’ etc.


(eg ‘Sally Garden’)

The 4 fields named as ‘gardens’ were not domestic gardens in the modern sense, although one — ‘M’Kays Garden’ may be named to mark the site of an abandoned homestead. The ‘long garden’, and the ‘back garden’ were small fields which had been laboured with the spade, and the ‘sally garden’ was a small field in Ballymurphy used to grow osiers or willows (‘sally rods’) for basket-making and thatching.


(Pronounced LAWN): eg ‘Black Lan’.

Only 3 fields were called ‘land’, one was a field called the ‘rough lan’ in Ballymurphy, and the others (in Ballyboley and Black Abbey) were called ‘black lan’. Here black is not a colour, but, like ‘black mouth’, ‘black potatoes’, ‘blackguard’, ‘black house’, and ‘black-hearted’, means bad or inferior (ground). (Of course the townland name of Black Abbey was different. It was the site of a medieval monastery where the monks wore black habits.)


(Pronounced GROON or GRUN)

One field in Ballyurnanellan is called ‘the sandy groun’, and another in Ballymurphy was ‘the rough groun’.


One field in Gordonall is called the ‘hill park’.


(Pronounced MEEDA)

One field in Gordonall is called ‘Shanners’s Meadow’.


Two fields at the shore in Mountstewart are called ‘watering bay’ and ‘bar bay’.


Two fields in Ballymurphy are called ‘the glen’.


One field in Ballyboley is called ‘the common’.

The following table shows how many of the different types of basic names given to fields were found in each townland.

Type of Field Name





























Black Abbey
























Mount Stewart











This table does not include the types of field names for which only one or two examples are found, such as ‘ground’, ‘common’, etc.

However, there are about 50 or so field-names that didn’t use any of these terms. Some of these don’t need an explanation, like ‘the orchard’ (although in both of the two examples gathered there is no orchard there today), ‘the quarries’, and so on. The following list is of some of the most interesting ones.


A field in Ballymurphy where sheep were dipped.


This is a common place-name in the Ards for hilly ground surrounded by bogs or marshy land. We only found it used once as a field-name.


A field near Greyabbey village on the shore. It was the ‘Pound’ for livestock when markets were held there. Greyabbey was granted a charter for a weekly market in 1605, but there is no record of markets being held for several centuries back.


The ‘forth’ is the common name for a rath or circular earthen ‘fort’ of the Early Christian Period.


This name is given to a field in Black Abbey townland that was the site of the Medieval Abbey. There has been no trace of the building this century.


A field in Ballyboley. Meaning unknown.


These two fields in Ballyboley may be the only examples with a Gaelic origin. ‘Dris’ (pronounced ‘dreesh’) in Irish means a wild briar or bramble.


A field in Ballyboley. The meaning of this name is unknown, although the Scots word Knackie means ‘handy’ or ‘clever’.


A field in Ballyurnanellan. There is another ‘long shot’ in the demesne of Rosemount House at Greyabbey. Here the name is said to have come from soldiers or Yeomanry using the open area as target practice. This long field at Rosemount was once the old line of the main Portaferry Road (before 1800), and some ‘long shots’ are thought to have been straight sketches of road where men playing road bowls or ‘bullets’ could get a clear throw.


A field in Blackabbey, presumably one that had been held in ‘freehold’ rather than on lease by what were tenant-farmers up until about 1900.

We would like to thank all the local folk that helped with this survey. In particular, Miss Millen, Tommy McAvoy, Eddie Muckle, Hugh Dorrian, Ivan Brown, Ernie Hall and Herbie Carson.

Will M‘Avoy

Elspeth Barnes

Philip Robinson



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