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Provinces & Counties

The Four Provinces:

The four historical Irish provinces are not administrative divisions, and never were. Nowadays, though, they are sometimes used as convenient divisions of the country. From about the middle of the 17th century, coats of arms were attributed to the provinces. Flags representing the four provinces are now widely used, but there seems to be no evidence of their existence before the 20th century. There also exists the "Four Provinces Flag," which occasionally appears as a kind of substitute national flag. It consists of a flag composed of four quarters with the four provincial flags. The four provinces of Ireland are divided into a total of 32 counties, 26 which are part of the Republic of Ireland and 6 which make up Northern Ireland.


Munster (Mumu) contains the present-day counties of Clare, Tipperary, Limerick, Waterford, Kerry, and Cork. In ancient times, it had no clearly defined capital, perhaps because control of the province was not associated with strong dynastic rules as in Ulster.

Munster is the southwest of Ireland and the home Cork, the largest county in Ireland and second largest city in the Republic, Cork City, which is over 800 years old.

Some of the legendary persons or groups associated with this province are Fionn mac Cumhal and his Fianna, and King Cormac mac Art (or Aert), an historical figure.

The "three crowns" was a common symbol throughout medieval Europe, connected with the story of the three wise men/kings in the New Testament Gospel of St Matthew. It was a symbol of the English lordship of Ireland until replaced by the harp during the reign of Henry VIII.

Connacht (Connaught):

Connacht (Connachta) contains the present-day counties of Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, and Galway. The influence of Connacht's kings and of later Norman lords has left this the most Gaelic and Norman part of Ireland. Situated in the northwest, the area is 17,120 sq km (6,610 sq mi).

In ancient times, the province was a pre-Celtic domain. Gaelic rule was established about AD 150, and Connaught became one of the five Irish kingdoms. Its rulers were the O'Connors, the most notable of whom was Turloch O'Connor. The O'Connors were almost exterminated at the Battle of Athenry and fought against the English in 1316.

The ancient capital was Crúachu (Crúachan, present day Rathcroghan in Co. Roscommon). A few of the legendary persons or groups associated with this province are King Ailill and Queen Medb, and Findabair (Gwenivere), who was the daughter of Ailill and Medb. Near present-day Sligo Town is Knocknarea (the legendary burial place of Medb), Benbulben, and Drumkill. In the Ulster Cycle, Connacht is the enemy of the Ulaid, but this may obscure the probable historical conflict between Mide under the Uí Néill and Ulaid. Medb is said to be the daughter of the king of Temuir.

In the 15th century the title to Connaught passed to the English crown. In 1590 Connaught was divided into six counties, one of which, county Clare, was later placed within the province of Munster.


Leinster (Lagin) , a traditional province in southeastern Ireland, incorporates the areas of the ancient kingdoms of Leinster and Meath. It has an area of 19,632 sq km (7,580 sq mi). It contains the present-day counties of Louth, Meath, Westmeath, Longford, Dublin, Kildare, Offaly, Laois, Wicklow, Kilkenny, Carlow, and Wexford. In ancient times, like Munster, it had no clearly defined capital and did not include Meath or Westmeath. Leinster also shares the Fionn Cycle with Munster. In Co. Kildare, near Naas, is the Hill of Allen. This large hill protruding above the surrounding bog, legend has it, was the site of the camp of Finn and the Fianna.

Leinster was the most powerful of the ancient Irish kingdoms until the 11th century. A dispute over the kingship of Leinster was the occasion for the first English invasion of Ireland in the 12th century, and in the later medieval period, Leinster--particularly the area around Dublin, known as the Pale--was the only part of the country effectively under English control.


Ulster (Ulaid), presently contains the counties of Donegal, Derry, Antrim, Tyrone, Down, Fermanagh, Monaghan, Armagh, and Cavan. (Cavan, Monaghan, and Donegal are in the Republic; the rest constitute Northern Ireland.) In ancient times, the extension of Ulster was determined more by the presence of the Ulaid (i.e., the people of Ulster) than any geographical boundaries; this observation applies, of course, to all the geographical divisions of Ireland in ancient times.. Louth, Monaghan, Armagh, and Down were all certainly part of ancient Ulster; as one moves away from this area, the identification becomes more and more vague. The ancient capital was Emuin Machae (var. Emain Macha), which was located near the town of Armagh (approximately two miles west of the town at Navan Fort). The term "capital" does not mean an administrative or legislative center; rather it was the more-or-less permanent site of the royal residence.

Among the legendary persons or groups most prominently associated with Ulster are King Conchubur (var. Conchobar, Conor mac Nessa), Cú Chulaind (var. Cú Chulainn), the important warriors Conall Cernach and Loegaire Buadach, the troublemaker Bricriu Nemthenga (Bricriu of the poisonous tongue), a one-time king of Ulster, Fergus (the name means manly force), who resigned in favor of his wife's (Ness) son (Conchobar). Fergus also was a foster father of Cú Chulaind.

Here's a few counties to take a look at:

Armagh |  Cork |  Dublin |  Galway |  Roscommon |  Sligo |  Wicklow