Provinces of Ireland
Flag of Provinces, Ireland
Four Provinces flag
Map
Ireland consists of four provinces
1. Leinster (bottom-right in flag)
2. Munster (top-right in flag)
3. Connacht (bottom-left in flag)
4. Ulster (top-left in flag)

When under Gaelic rule, Ireland was divided into provinces to replace the earlier system of the tuatha.

The four provinces are:

  1. Leinster (Population - 2,105,579) (Largest city - Dublin)
  2. Munster (Population - 1,100,614) (Largest city - Cork)
  3. Connacht (Population - 464,296) (Largest city - Galway)
  4. Ulster (Population - 1,931,981) (Largest city - Belfast)

Originally there were five provinces but over the course of time the smallest one, Meath, was absorbed into Leinster. These provinces began as little more than loosely federated kingdoms with somewhat flexible boundaries, but in modern times they have become associated with groups of specific counties though they have no legal status. They are today seen 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 provincial championships.

The provinces were supplanted by the present system of counties after the Norman occupation in the twelfth century. The Irish word for province, "cúige", means "portion" and/or "fifth", reflecting the original division.

Six of the nine Ulster counties form modern-day Northern Ireland, which remains a part of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland is therefore a province of the United Kingdom, and is usually referred to as such, especially by Unionists. These two usages of the word "province" in Ireland are often confused.

Poetic description

This dinnseanchas poem named Ard Ruide ("Ruide Headland") poetically describes the kingdoms of Ireland.[1] Below is a translation from Old Irish:

Connacht in the west is the kingdom of learning, the seat of the greatest and wisest druids and magicians; the men of Connacht are famed for their eloquence, their handsomeness and their ability to pronounce true judgement.

Ulster in the north is the seat of battle valour, of haughtiness, strife, boasting; the men of Ulster are the fiercest warriors of all Ireland, and the queens and goddesses of Ulster are associated with battle and death.

Leinster, the eastern kingdom, is the seat of prosperity, hospitality, the importing of rich foreign wares like silk or wine; the men of Leinster are noble in speech and their women are exceptionally beautiful.

Munster in the south is the kingdom of music and the arts, of harpers, of skilled ficheall players and of skilled horsemen. The fairs of Munster were the greatest in all Ireland.

The last kingdom, Meath, is the kingdom of Kingship, of stewardship, of bounty in government; in Meath lies Tara, the traditional seat of the High King of all Ireland. The ancient earthwork of Tara is called Rath na Ríthe.

See also