How does Irish addressing work and what are Postal, Geographic and Preferred Addresses?

Irish Addressing Explained

There is no official address for any location in Ireland.  People living in the same street or townland or even the same house may write their addresses very differently.  In the absence of an official address database for Ireland, we can't say who is right or wrong, so essentially everyone is right (barring obvious errors such as wrong County or Dublin Postal District, etc.). This FAQ describes how addresses are constructed, the differences between Postal, Geographic, and Preferred addresses, and why differences in address formats can elicit an apoplectic "THEY'VE MOVED ME TO NAVAN!!!" response.

How are addresses constructed?

In general, an address follows either a Hierarchical Format or Proximity Format as illustrated in the following examples

   101 Tailteann Close          Staffordstown
   (in) Windtown    (near) Garlow Cross
   (in) Navan    (near) Navan 
   (in) Co. Meath    (in) Co. Meath 

Hierarchical Format is most common for urban addresses, Proximity Format for rural addresses.  Hierarchical addresses are pretty straight-forward, in our example you will find  Tailteann Close if you go to the  Windtown area of  Navan.   Staffordstown however isn't "in" anywhere other than  Co. Meath, so additional address lines are provided to help locate the address. If you go to  Garlow Cross outside  Navan you should be close to  Staffordstown, but it isn't an instruction to go to  Navan first then to  Garlow Cross.  This is just a general rule and addresses can have a mixture of Hierarchy and Proximity, with Proximity often indicating an address is on a road or can be accessed by a road as shown in Examples A and B below:
   101 Saint Patricks Park    101 Summerville Apartments      Dunroamin
   (off) Athboy Road    (on) Convent Road      (in) Fancroft
   (in) Navan    (in) Navan     (near) Roscrea
   (in) Co. Meath    (in) Co. Meath      (in) Co. Offaly

In Example C Fancoft is in Co. Offaly but its nearest town is Roscrea which is in Co. Tipperary.  There are 258 of these "border" towns that appear in addresses and can cause confusion for the unfamiliar as they wonder why the address says Roscrea Co. Offaly when they know Roscrea is in Co. Tipperary. Where people really get confused and start to complain, is if they see a version of their address that unexpectedly uses an additional Proximity element such as Navan in the  following example:
   101 Kilmessan Road    101 Kilmessan Road
   (in) Kilmessan    (in) Kilmessan
   (in) Co. Meath    (via) Navan
   (in) Co. Meath

Navan is included in the address as it is the Post Town through which all mail for Kilmessan is routed.
A common response to this inclusion is an apoplectic "THEY'VE MOVED ME TO NAVAN!!!".   Often this is caused by people being familiar with Hierarchy in an address, but unfamiliar with address elements that do not imply hierarchy.  It isn't exclusive however, as the following unexpected version of an address often yields responses like "I've just found out I've been living in Navan for the last 45 years!".

   Staffordstown          Staffordstown
   (near) Garlow Cross    (near) Garlow Cross
   (in) Co. Meath    (near) Navan 
   (in) Co. Meath 

Businesses and householders in rural Ireland are often acutely aware that the inclusion of an additional Proximity element in an address, e.g.  Navan, can confuse tourists (and even delivery drivers and service engineers), leading to the annoying phone "Ok, I'm in Navan, whereabouts is 101 Kilmessan Road?".

Postal Address

The term “Postal Address” refers to a delivery address as defined by Irish Standard - I.S. EN 14142-1:2011 (Postal services. Address databases), as operated by the Universal Service Provider, An Post. This is the address that is created and assigned by An Post and is what they recommend for the purpose of mail delivery.  An Post delivers over 3 million items a day and relies on mail being accurately sorted to the correct post town, thus they strongly recommend using the Postal Address to avoid delay, misdelivery, or non-delivery of mail.  

Postal addresses may include a post town or county that is not part of the geographic address as it is based on the route mail travels to arrive at the location.  Postal Addresses as supplied in ECAD have the following properties:

  1. Dublin locality names (e.g. Christchurch) have been removed.
    The name of the locality or second thoroughfare is included in the address where it is necessary to distinguish between two or more streets in the same postal district.
  2. Generally contain the Post Town
    For example, the Postal Address for Slane in Meath is  Slane, Navan, Co. Meath rather than just Slane, Co. Meath as Navan is the Post Town for Slane.
  3. Contain the County name of their Post Town
    The example address earlier of  Fancroft, Roscrea, Co. Offaly has a Postal Address of Fancroft, Roscrea, Co. Tipperary.  Approximately 100k postal addresses use a county that is not their geographic county.  
  4. No abbreviations
    Postal Address does not contain any abbreviations and An Post recommends that you use the full spelling when addressing a mail piece, for example, Road not Rd.
  5. They are all UPPER CASE

Postal addresses rarely change, with only one localized change in postal addressing in Ireland in the last thirty years that affected the Post Town of the address.

Geographic Address

This is essentially the Postal Address but the Post Town element is removed if it is only required for Postal purposes and the County is always the geographic County of the address.  Thus  Kilmessan, Navan, Co. Meath has a Geographic Address of Kilmessan, Co. Meath and Fancroft, Roscrea, Co.Tipperary has the Geographic addresses of Fancroft, Roscrea, Co. Offaly.

Preferred Address

The Geographic Address is not derived from the "commonly used" address for a street/townland, and the majority of commonly used addresses are different from their Geographic Address.

This is where a Preferred Address comes in.  We have analyzed the way people actually write their address for every thoroughfare and townland in Ireland and we define the Preferred Address as the way the majority of people write the address.  To give a specific example, here are the ways in which we see addresses that have a Geographic Address (which in this case is the same as the Postal Address) of  Woodlands Road, Glenageary, Co. Dublin.

   101 Saint Patricks Park    101 Summerville Apartments      Dunroamin
   (off) Athboy Road    (on) Convent Road      (in) Fancroft
   (in) Navan    (in) Navan     (near) Roscrea
   (in) Co. Meath    (in) Co. Meath      (in) Co. Offaly
Percentage Address Line 1 Address Line 2 Address Line 3 Address Line 4
75% Woodlands Road Dun Laoghaire  Co. Dublin
22% Woodlands Road Cabinteely Dublin 18
3% Woodlands Road Rochestown Avenue Dun Laoghaire Co. Dublin
0% Woodlands Road Glenageary Co. Dublin

Nobody uses the Geographic/Postal address of  Woodlands Road, Glenageary, Co. Dublin, and we define the Preferred address as Woodlands Road, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin as this is how it is written 75% of the time.  The other address formats are included in our alias database so we can accurately match addresses.

We leave the choice of which address format to choose to our customers, the vast majority choose their Preferred Address, and a minority choose either Geographic or Postal.

Addresses are part of our sense of place and help us identify with our local area, GAA club, etc. and any attempts to modify addresses are met with fierce resistance.  Thankfully since the launch of Eircode, we have a simple method of determining the exact location of an address without requiring a standardised address database that would lead to wholesale changes to Ireland addresses.