Counties of Northern Ireland

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Counties of Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland - Counties.png
CategoryFormer local government
Location Northern Ireland
Populations61,170 (Fermanagh) – 618,108 (Antrim)
Areas1,176 square miles (3,050 km2) (Armagh) – 3,263 square miles (8,450 km2) (Tyrone)
GovernmentGrand 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 [n 1] 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. [1] The other two local government areas were the urban county boroughs of Derry [n 1] (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. [2] 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 Created [2] Area [3] Population (2011)[ citation needed ]Notes
Antrim Carrickfergus to 1850; Belfast to 1970; Ballymena to 1973.1570308,645 hectares (762,680 acres) [n 2] 618,108Formed after Shane O'Neill's rebellion. Lost North East Liberties of Coleraine in 1613. The namesake town of Antrim was never the administrative centre of the post-1570 county.
Armagh Armagh 1571132,698 hectares (327,900 acres)174,792Lost Slieve Foy to County Louth c.1630. [2]
Down Downpatrick 1570248,905 hectares (615,060 acres) [n 2] 531,665Formed after Shane O'Neill's rebellion.
Fermanagh Enniskillen 1588185,097 hectares (457,380 acres)61,170Based on the territory of the Maguires.
Londonderry Coleraine 1613211,826 hectares (523,430 acres) [n 3] 247,132Merging of County Coleraine (formed 1603) with Loughinsholin (from Tyrone), North East Liberties of Coleraine (Antrim), and North-West Liberties of Londonderry (Donegal).
Tyrone Omagh 1591326,550 hectares (806,900 acres)177,986Based on the Irish kingdom of Tír Eoghain. Lost Loughinsholin in 1613.


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. [5] 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. [1] Each county would have an associated county town, with county courts of quarter sessions and assizes. [5]

The area of the modern counties of Antrim and Down was the Earldom of Ulster based on John de Courcy's 1170s conquest of Gaelic Ulaid. [6] Between the late 13th and early 14th centuries it was subdivided into multiple shires based around centres of Norman power such as Antrim, Carrickfergus, and Newtownards. [6] 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 expanded Clandeboy and eroded the earldom's territory until by the 15th century only the areas of Carrickfergus and coastal enclaves in Down remained. [6]

It was not until the reign of Queen Elizabeth I that Ulster would be shired into more counties. After the 1567 death and 1570 attainder of Shane O'Neill, much of Clandeboy was added to the surviving English enclaves to form the new counties of Antrim and Down, preparing for an abortive private English plantation. In 1584, Lord Deputy of Ireland Sir John Perrott created six counties in Ulster, based largely on the boundaries of existing lordships; four of the six are now Northern Ireland: Armagh, Coleraine, Fermanagh, and Tyrone. The noncooperation and later rebellion of Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone made Perrott's scheme largely notional until the Nine Years' War ended and the Flight of the Earls allowed the Plantation of Ulster to reinforce the county government. The County of the town of Carrickfergus remained separate from County Antrim until the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898, which also promoted the boroughs of Belfast and Derry to county boroughs separate from the adjoining administrative counties.


Each county is divided into a number of baronies, midway between a county and a parish. Baronies are now obsolete as 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. [5]

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. [5]

Government and modern usage

The counties were also used as the administrative unit of local government introduced in Ireland under the 1898 Local Government Act along with county boroughs. In regards to Northern Ireland the cities of Belfast and Londonderry became county boroughs. The administrative counties and county boroughs were abolished as local government areas in Northern Ireland in 1972 and replaced with twenty-six unitary councils, many of which cross county boundaries.

The six administrative counties and two county boroughs remain in use for some purposes, including car number plates. The six counties were also used as postal counties by the Royal Mail for sorting purposes until their abolition in 1996. Outside government, the counties are used for cultural purposes, for example in the Gaelic Athletic Association.

The lieutenancy areas of the UK, with NI shaded orange Lord Lieutenancies - home nations coloured.png
The lieutenancy areas of the UK, with NI shaded orange

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: The counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry, and Tyrone; and the cities of Londonderry, and Belfast. These are contiguous with the six administrative 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:

See also


  1. 1 2 The county and city/county borough officially named Londonderry are often called Derry; see Derry/Londonderry name dispute.
  2. 1 2 Antrim and Down areas are calculated by combining the administrative county areas [3] with the areas of the wards of Belfast respectively west and east of the River Lagan as follows: [4]
    • 308,645 = 304,526 county Antrim + 4118.93 part of Belfast (all wards except Ormeau, Pottinger, Victoria)
    • 248,905 = 246,624 county Down + 2281.23 part of Belfast (Ormeau, Pottinger, Victoria wards)
    • 905.29 hectares of Belfast tidal area is excluded from both counties
  3. 211,826 = 210,782 county plus 1,044 county borough. [3]

Related Research Articles

Counties of Ireland Administrative division of Ireland, historically 32 in number

The counties of Ireland are historic administrative divisions of the island, now used in various contexts. They began as Norman structures, and as the powers exercised by the Cambro-Norman barons and the Old English nobility waned over time, new offices of political control came to be established at a county level.

Ulster Traditional province in the north of Ireland

Ulster is one of the four traditional Irish provinces, in the north of Ireland. It is made up of nine counties: six of these constitute Northern Ireland ; the remaining three are in the Republic of Ireland.

