From Cork and Wexford to Antrim and Tyrone, there are 32 counties in Ireland (including both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland). Here’s everything you need to know.

Ireland is defined by its political divisions. Divided between the Republic of Ireland (an independent, sovereign nation) and Northern Ireland (a constituent nation of the United Kingdom), the island of Ireland has been variously delineated by different kingdoms, earls, countries, states and provinces throughout its long history.

Despite the current major political partition that dates back to 1921, when Ireland was split into the two countries you have today, one of the most enduring boundaries is created by the historic ‘County System’. This traditional unit of division dates back to the Norman Conquests, and far from simply being an administrative boundary, Ireland’s counties are imbued with history and heritage.

The county system has a lasting legacy on both sides of the national divide. In total, there are 32 counties across the island of Ireland, with 26 counties in the Republic of Ireland and six counties in Northern Ireland. In this article, I explain exactly how many counties there are in Ireland, the history behind the county system and what the future holds for it on an island that’s constantly in flux.

How many counties are in Ireland?

The island of Ireland is steeped in geopolitical complexity and is currently divided into two principal entities: the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. This division marks a significant geopolitical boundary in itself, but due to their shared history (this was one ‘country’ until the partition of Ireland in 1921), the county system has always been a crucial unit of local governance and identity on both sides of the border.

The Republic of Ireland, an independent nation, encompasses 26 counties. These counties trace their roots back to the Anglo-Norman conquests when the ‘shire’ system prevalent in England was brought over the Irish Sea. During the later 17th-century Cromwellian conquest of the island, these units were further delineated and enshrined in law. Each county has evolved over the centuries, carrying a distinct identity, culture and historical significance.

Northern Ireland, which remained part of the United Kingdom following the partition of Ireland in 1921, comprises six counties. This division was a direct outcome of the complex socio-political and religious conflicts that have marked the island’s history. However, since governmental changes in 1973, Northern Ireland’s counties have only existed as ceremonial regions, having since been replaced at an administrative level by 11 District Councils.

Despite this, the traditional counties are vital to local identity and important markers of Northern Irish geography. Together with the 26 counties in the Republic of Ireland, this gives a grand total of 32 counties on the island of Ireland.

County Kerry is one of the Republic of Ireland’s 26 counties. Photo by Nils Nedel on Unsplash.

Read more: How Many Cities Are in Ireland? Everything You Need to Know.

List of counties in the Republic of Ireland

The Republic of Ireland consists of 26 counties, each with its own distinct character and history. Here’s a complete list:

  1. Carlow
  2. Cavan
  3. Clare
  4. Cork
  5. Donegal
  6. Dublin
  7. Galway
  8. Kerry
  9. Kildare
  10. Kilkenny
  11. Laois (Leix)
  12. Leitrim
  13. Limerick
  14. Longford
  15. Louth
  16. Mayo
  17. Meath
  18. Monaghan
  19. Offaly (King’s)
  20. Roscommon
  21. Sligo
  22. Tipperary
  23. Waterford
  24. Westmeath
  25. Wexford
  26. Wicklow

These counties are spread across four provinces: Leinster, Munster, Connacht and Ulster (part of Ulster is in Northern Ireland). Each county has unique landscapes, traditions and stories that contribute to the heritage and culture of the Republic of Ireland.

Read more: How Many Cities Are in Northern Ireland? Everything You Need to Know.

List of counties in Northern Ireland

Here’s a list of the six counties in Northern Ireland:

  1. Antrim
  2. Armagh
  3. Down
  4. Fermanagh
  5. Londonderry
  6. Tyrone

For more information on Northern Ireland’s counties, you can read this detailed article I wrote earlier: How Many Counties in Northern Ireland? Everything You Need to Know.

Map of Irish counties on both sides of the border. Map from Wikimedia Commons.

Read more: How Many Counties in the UK (United Kingdom)?

What is a county in Ireland?

The county system in Ireland serves as a fundamental aspect of both geography and administration. Deeply rooted in the island’s history, the system has evolved through significant historical events and continues to do so today.

These counties, originally established for administrative purposes, today reflect Ireland’s complex blend of cultural identity, historical conflict and governance. The operational nuances and historical backgrounds of the county systems differ notably between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, highlighting the island’s divided yet interconnected history.

Here’s a brief overview of the county system in each country:

Counties in the Republic of Ireland

The Republic of Ireland’s county system dates back to the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in the 12th century, although the current configuration was largely established by the British government in the 17th and then 19th centuries for local government purposes.

Each of the 26 counties in the Republic operates as a unit of local government, with county councils responsible for local services such as roads, planning, and libraries. The Local Government Act of 2001 further cemented the role of counties in the administrative framework, promoting efficiency and accountability in local governance.

The counties of the Republic are imbued with a strong sense of local identity, with cultural, historical, and geographical features unique to each.

Read more: What are the British Isles? Everything You Need to Know.

Counties in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland, comprising six counties, operates under a different system. Established as a separate entity from the rest of Ireland in 1921, its county system has its roots in historical divisions but has undergone significant changes, particularly in the latter half of the 20th century.

