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Provinces of Ireland facts for kids

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Irish provinces
Location Ireland
Number 4
Populations 550,742 (Connacht)
2,630,720 (Leinster)
2,105,666 (Ulster)
1,280,020 (Munster)
Subdivisions Counties

There have been four Provinces of Ireland: Connacht, Leinster, Munster, and Ulster. The Irish word for this territorial division, cúige, meaning "fifth part", suggests that there were once five, and at times Meath has been considered to be the fifth province; in the medieval period, however, there were often more than five. The number of provinces and their delimitation fluctuated until 1610, when they were permanently set by the English administration of James I. The provinces of Ireland no longer serve 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.

  • Kings of Ulster
  • Kings of Munster
  • Kings of Mide
  • Kings of Connacht
  • Kings of Leinster

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 early Irish annals these five ancient political divisions were 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.

Provinces of Ireland
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 Leinster Laighin
Cúige Laighean
2,504,814 19,800 100 bn 40,000 126.5 12 Dublin
Ulster Ulster Ulaidh
Cúige Uladh
2,106,296‡ 21,882 50 bn 23,000 96.3 9 Belfast
Munster Munster Mumhain
Cúige Mumhan
1,246,088 24,675 50 bn 40,000 50.5 6 Cork
Connacht 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. 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:

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 the Hill of Tara, the traditional seat of the High King of Ireland. The ancient earthwork of Tara is called Rath na Ríthe ('Ringfort of the Kings').

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See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Provincias de Irlanda para niños

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