The counties of Ireland
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How the counties of Ireland were created
The counties of Ireland were created between the late 12th century, when the Anglo Normans invaded, and the early 17th century, and tend to follow the ancient lines drawn between powerful clan families.
Dublin was the first county to be set up with a sheriff empowered with legal, military and administrative controls. From that point, the process of creating the counties of Ireland spread out mainly eastwards and did not reach the north until the early 1600s.
Antrim and Down were the first Ulster counties created, with the rest remaining 'un-shired' until about 1585.
It was Wicklow, however, that in 1606 became the very last of the counties of Ireland to be formed.
Some of the names of the counties of Ireland have changed over the years. You may well encounter these alternative names when you are looking at historical and genealogical documents.
You may come across:
Use the Quick Links above for details of the counties of Ireland beginning with letters F to Z,
In Irish, the county is called Aon troim, meaning Solitary place. It is not so solitary these days, with a population density of 199/km2, second only to Dublin. Its spectacular Causeway Coast, a UNESCO Heritage Site, is a stawart of the Irish tourism industry.
It is situated in the province of Ulster and is part of Northern Ireland (UK). In land area, it is the 9th largest of the thirty-two traditional counties of Ireland but it is second only to County Dublin in terms of size of population. Its main towns are Antrim, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Belfast, Carrickfergus and Lisburn, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Giant's Causeway, is on its north coast. There are two nicknames for folks from Antrim (both usually restricted to sporting references): the Glensmen and the Saffrons.
Antrim's most common surnames in 1890 were Smith, Johnston, Stewart, Wilson, Thompson, O·Neill, Campbell, Moore, Bell, Robinson, Millar, Brown, Boyd, Scott and Graham.
Griffith's Valuation was carried out in Antrim in 1861.
In Irish, the county is called Árd Mhacha, meaning Macha's Hill.
It is situated in the province of Ulster and is part of Northern Ireland (UK). Its main centres of population are Armagh, Lurgan and Portadown and it is known as both the Orchard County and the Cathedral County, the latter on account of it having two magnificent cathedrals, both called St Patrick's, facing one another on rival hilltops in Armagh City. One is Protestant, the other Roman Catholic.
Surnames associated with Armagh, based on 1890 records, include Murphy, Hughes, Wilson, Campbell, O'Hare, Smith, McCann and Donnelly.
Armagh was the last of the counties of Ireland to be surveyed by Richard Griffith (in 1864) for his Primary Valuation.
You may see Carlow referred to as Caterlaugh or Caterlagh on some antique maps.
Just outside Carlow Town is Browne's Hill Dolmen, a 5,000-year-old portal tomb that has the biggest capstone in Europe, weighing in at over 100 tons. This is the reason for yet another nickname: the Dolmen County.
Surnames associated with County Carlow, based on 1890 records, include Murphy, Byrne, Doyle, Nolan and Neill.
Griffith's Valuation was carried out in Carlow in 1852-3.
In Irish, the county is called Cabhán, meaning a Hollow. The source of the River Shannon and a good scattering of lakes lie within its landlocked borders. Although in the province of Ulster, Cavan is one of the three counties of Ireland (the others are Donegal and Monaghan) separated from the rest of its province since 1921 when the island was split between Northern Ireland (UK) and the Republic. Cavan is in the Republic and its inhabitants are known by the sporting nickname of the Blues Brothers. The county is also referred to as the Lakes County.
The main settlement in this sparsely populated county is Cavan town, once the stronghold of the O'Reillys who ruled the ancient kingdom of East Breffni.
Based on 1890 records, the most common surnames in County Cavan include Reilly, Smith, Brady, Lynch, McCabe, Clarke, Farrelly, Maguire, Sheridan and Galligan.
Griffith's Valuation was carried out in Cavan in 1856-7.
In Irish, the county is called Clar, meaning a level piece of land). Clare is one of the west coast counties of Ireland and is in the province of Munster. Its main town is Ennis, a popular destination for tourists hoping to catch an Irish music session.
The county had a population of just over 100,000 in 2002, less than two-fifths what it was in 1831.
Among its outstanding geological features are the Burren, Europe's largest area of limestone pavement, and the Cliffs of Moher. The latter is one of the main tourist attractions of Ireland and many visitors rent Irish cottages on a self-catering basis for a week or two to fully explore one of the most unusual and evocative counties of Ireland.
It is known as the Banner County, on account of the banners displayed at Daniel O'Connell's so-called Monster Meetings in Clare in support of Catholic Emancipation in 1828.
