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Counties of Northern Ireland facts for kids

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Counties of Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland - Counties.png
Category Former local government
Location Northern Ireland
Number Six
Populations 61,170 (Fermanagh) – 618,108 (Antrim)
Areas 1,176 square miles (3,050 km2) (Armagh) – 3,263 square miles (8,450 km2) (Tyrone)
Government Grand jury (to 1898) / County council (1899–1973)
Subdivisions County district (borough / urban district, rural district)

Northern Ireland is divided into six counties, namely: Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone. Six largely rural administrative counties based on these were among the eight primary local government areas of Northern Ireland from its 1921 creation until 1973. The other two local government areas were the urban county boroughs of Derry (geographically part of the County of Londonderry) and Belfast (geographically split between the counties of Antrim and Down).

The six counties date from the Kingdom of Ireland; five were created between 1570 and 1591 in the Tudor conquest of Ireland, while county Londonderry dates from 1613 and the Plantation of Ulster. The total number of counties in the island of Ireland is 32, with Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland often respectively called "the Six Counties" and "the Twenty-Six Counties", especially by Irish nationalists opposed to the partition of Ireland. The 1898–1973 administrative counties were subdivided into county districts. The two-tier county/district system was replaced with a single-tier of "districts", numbering 26 in 1973 and rationalised into 11 in 2015. The areas corresponding to the six counties and two county boroughs remain in use for some administrative purposes, and the six historic counties retain a popular identity.

The counties

County County town First created Population (2011) Notes
Antrim Antrim Early 14th century 618,108 Modern boundaries formed in 1605.
Armagh Armagh 1584 174,792
Down Downpatrick Early 14th century 531,665 Modern boundaries formed in 1605.
Fermanagh Enniskillen 1584 61,170 Based on the territory of the Maguires.
Londonderry Coleraine 1613 247,132 Merging of County Coleraine (also spelt as Colerain), and the baronies of Loughinsholin, North East Liberties of Coleraine, and the North-West Liberties of Londonderry.
Tyrone Omagh 1584 177,986 Based on the Irish kingdom of Tír Eoghain, with its north-eastern part (barony of Loughinsholin) being merged with County Londonderry in 1613.

Background of the counties

The English administration in Ireland in the years following the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland created counties as the major subdivisions of an Irish province. This process lasted a period from the 13th to 17th centuries, however the number and shape of the counties that would form the future Northern Ireland would not be defined until the Flight of the Earls allowed the shiring of Ulster from 1604.

Though the present-day counties of Northern Ireland were planned in the early 16th century, some had already existed in one form or another beforehand although their boundaries would be adjusted. Each county would have an associated county town, with county courts of Quarter Sessions and Assizes.


The counties of Antrim and Down have their origins in the Norman Earldom of Ulster which was based on John de Courcy's conquest of Ulaid. Between the late 13th and early 14th centuries it was organised into administrative shires based around centres of Norman power such as Antrim, Carrickfergus, and Newtownards.

The Bruce invasion (1315–18) saw the devastation of the Earldom of Ulster and its overlordship over the neighbouring Gaelic districts. With the murder of the last de Burgh earl in 1333, the resulting Gaelic recovery eroded the earldoms territory until by the 15th century only the areas of Carrickfergus and coastal enclaves in Down remained.

It was not until the reign of Queen Elizabeth I that Ulster would be shired into more counties, based largely on the boundaries of existing lordships. In 1584, Lord Deputy of Ireland Sir John Perrott created the following counties in what is now Northern Ireland: Armagh; Coleraine; Fermanagh; and Tyrone. Carrickfergus would retain its status as a county town until 1777 when it was merged with County Antrim.


Each county was divided into a number of baronies, a midway between a county and a parish. Baronies are now obsolete administrative units, partially derived from the territory of an Irish chieftain. By the time the process of turning local Irish kingdoms into baronies occurred throughout the whole of Ulster by the early 17th century as part of the Plantation of Ulster, it was already being used for taxation and administrative purposes.

Baronies were used for many records from the 17th to 19th centuries such as: the Civil Survey; Petty's Down Survey; the Books of Survey and Distribution; the 19th century valuation books and census returns. The Grand Jury representment system would also be based on the barony.

Lieutenancy areas

Like the rest of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland is divided into lieutenancy areas (see map on right). These are areas that have an appointed Lord Lieutenant—the representative of the British monarch. Northern Ireland has eight lieutenancy areas: Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Tyrone, County of Londonderry, City of Londonderry, and City of Belfast. These are contiguous with the former six counties and two county boroughs, established by the 1898 Local Government Act.

Former counties

Former counties which formed part of the six modern counties of Northern Ireland:

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