The governance system in Northern Ireland has been more centralised, with local government functions previously carried out by county councils now largely devolved to district councils formed from amalgamations of smaller local government areas.

The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 and subsequent reforms have further shaped the administrative landscape of Northern Ireland, aiming to foster peace and reconciliation within its diverse community.

Read more: What is the United Kingdom? Everything You Need to Know.

Historical Context

The distinction between the county systems in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is a direct outcome of the island’s turbulent history. The division of Ireland into two entities in 1921 was a result of the Irish War of Independence and the partition of Ireland, which left six counties in the north as part of the UK due to their significant Unionist population. This partition has led to different paths of development, governance, and identity within the counties on either side of the border.

The county systems in Ireland, while sharing common historical roots, illustrate the complex interplay between geography, politics and culture across the island. In the Republic of Ireland, counties retain a strong role in local governance and identity. In contrast, Northern Ireland’s system reflects its unique political and historical context, with a focus on district councils and the ongoing process of peacebuilding and governance reform. Understanding these differences is crucial to appreciating the intricacy of Ireland’s administrative, cultural, and historical landscape.

Dunguaire Castle, County Galway. Photo by Wallace Bentt on Unsplash.

Are there other administrative divisions in the Republic of Ireland?

besides the primary division into counties, the Republic of Ireland has additional layers of administrative divisions and local governance structures that play significant roles in the management of local affairs, planning, and community development.


Historically, Ireland is divided into four provinces: Leinster, Munster, Connacht, and Ulster.

Three of these provinces (Leinster, Munster, Connacht) are entirely within the Republic of Ireland, while Ulster is split between the Republic (with three of its counties) and Northern Ireland (with six counties).

These provinces are more cultural and historical in nature than administrative but are still commonly used in sporting contexts and regional identity.

Local Government

For local government purposes, the Republic of Ireland’s counties are further subdivided. The main units are as follows:

  • City and County Councils: These are the primary units of local government in Ireland, governing the counties and the cities. Some areas, like Dublin and Cork, have separate city councils in addition to county councils, reflecting their significant urban populations.
  • Municipal Districts: Introduced under the Local Government Reform Act 2014, these are subdivisions of counties managed by the county councils. They aim to bring governance closer to local communities within the larger county framework. Municipal districts replace the older system of town councils and urban districts, providing a structure for local decision-making and community development within counties.
  • Electoral Areas: Both city and county councils are further divided into electoral areas for the purpose of local elections. These are designed to elect councillors to the city or county councils and are periodically revised to reflect changes in population.
  • Town and Village Councils: Although the formal system of town councils was abolished in 2014, some towns and villages maintain informal community councils or similar bodies. These are not statutory local government bodies but can play a significant role in community advocacy, development projects, and local affairs.

These divisions reflect the Republic of Ireland’s commitment to local democracy, allowing for a degree of local autonomy and community involvement in governance, aligned with the country’s geographical, historical, and cultural complexities.

Cobh, County Cork. Photo by Kristel Hayes on Unsplash.

FAQ: How many counties are in Ireland?

Here’s an FAQ on the topic: How many counties in Ireland?

Q1. How many counties are there in Ireland in total?

Ireland is divided into 32 counties in total. These include 26 counties in the Republic of Ireland and 6 counties in Northern Ireland.

Q2. What are the names of the counties in Northern Ireland?

Northern Ireland comprises the following six counties: Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry, Tyrone

Q3. How are counties in the Republic of Ireland organised?

The Republic of Ireland’s 26 counties are organised into four provinces: Leinster, Munster, Connacht, and part of Ulster. Each county has its own local government authority responsible for services like roads, planning, and libraries.

Q4. Does Northern Ireland use the county system for local government?

No, Northern Ireland has largely moved away from using counties as the basis for local government. Instead, it uses a system of district councils, which were reorganised in 2015 into 11 new districts, each encompassing areas from the historical counties.

Q5. Why does Ireland have two different political entities?

Ireland is divided into two political entities due to historical, political, and sectarian differences that culminated in the partition of Ireland in 1921. The Republic of Ireland became fully independent, while Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom.

Q6. Can you tell me a bit about the history behind Ireland’s counties?

The county system in Ireland was formalised in the early 17th century, though many counties trace their origins back to earlier medieval Norman divisions. The system was used by the English and later British administrations to facilitate local governance. The counties as we know them today were largely established by the 19th century.

Q7. Are there cultural differences between counties in Ireland?

Yes, each county in Ireland has its own unique cultural identity, traditions, and dialects, influenced by its history, geography, and the communities that reside within. These differences are celebrated through various festivals, sports competitions, and cultural events throughout the year.

Q8. How do the county systems impact administrative governance in Ireland?

In the Republic of Ireland, counties are key administrative units for local governance, each managed by a county council. In Northern Ireland, while the historical counties remain significant for cultural and geographical identification, administrative governance is primarily conducted through district councils.