Surnames associated with County Clare, based on 1890 records, include McMahon, McNamara, Moloney, O'Brien, McInerney, Kelly, Keane, Murphy, Griffin, Halloran and Ryan.
Griffith's Valuation was carried out in Clare in 1855.
In Irish, the county is called Corcaigh, meaning Marsh. Located in the far south west of the island, it is the largest of all the counties of Ireland, both north and south, and is in the province of Munster. Its nickname is the Rebel County (due to its history of fighting for independence) and its red and white checkered flag is known as the Blood and Bandage. Folk from Cork City, which sits on the River Lee, are known as Leesiders.
The county town is Cork and it was from its port that many hundreds of emigrants set sail for America. The port was recorded as Queenstown on ship manifestos but is now known as Cobh (pronounced Cove).
Surnames associated with County Cork, based on 1890 records, include Sullivan, Murphy, McCarthy, Mahoney, Donovan, Walsh, O'Brien, Callaghan, Leary, Crowley, Collins, Driscoll, Connell, Barry, Cronin, Buckley, and Daly.
Richard Griffiths carried out his Valuation survey in 1851-53.
In Irish, the county is called Doire, meaning Oak Wood, and explains why Derry is known as the Oak-leaf County. It is also known as Londonderry. The terms, for both the county and its main town, are interchangeable. It used to be known as County Coleraine.
Derry is in the province of Ulster and is part of Northern Ireland (UK). Among its principal towns are Derry/Londonderry (whose encircling walls were built in 1613), Coleraine, Magherafelt and Ballymoney. Magilligan Strand is Ireland's longest beach (10km/6m).
The county's most common surnames, based on 1890 records, include Doherty, McLaughlin, Kelly, Bradley, Brown, McCloskey, Campbell, Mullan, Smith, O'Neill and Kane.
Derry was surveyed by Richard Griffith for his valuation in 1858-9.
In Irish, the county is called Dún na nGall, meaning Fortress of the foreigners. It is one of the three Ulster province counties within the Republic and its principal town is Letterkenny. Inishtrahull Island, 7km from the mainland, is the most northerly point of Ireland. Donegal has two nicknames: O'Donnell County, in reference to the region's medieval lords, and the Forgotten County, on account of its remoteness from the rest of the Republic. People from Donegal are sometimes referred to as Herring Gutters.
Donegal is famous as the home of Irish tweed, and its westerly regions are part of the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking areas).
Surnames associated with County Donegal, based on 1890 records, include Gallagher, Doherty, Boyle, O'Donnell, McLaughlin, Sweeney, Ward, Kelly, McGinely, McFadden, McGowan, Duffy and Campbell.
Griffith's Valuation was carried out in 1857.
If you've got Donegal ancestors, be sure to check out Donegal Genealogy, a free website run by Lindel Buckley and full to the brim with links to Donegal sources.
Although many counties of Ireland have associations with St Patrick, Down has the deepest connections with the saint as this was where he landed in AD432 and first preached to the locals. It is known as the Mourne County, in reference to the stirring scenery of the Mourne Mountains.
The county's most frequently occuring surnames, according to an 1890 survey, were Thompson, Smith, Campbell, Patterson, Martin, Wilson, Graham, Johnston and Murray .
Richard Griffith surveyed Down for his Valuation in 1863-4.
Dublin is in the province of Leinster and home to the sprawling capital city where more than a quarter of the Republic's population now lives. The city that was to become this capital was first settled by Celts in AD140 and became a Viking base in AD860. The former settlement was known as Ath Cliath, meaning Hurdle Ford; this is the Irish language name for the city. The Viking settlement was known as An Dubh Linn, meaning Black Pool of water; the anglicised version of this name is Dublin.
The city was made the island's capital by the invading Anglo-Normans in 1204. Together with some surrounding land, it was long known as the Pale (this is where the phrase 'beyond the pale' originates). Today the city is the main point of arrival for visitors on the ferries from Wales and England. The Republic's main airport lies to the north of the city.
Dubliners have a number of nicknames, among them the Dubs, the Metropolitans, the Jacks, the Liffeysiders and (not so politely) the Jackeens.
Surnames associated with County Dublin, based on 1890 records, include Byrne, Kelly, Doyle, Murphy, Smith, O'Brien, Kavanagh, Dunne, O'Neill, Rieilly, NOlan, Connor, Walsh and Farrell.
In 1848-51, County Dublin became the first of the counties of Ireland to be surveyed by Richard Griffith for his Valuation.