County Antrim Place in Antrim Northern Ireland

County Antrim is one of six counties that form Northern Ireland. Adjoined to the north-east shore of Lough Neagh, the county covers an area of 3,046 square kilometres (1,176 sq mi) and has a population of about 618,000. County Antrim has a population density of 203 people per square kilometre or 526 people per square mile. It is also one of the thirty-two traditional counties of Ireland, as well as part of the historic province of Ulster.

County Londonderry Place in Northern Ireland, United Kingdom

County Londonderry, also known as County Derry, is one of the six counties of Northern Ireland, one of the thirty two counties of Ireland and one of the nine counties of Ulster. Before the partition of Ireland, it was one of the counties of the Kingdom of Ireland from 1613 onward and then of the United Kingdom after the Acts of Union 1800. Adjoining the north-west shore of Lough Neagh, the county covers an area of 2,074 km2 and today has a population of about 247,132.

Coleraine Human settlement in Northern Ireland

Coleraine is a town and civil parish near the mouth of the River Bann in County Londonderry, Northern Ireland. It is 55 miles (88.5 km) northwest of Belfast and 30 miles (48.3 km) east of Derry, both of which are linked by major roads and railway connections. It is part of Causeway Coast and Glens district.

A county corporate or corporate county was a type of subnational division used for local government in England, Wales, and Ireland.

Randal Macsorley MacDonnell, 1st Earl of Antrim was called "Arranach" in Irish/Scottish Gaelic having been fostered in the Gaelic manner on the Scottish island of Arran.

Local Government (Boundaries) Act (Northern Ireland) 1971 United Kingdom legislation

The Local Government (Boundaries) Act 1971 was an Act of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, passed in 1971 to replace the previous system of local authorities established by the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898. The system was based on the recommendations of the Macrory Report, of June 1970, which presupposed the continued existence of the Government of Northern Ireland to act as a regional-level authority.

Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972 United Kingdom legislation

The Local Government Act 1972 was an Act of the Parliament of Northern Ireland that constituted district councils to administer the twenty-six local government districts created by the Local Government (Boundaries) Act 1971, and abolished the existing local authorities in Northern Ireland.

Tír Eoghain

Tír Eoghain, also known as Tyrone, was a kingdom and later earldom of Gaelic Ireland, comprising parts of present-day County Tyrone, County Armagh and County Londonderry. The kingdom represented the core homeland of the Cenél nEógain people of the Northern Uí Néill and although they ruled, there were smaller groups of other Gaels in the area. Also known as the guidance of Land. One part of the realm to the north-east broke away and expanded, becoming Clandeboye, ruled by a scion branch of the O'Neill dynasty.

Ulster railways, present and past, include:

The Route, also historically known as Reuta, Rowte, or in Irish: an Rúta, was a medieval territory in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, consisting of the baronies of Dunluce Upper, Dunluce Lower, Toome Lower, and the North East Liberties of Coleraine. It also formed part of the more ancient kingdoms of Dál Riata and Dál nAraidi, as well as part of the Earldom of Ulster. It was once ruled by the MacQuillans and later the MacDonnells.

Loughinsholin Place in Northern Ireland, United Kingdom

Loughinsholin is a barony in County Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Its southeast borders the northwest shore of Lough Neagh, and itself is bordered by seven other baronies: Dungannon Upper to the south; Strabane Upper to the west; Keenaght and Coleraine to the north; Kilconway, Toome Upper, and Toome Lower to the east. It was formed largely on the extent of the medieval Irish túath of Uí Tuirtri.

Carrickfergus (barony) Place in Northern Ireland, United Kingdom

Carrickfergus is a barony in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It is bounded on the south-east by Belfast Lough, and otherwise surrounded by the barony of Belfast Lower. It is coextensive with the civil parish of Carrickfergus or St Nicholas and corresponds to the former county of the town of Carrickfergus, a county corporate encompassing Carrickfergus town.



  1. 1 2 Connolly 2002 p.129
  2. 1 2 3 Moody, Theodore William; Martin, Francis X.; Byrne, Francis John, eds. (25 March 2011) [1984]. "Map 45: Counties 1542–1613 [and Notes]" (PDF). Maps, Genealogies, Lists: A Companion to Irish History, Part II. A New History of Ireland. IX. Clarendon Press. 43, 108–109. ISBN   9780199593064 . Retrieved 11 July 2017.
  3. Northern Ireland General Register Office (1975). "Table 1: Area, Buildings for Habitation and Population, 1971". Census of Population 1971; Summary Tables (PDF). Belfast: HMSO. p. 1. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  4. Northern Ireland General Register Office (1975). "Table 4: Area, Population, Buildings for Habitation and Private Households — County Borough and Wards". Census of Population 1971; County Report: Belfast County Borough (PDF). Belfast: HMSO. p. 1. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  5. 1 2 3 4 "Areas, regions, and land divisions". Public Records Office of Northern Ireland. Archived from the original on 24 August 2015.
  6. 1 2 3 Connolly 2002 pp.589–590
  7. Bardon, Jonathan: A History of Ulster, page 45. The Black Staff Press, 2005. ISBN   0-85640-764-X
  8. 1 2 Hughes and Hannan: Place-Names of Northern Ireland, Volume Two, County Down II, The Ards, The Queen's University of Belfast, 1992. ISBN   085389-450-7