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Provinces of Ireland

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Title: Provinces of Ireland  
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Subject: County Cork, County Donegal, County Meath, Ulster, County Londonderry
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Provinces of Ireland

Ireland has historically been divided into four provinces: Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Ulster. The Irish word for this territorial division, cúige, literally meaning "fifth part", indicates that there were once five; the fifth province, Meath, was incorporated into Leinster, with parts going to Ulster. The provinces of Ireland serve no administrative or political purposes, but function as historical and cultural entities.


The origins of these provinces (loosely federated kingdoms with somewhat flexible boundaries), of which there were five before the Norman invasion, can be traced to the over-riding influence exerted in their respective territories by the great Irish dynastic families of Uí Néill/O'Neill (Ulster), Uí Máeilsheáchlainn/O'Melaghlin (Mide), Uí Briain/O'Brien (Munster), Uí Conchobhair/O'Conor (Connacht) and Mac Murchadha-Caomhánach/MacMurrough-Kavanagh (Leinster). A "king of over-kings", a rí ruirech was often a provincial (rí cóicid) or semi-provincial king to whom several ruiri were subordinate. Entities belonging to the 1st and 2nd millennia are listed. These do not all belong to the same periods. Over the centuries, the number of provincial kings varied between three and six. No more than six genuine rí ruirech were ever contemporary, with the average being three or four. Also, following the Norman invasion, the situation became somewhat more condensed and complicated than previously. The Norman invasion began in 1169, and the Normans went on to occupy Ireland until 1541.

Post-Norman invasion

In the post-Norman period the historic provinces of Leinster and Meath gradually merged, mainly due to the impact of the Pale, which straddled both, thereby forming the present-day province of Leinster. In the Irish Annals these five ancient political divisions were invariably referred to as cúigí ("fifths") such as the fifth of Munster, the fifth of Ulster and so on. Later record-makers dubbed them provinces, in imitation of the Roman imperial provinciae.

In modern times they have become associated with groups of counties, although they have no legal status. They are today seen mainly in a sporting context, as Ireland's four professional rugby teams play under the names of the provinces, and the Gaelic Athletic Association has separate GAA provincial councils and Provincial championships.

The provinces were supplanted by the present system of counties after the Norman invasion. During the Tudor conquest, and for about a century after, provincial Presidencies existed in Connacht and Munster, serving a primarily military role.

Six of the nine Ulster counties form modern-day Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is sometimes called a province of the United Kingdom. These two inconsistent usages of the word "province" (along with the use of the term "Ulster" to describe Northern Ireland) can cause confusion.

Provincial Flags and Arms

Each Province is today represented by its own unique arms and flag, these are joined together to represent various All Ireland sports teams and organisations via the Four Provinces Flag of Ireland and a four province Crest of Ireland, examples include the Ireland national field hockey team, Ireland Curling team, Ireland national rugby league team, Ireland national rugby union team and Irish Amateur Boxing Association.
Four Provinces Location map with Emblems

Demographics and politics

Province Flag Irish name Population (2011) Area (km²) GDP (euro) (2012) GDP per capita (euro) (2012) Density Number of
Chief city
Leinster Laighin
Cúige Laighean
2,504,814 19,800 100 bn 40,000 126.5 12 Dublin
Ulster Ulaidh
Cúige Uladh
2,106,296‡ 21,882 50 bn 23,000 96.3 9 Belfast
Munster Mumhain
Cúige Mumhan
1,246,088 24,675 50 bn 40,000 50.5 6 Cork
Connacht Connachta
Cúige Chonnacht
542,547 17,788 15 bn 30,000 30.5 5 Galway
Note 1: "Number of Counties" is traditional counties, not administrative ones.
Note 2: Population for Ulster is the sum of the 2011 census results for counties of Ulster in Republic of Ireland and the 2011 census results for Northern Ireland.[1] Population for other provinces is all 2011 census results.

Poetic description

This dinnseanchas poem named Ard Ruide (Ruide Headland) poetically describes the kingdoms of Ireland. Below is a translation from Old Irish:

See also


  1. ^ Northern Ireland CSO, Northern Ireland Census Results 2011
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