County Towns of Ireland

Kenmare, Country Kerry, Ireland
••• Tim Clayton/Corbis/Getty Images

Most tourists will arrive at Dublin Airport and know where to head first - luggage carousel, immigration, car rental. Then off into the wide, green yonder. But, where should you head first when you actually are at (or at least near) your destination, maybe even before checking into your hotel or holiday home?

Well, we'd recommend a stop in the nearest county town. Because ... that's where it's at and where you will find what you need.

In most cases, there's even a McDonald's to keep those pesky kids quiet on the first day.

What Actually Is a County Town

The term "county town" generally refers to a county's administrative center, often actually the largest town in the county. County towns are found all over the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Their special status usually comes from the administrative or judicial institutions that are based in the town, from the local planning office, via social welfare offices, hospitals, courts, and everything between the areas served by the Registrar of Births, Deaths, and Marriages. Over the centuries this will make the town the main town of a county. The center of attention, so to say.

But, in the UK more than in Ireland, the old concept of the county town actually being the seat of the county administration (often in a more or less glamorous "county hall") became diluted. Many a reform dragged the administration into another town, often with civil servants kicking and screaming, and some county towns went back to become a rural backwater.

Simply because the people did not go there anymore...

What You Can Expect to Find in a County Town

Any county town in Ireland will usually have the following:

  • offices of local authorities, and court buildings, most of which are of no interest to the tourist (except maybe from an architectural or historical point of view);
  • tourist information offices (with loads of brochures, and often reservation services);
  • a library (always o good source for information, even in our mega-digital age);
  • a hospital (though this definitely is on the decline, you'll certainly find doctors, dentists, and pharmacies);
  • a station of the Garda Siochana, or Police Service of Northern Ireland;
  • shopping facilities, from Aldi to artisan food, with anything from shoes to books in-between;
  • petrol stations and garages.

So, basically, anything anybody traveling through Ireland would ever need. The county town is your one-stop-place-to-go, as it is for the local population.

A List of the County Towns in Ireland

Without further ado, here are the county towns of Ireland as of 2015:

  • County Antrim - the county town is Antrim;
  • County Armagh - the county town is the City of Armagh;
  • County Carlow - the county town is Carlow;
  • County Cavan - the county town is Cavan;
  • County Clare - the county town is Ennis;
  • County Cork - the county town is Cork City;
  • County Derry - the county town is Coleraine;
  • County Donegal - the county town is Lifford (but both Donegal Town and, to a much larger extent, Letterkenny are local centers);
  • County Down - the county town is Downpatrick;

What About Dublin?

Well, originally, the county town of County Dublin would have been Dublin City - but there is no County Dublin anymore. Instead, the old entity has been split in four:

  • Dublin City;
  • Dún Laoghaire and Rathdown with Dún Laoghaire as "county town";
  • Fingal County with Swords as "county town";
  • South Dublin with Tallaght as "county town".