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Copeland Island, County Down


Copeland (surname) + Eng. island; perhaps earlier Ir. Oileáin Árann 'islands of the ridge' (as name of group of islands)


Off N Down coast, 8km ENE of Bangor

par: Bangor bar: Ards Lower

In a chart of Belfast Lough dating from 1570 the name of the group of islands known to Goghe in 1567 as Copland yles is marked as Helaine Harr[o]n[e] which appears to represent Irish Oileáin ÁrannÁrainn is used as the group-name for the Aran islands in Galway Bay, and for Aranmore island off the Donegal coast. Árainn is also to be found in other place-names in Ireland, e.g. Tiobraid Árann, Tipperary.  Árainn is an old dative sg. form of ára, ‘kidney’.  In place-names, however, its meaning has been extended to a more general sense of 'back' (Ó Máille 1957; cf. Coates 2009, Tempan 2011). 

The earliest spelling of the Copeland Islands is Norse Kaupmanna-eyjar in 1230 A.D. and it is of interest as it occurs in Sturla Thordarson’s Hákonar Saga Gamla, ‘The Saga of Hákon the Old’.  The identification of Kaupmanna-eyjar with the Copeland Islands is based on the occurrence of the name on the route of King Hákon of Norway during a military expedition to Scotland.  Hákon visits these islands after Sátiri (Kintyre) and before heading south to Man (Hákonar Saga Gamla iii 194).  Kaupmanna (nom. sing. kaupmaðr) is Norse for ‘merchants’, and eyjar is the plural form of ey, Norse for ‘island’.  This has led to the suggestion that the Copeland Islands were at one time used as a Viking merchant store. 

However, although this Norse form based on is echoed by several forms from historical maps (e.g. Copmans Iles, Nowel's Ireland 1575), it is not corroborated in any local documents and it is more likely that the name Copeland Islands stems from the de Coupland family who arrived in the Ards in Norman times (O’Laverty ii 35; Savages Ards 121).  Although there is no documentation to link them specifically to the islands, it is known that William and Henry de Couplan "were among John de Courcy's most prominent sub-tenants in Ulster" in the late 12th century, several decades before the writing of Hákonar Saga Gamla (Duffy 1995, 20).  Named as Willelmo and Henrico de Couplan, they acted as witnesses for two de Courcy charters, including one for the priory of St. Andrew in Ards or Black Abbey (Cartae Dun. §§4, 5, 7, 420-1, 1183 AD).  They also left their mark on the opposite coastline in the townland of Ballycopeland in the parish of Donaghadee.  Seán Duffy suggests that their seat may have been "the massive motte that overlooks the harbour at Donaghadee" (loc. cit.).  There is also a Copeland Water near Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim. 

The surname is a "habitation name from Copeland in [Cumberland] or Coupland in [Northumberland], both so called from ON kaupland 'bought land', a feature worthy of note during the early Middle Ages, when land was rarely sold, but rather held by feudal tenure and handed down from one generation to the next" (Hanks & Hodges 1988, 122).  Since the members of this family who came to East Ulster with de Courcy are known to be of nobility from Cumberland, it is most likely that the surname originates in this case from the barony of Copeland in Cumberland. 

Our name has been rendered Oileán Chóplainn in Irish (Éire Thuaidh; GÉ).


McKay, P. (2007): A Dictionary of Ulster Place-Names, p. 47; Hannan R. J. (1992): Place-Names of Northern Ireland vol. 2 p. 171; revised PT and MOM 2012.

Additional Information

Historical name form

Old FormRef. DateReference
Kaupmanneyjar1230Hákonar Saga Gamla 194
Copland ylles1567Goghe's Map

(?)Helaine Harr[o]n[e]

1570cEarly Chart B'fast Lough
Conplande Island1570cEarly Chart B'fast Lough
Copmans Iles1570cNowel's Ire. (1)
Coplands Iles1580cSE Ulster Map
Copman Ilands1590Dartmouth Map 5
Copman Iles1590Dartmouth Map 6
Copland [isl?]es1590cJobson's Ulster (TCD)
Copland yles1591Hondius Map
Copland iles1595Mercator's Ulst.
Helayne harrons1595Mercator's Ulst.
Copland ylles1597Goghe's Map
Copman Iles1599Boazio's Map (BM)

Copl' Iland

1603Ex. Inq. (Dn) $2 Jac. I
Coylend Iles1603Bartlett Maps (Esch. Co. Maps) 1
Copland islands1605CPR Jas I 72b
Copman Iles1609cBoazio's Map (NG)
Copland Iles1610Speed's Ireland
Copland Iles1610Speed's Ulster
Copland Isles1610Speed's Antrim & Down
Copland lles1610Speed's Ulster
Hellayne Harrons1610Speed's Antrim & Down
Hellayne Harrons1610Speed's Ulster
Copland Islands1620Ham. Patent [1620] xx
Copland Isles1627CPR Chas I 228
Copeland Islands1630Ham. Patent [1630] xi
Copeland-isles1645Inq. Ult. (Down) $104 Car. I
Coplan Iles1659cCensus 1659 93
Copeland Isles1661BSD 89
Copeland-islands1662Inq. Ult. (Down) $23 Car. II

Copland Isles, ye

1683Descr. Ards 38
Copland Isle1693Collins B'fast Lough
Big-Island1774Harris Hist. 130
Copeland Island1810Wm. Map (OSNB) No. 54
Copeland Island1830cBnd. Sur. (OSNB) No. 54

Copeland Island

1837OSM vii 21-22

Oileán Chóplainn

1988Éire Thuaidh

Oileán Chóplainn


Oileáin Árann "islands of the back or ridge"

1999Dict. Ulst. PN 47

ON Kaupmanneyjar "merchant islands"

1999Dict. Ulst. PN 47
Ards Lower
Parish in 1851
Place name ID
Place name type