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The Meaning of the Names of Ireland’s 32 Counties

In global terms Ireland might just be one small island on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean but if you’re from here, just visiting, or returning to the home of your ancestors you’ll come to know just how diverse it can be. 

From the Wild Atlantic Way to the Ancient East, and the Ring of Kerry to the Causeway Coastal Route, there’s plenty to see and do and history within all 32 counties.

To celebrate this rich heritage and diversity we thought we’d take a look at the meaning behind the names of Ireland’s 32 counties.

Which one do you call home?

Antrim

County Antrim sits right at the top of Ireland in the north-east corner so it’s no surprise its name derives from the phrase “lone dwelling”.

Armagh

County Armagh, home to the famous Cathedral City, comes from the Irish for Macha’s Hill. Macha was a Celtic Goddess from Irish pagan times.  

Carlow

Unfortunately County Carlow doesn’t have anything near as glamorous. Depending on who you listen to Carlow means either a place of cattle or the place of four lakes…

Cavan

County Cavan is known simply as “the hollow”.

Clare

County Clare, home to the world famous (and slightly scary) Cliffs of Moher, might be named after the Norman de Clare family but a literal translation could also mean “level piece of land”.

Cork

County Cork, right down in the south-west, is Ireland’s largest county and derives its name from the meaning for “swamp”. We think Cork natives will probably prefer to stick with “The Rebel County” for now.

Derry

Talk to any Derry native and you’ll quickly discover just how passionate they are about the county that takes its name from “oak wood”.

Donegal

County Donegal, the second largest in the country, has long been famed for its rugged beauty but it was once known as “the fortress of the foreigners” who were most likely Vikings!

Down

County Down, home to Downpatrick and the burial place of Saint Patrick, was originally known as the fort.

Dublin

Given Dublin’s crucial role in Irish history it should come as no surprise that it’s name derives from “hurdled fort” and also black pool due to its location.

Fermanagh

County Fermanagh is famed for its lush lakelands and as a result its name comes from “men from the county of the lakes”.

Galway

Galway, a glorious county full of craic right in the heart of the Wild Atlantic Way, takes its name from the river “Gaillimh”.

Kerry

The Kingdom. If you talk to a Kerry man or woman you’ll quickly discover that they believe Kerry to be the best of all 32 counties. They might be right when you consider the incredible Ring of Kerry. Their name comes from the “tribe of Ciar”.

Kildare

County Kildare was known as “church of the oak” in its early days.

Kilkenny

Long before County Kilkenny became home to endless incredible hurlers, known as the Kilkenny Cats, it was known as the “church of Cainnech” in honour of St Cainnech who converted the county to Christianity in 597.

Laois

The Laois name comes from the “people of Lugaid Laigne”. Lugaid was a chieftain who drove invaders out of Munster.

Leitrim

County Leitrim, one of the smaller counties in Ireland, was known simply as the “grey ridge”.

Limerick

Limerick might be a beautiful spot of the country but its name drives from “bare spot / barren spot of land”.

Longford

County Longford was originally known as “the port”.

Louth

County Louth was named after Irish God Lugh.

Mayo

Mayo, one of the most beautiful counties in all of Ireland, originally meant the “plain of the yew”.

Meath

County Meath probably has one of the most practical names as it literally means “the middle”. It was once home to High Kings of Ireland and considered the seat of the country.

Monaghan

Monaghan has a similarly visual name as it meant “hilly land / bushy / place of little hills”.

Offaly

County Offaly derives its name from the Gaelic territory named Ui Failghe.

Roscommon

Roscommon literally means Coman’s wood and was named after Saint Coman who founded Roscommon monastery way back in 550!

Sligo

County Sligo takes its name from “shelly place” and is linked to the amount of fantastic shellfish that can be found in the county.

Tipperary

Tipperary was known as the “well of the Arra” long before it became a hurling powerhouse in the GAA world.

Tyrone

County Tyrone people are fiercely proud of two things – their county and their county GAA football team and they originally take their name from the “Land of Eoghan”, a tribute to Eogan mac Neill who founded the county.

Waterford

Waterford was originally called “Larag’s port”.

Westmeath

Similar to its neighbouring county Meath, Westmeath literally means “west middle”.

Wexford

County Wexford draws its name from the Norse meaning “fjord of the mud flats”.

Wicklow

Last, but most certainly not least, is County Wicklow which draws its name from the “Church of the Mantan” who was a saint whose teeth were knocked out by Irish pagans before the country was converted to Christianity! 

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