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Cunningburn, County Down


Sc/Northern Eng. cunning 'rabbit' + burn 'stream'


This name appears to have been coined in the variety of English spoken by settlers at an early stage in the plantation of North Down, or possibly during the Anglo-Norman period.  It is likely that it was named after the nearby stream known as Cunning Burn.  The earliest spelling of the name is Cuningburne in 1617 (CPR Jas I 326a). 

Johnston suggests that coning was the regular word for 'rabbit' in Old English (PN Scotland, 70).  In Middle English the usual form of this word was cunny or cony (cf. Coney Island, par. Ardglass), but the form cunning occurs to be common in place-names of NW England.  PN Cumberland treats the names Cunning Hill (ii 295), Cunning Garth (2 instances, i 136, ii 290) and Cunningarth (ii 331) It is interesting to note that one of these occurrences of Cunning Garth is in the parish of Holme Abbey, i.e. Holm Cultram, which was the parent establishment of nearby Grey Abbey, founded in 1193.  Whilst our Cunningburn is not attested before the 17th century, an earlier coinage of the name is possible in view of the use of the form cunning rather than coney and the strong links between Cumberland and Down in the Anglo-Norman era.   


Hannan R. J. (1992): Place-Names of Northern Ireland vol. 2 p. 228; revised PT, 2013

Additional Information

Historical name form

Old FormRef. DateReference


1617CPR Jas I 326a


1623Ham. Copy Inq. [1623] li

Ballehawly al. Cunyngburne

1661BSD 87
Coninburn1663Sub. Roll Down 281
Cunningburnes, the two town Parks, lands of,1675Montgomery MSS 268 n 35


1690cReid's Presb. Hist. 282
Cunningburn1810Wm. Map (OSNB) E 32
Cunningburn1830cBnd. Sur. (OSNB) E 32
Ards Lower
Parish in 1851
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