Nine Counties in Ireland's North: The Province of Ulster

A short survey of Ireland's Northernmost province

Ireland's northernmost province of Ulster (in Ulster-Scots "Ulstèr", in Irish "Cúige Uladh", literally translated "the Fifth of the Uladh", referring to the ancient five provinces of Ireland) consists of nine counties, only six of which form Northern Ireland. Let us just stress again that Ulster is not the same as Northern Ireland, though Ulster is definitely Ireland's North. Geographically, however, the county really encompassing the ultimate northern points of Ireland ... politically belongs to "the South" (the Republic of Ireland).

  • 01 of 10

    The Province in the North of Ireland (Ulster) Is Not Northern Ireland

    Cultra Halt Railway Station, Ulster
    ••• nick macneill/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-2.0

    Ulster encompasses the counties of Antrim, Armagh, Cavan, Derry, Donegal, Down, Fermanagh, Monaghan and Tyrone. Since 1921 Antrim, Armagh, Derry (Londonderry), Down, Fermanagh, and Tyrone are Northern Ireland, they do only exist in a historical context (Northern Ireland has, over the years, been divided into smaller districts). Cavan, Donegal, and Monaghan stayed within (or defected to, it is confusing) the Free State and later Republic. All nine counties together make up the north of Ireland, geographically, but only six make up Northern Ireland. Let us now have a look at those nine counties.

  • 02 of 10
    County Antrim on the Map
    ••• © Bernd Biege 2014

    Antrim (in Irish "Aontroim", in Ulster-Scots "Coonty Entrim") is one of the Northern Irish "Six Counties" and part of the United Kingdom, sized around 2,838 square kilometers it has around 675,000 inhabitants.

    The old county town was Belfast City. In GAA circles players from Antrim are called "the Glensmen" (referencing the idyllic Glens of Antrim), the name "the Saffrons" (referencing the county colors) is also quite common.

  • 03 of 10
    County Armagh on the Map
    ••• © Bernd Biege 2014

    Armagh (in Irish Ard Mhacha) is one of the British "Six Counties" and part of the United Kingdom. Stretching over 1,254 square kilometers it is home to around 120,000 inhabitants. The county town of Armagh used to be the City of Armagh, the "Cathedral City".

    The name Armagh references the "hills of Macha", a mythological goddess or queen that plays a major part in the early Irish epics. Nicknames for Armagh are the slightly disingenuous "Cathedral County" and the better "Orchard County" - the latter deriving from the apple and pear production in the county. South Armagh was also known as "Bandit Country", mainly due to the strong cross-border activity of nationalist paramilitaries.​

  • 04 of 10
    County Cavan on the Map
    ••• © Bernd Biege 2014

    Cavan is one of the three Ulster counties belonging to the Republic of Ireland. Malevolent outsiders are likely to refer to Cavan as the "Mean Shite County" (the cost-saving efforts of the locals are the stuff of legends and many a joke).

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    County Derry - or Londonderry, Names Are Important Here

    County Derry on the Map
    ••• © Bernd Biege 2014

    Derry (in Irish "Doire", in British-English "Londonderry", in Ulster-Scots "Lunnonderrie") is part of Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. 2,108 square kilometers in size with around 200,000 inhabitants. The original name "Derry" stands for an oak forest, explaining the nickname of the county - "the Oak-Leaf County" (the county arms sport an oak leaf). The addition "London-" was brought in to honor the investment made by the city in the plantation era (and is thus only in current use in unionist circles).

    Derry (or Londonderry, if you prefer), famed for its walls, used to be the county town. As politically correct parlance demanded the unwieldy "Derry/Londonderry" (in radio: "Derry-stroke-Londonderry"), a local DJ suggested shortening the whole affair to "Stroke City" and be done with it.

  • 06 of 10
    County Donegal on the Map
    ••• © Bernd Biege 2014

    Donegal is the northernmost county in the Republic, and extends further north than Northern Ireland, sprawling over an area of 4,830 square kilometers. Where you find a National Park and Saint Patrick's Purgatory.

  • 07 of 10

    County Down - Majestic Mountains and a Long Lough

    County Down on the Map
    ••• © Bernd Biege 2014

    Down (in Irish An Dún oder An Dúin) is one of the "Six Counties" in Ulster, belonging to Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. 2,466 square kilometers in size with around 65,000 inhabitants.

    The Irish name simply means "the fort". Nicknames are "Mourne County" (the Mourne Mountains dominate the south of the county), while Hurlers from Down are called "the Ardsmen" (with the Ards peninsula apparently bringing forth most of the hurling talent).

  • 08 of 10

    County Fermanagh - the Lakelands, Full of Castles

    County Fermanagh on the Map
    ••• © Bernd Biege 2014

    Fermanagh (in Irish "Fear Manach", in Ulster-Scots "Coontie Fermanay") is part of Northern Irish Ulster and the United Kingdom. Around 57,500 inhabitants live on 1,852 square kilometers. Enniskillen used to be the county town.

    The name of the county references "the men of Manach", Fermanagh's nicknames are auch als "Maguire County" (referencing the once ruling family), "Lakeland", "Lake County" oder "Erne County".

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10
    County Monaghan on the Map
    ••• © Bernd Biege 2014

    County Monaghan is the last of the three counties in the province of Ulster that are actually part of the Republic of Ireland. It is mainly known for being the home of Patrick Kavanagh, one of Ireland's most beloved poets.

  • 10 of 10

    County Tyrone - Right in the Middle

    County Tyrone on the Map
    ••• © Bernd Biege 2014

    Tyrone (in Irish "Tír Eoghain", in Ulster-Scots "Coontie Owenslann") is one of the six Northern Irish counties and thus part of the United Kingdom. With a size of 3,263 square kilometers and around 150,000 inhabitants, it nestles around the former county town of Omagh.

    The county name denotes the "land of Eoghan" (or "land of Owen"), the possessions of an Irish princeling of the semi-mythological era. Referencing more recent rulers and their daring deeds, Tyrone is also known as "O'Neill County" or "Red Hand County".