Posted by: wesleyjohnston | June 29, 2013

I name this junction….. the use of names on Northern Ireland motorways

Traffic is slow on the M2 from Sandyknowes to York Street, and on the M1 from Sprucefield to Stockman’s Lane” – familiar words to anyone who listens to the traffic news on a weekday morning in the Belfast area.

What is not so obvious to those who live here and are used to it is that Northern Ireland is peculiar in the United Kingdom in almost completely ignoring motorway junction numbers. While English traffic reporters are used to referring to stretches of English motorways by junction numbers, it is very rare over here.

When is the last time you heard “Traffic is slow on the M2 from junction 4 to junction 1A and on the M1 from junction 7 to junction 2”? How many people would even know what that meant?

We even use names for places between junctions! The traffic news routinely refers to traffic levels at “Ballyskeagh”, which refers to a point on the M1 roughly half way between Saintfield Road roundabout in Lisburn and Black’s Road in Belfast. There is no junction here.

Placenames and Irish History

Those who have spent any time in Ireland know that placenames are extremely important, both culturally and in everyday life. Ireland is almost unique in the world in being divided up into around 60,000 individually named, farm-sized parcels of land known as townlands. Townlands go back centuries so the vast majority of townland names have their origin in the Irish language. There are no townlands in Great Britain – it is something unique to Ireland.

The existence of townlands means that any part of the countryside can be readily identified by a name. Most rural road names are actually borrowed townland names, applied to hitherto nameless roads by the Post Office in all but Fermanagh in the 1980s. Despite the risk that they were falling out of use, many efforts in recent years have been made to preserve them, for example by putting townland names beside road names on signs.

In any case, it serves to highlight that there is a centuries-old practice in Ireland that we refer to places by name, and this is something that has been carried through into the motorway era. While Northern Ireland’s motorways (built mostly between 1962 and 1975) have junction numbers, just as they do in Great Britain, we have generally adopted a name for each one and use it in almost universal preference to the number. These names have not developed by accident from casual use, but have generally been officially endowed by the road’s designers.

Origin of Junction Names

What is fascinating is where each name came from. Some are townland names, but others are references to nearby settlements. Still others are the names of roads that the motorway joins at that location. A couple are even references to old houses. Below is a list of all the “official” junction names on the Northern Ireland motorway network, along with the source of the name.

Broadway j1 Road name
Stockman’s Lane j2 Road name
Black’s Road j3 Road name
Saintfield Road j6 Road name
Sprucefield j7 Nearby house
Blaris j8 Townland
Moira j9 Nearby town
Lurgan j10 Nearby town
Ballynacor j11 Townland
The Birches j12 Other local placename
Derryhubbert j13 Townland
Tamnamore j14 Townland
Stangmore j15 Townland
York Street j1A Road name
Duncrue Street j1B Road name
Fortwilliam j1 Other local placename
Greencastle j2 Townland
Sandyknowes j4 Nearby house
Templepatrick j5 Nearby town
Rathbeg j6 Townland
Crosskennan j7 Townland
Dunsilly M22 j1 Townland
Larne Road j10 Road name
Broughshane Road j11 Road name
Teeshan j12 Townland
Ballygrooby j2 Townland
Artresnahan j3 Townland
Middlepath Street j1A Road name
Rushpark Other local placename
Carn j2 Townland
Corr’s Corner Other local placename

The distribution of each name origin is shown graphically on this map:

Origins of junction names on Northern Ireland motorways


Townland names are, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most common origin for junction names with 13 junctions having this source. They do tend to be limited to rural areas outside towns and cities, perhaps due to a lack of any alternative name. The only exception is Greencastle on the M2 in north Belfast. However, this is also a local ‘suburb’ name as well as a townland name so is perhaps not a good example of a townland.

In some cases the names make little sense. Despite being known officially as Crosskennan, junction 7 of the M2 is not in the townland of Crosskennan at all, but in the nearby townland of Bush. I do not have any explanation for this. In others, the junction lies in two or even three townlands, so the name is somewhat arbitrary. Teeshan junction (M2 junction 12) lies in both Teeshan and Leymore townlands, while Ballygrooby (M22 junction 2) lies not only in Ballygrooby, but also Shane’s Castle Park and Maghereagh townlands.

Road names are the second most common origin, accounting for 9 junctions. Unlike the townland names, these all lie in the greater Belfast and Lisburn areas. While these roads were sometimes key arterial roads before the motorway came along (for example Saintfield Road Lisburn – M1 j6 – or York Street – M2 j1A), in other cases the roads were relatively minor until the motorway pushed them into the limelight. Neither Stockman’s Lane, Black’s Road or Broadway were especially significant roads before the motorway junctions were built on top of them.

Other local placenames are the third most common, accounting for 4 junction names. These are typically names that are “like” townlands in that they refer to a locality, but the name is more recent historically. For example, The Birches (M1 junction 12) and Fortwilliam (M2 junction 1) are names that would likely have developed and been applied in the post-Plantation period of Irish history.

Nearby towns, perhaps surprisingly, account for only 3 junction names – Lurgan, Moira and Templepatrick. These are very logical and practical names. But given that most other junctions on the M1 west of Lisburn are named after townlands, it is slightly surprising that the motorway planners chose to use the town names. For interest, if these three junctions had been given townland names they would be called Drumnakelly, Ballycanal (or Derrydrummult) and Ballymartin respectively.

Nearby houses are the most unusual, accounting for just two junction names – Sprucefield (M1 junction 7) and Sandyknowes (M2 junction 4). In the nineteenth century gentlemen typically lived in a large house out of the city, and their houses almost always had names. (A number of well-known Belfast placenames have their origins as house names, eg Ormeau, Ravenhill and Mountpottinger). Neither of the two houses exist any more. Sprucefield was situated on the Ravernet Road, to the south-east of the modern junction, while Sandyknowes was situated almost precisely where the roundabout is today. (While there was a house called Fortwilliam in north Belfast in the 19th century, this became an area name long before the motorway came along, so I count this one under ‘other local placename’).

The almost universal use of names instead of junction numbers may be confusing to people not familiar with the local area, but it does continue the wonderful Irish tradition of naming our landscape. Long may it continue!



  1. Junctions and bridges on the Dutch motorway network are named: Knooppunt Deil, Leenderheide, Zaarderheiken are all junctions. “De Brug bij Ewijk” is the Waal crossing on the A50. And look here how the bridge is going to doubled. The Netherlands is in the grip of 21st century infrastructure building, not just for cyclists:

  2. Brilliant research Wesley! A wee suggestion – could you put the actual junction numbers together with the list above, so tourists and folks from outside Belfast can understand what they’re talking about on the traffic news?

  3. Great research and meticulous as always Wesley!

  4. Crosskennan junction (J7): maybe this was named after nearby Crosskennan ROAD, not Crosskennan Townland?

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