After the partition of Ireland in 1921, what eventually became the Republic of Ireland comprised 26 of these, with Northern Ireland comprising the remaining six. The counties of Northern Ireland are no longer used for local government, and two former counties in the Republic have been subdivided, giving a modern total of 29 counties for administrative purposes rather than 26. The names "County Dublin" and "County Tipperary" remain in common usage outside administrative matters. In addition, the larger cities are administratively equivalent to counties.
The traditional 32 counties had previously been adopted by sporting and cultural organisations such as the Gaelic Athletic Association, which organises its activities on GAA county lines, and today they still attract strong loyalties, particularly in the sporting field.
In Irish usage, the word county nearly always comes before rather than after the county name; thus "County Clare" in Ireland as opposed to "Clare County" in Michigan. The former "King's County" and "Queen's County" were exceptions; these are now County Offaly and County Laois.
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1. Often called Derry: see Derry-Londonderry name dispute
The counties were made up, in general, from an amalgamation of various smaller Irish territories which suited the colonial administration at the time and had little basis in older tribal boundaries. In many cases this involved dividing an Irish territory in two. For example, the kingdom of Uí Mhaine was split to form south County Roscommon and most of east County Galway. Many of the counties of Ulster roughly correspond to the territories controlled by the principal clan in that particular area such as the O Donnells of Tír Conaill whose political power was concentrated in what would become the County of Donegal.
The counties evolved over time, with the earliest defined being set out by King John, including a then much larger County Dublin. By 1200 there were also shires of Connacht, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Louth, Tipperary and Waterford. Kilkenny and Wexford apparently date from this time, too. The County of Roscommon was separated from Connacht before 1292, and the parliament of 1297 created the new shires of Kildare, Meath and Ulster. Carlow probably dates from around 1306.
The Tudor administrations finalised the division of Ireland into counties. Westmeath was separated from Meath in 1543, and in 1556 King’s County and Queen’s County were created as part of the policy of plantation. The old shire of Connacht was broken up into the Counties of Galway, Mayo and Sligo, while Leitrim was separated from Roscommon in 1565. At the same time County Clare was created and moved from Munster to Connacht. It returned there in 1602. In 1583 County Longford was formed from part of Westmeath and transferred to the Province of Connacht.
The Province of Ulster was the last to be shired. The counties of Antrim and Down originated early in the sixteenth century. These were joined in 1584/5 by the Counties of Armagh, Coleraine (later Londonderry), Donegal, Fermanagh, Monaghan and Tyrone. County Cavan was also formed in 1584 and transferred from Connacht to Ulster.
The last county to be formed was County Wicklow in 1606, taking in the southern part of Dublin (with the exception of three "islands" of (mainly) church property), and the northern part of "Catherlough" or Carlow, including Arklow.
The counties were initially used for judicial purposes, but in 1836 their first use as local government units occurred. The Grand Jury (Ireland) Act 1836 imported a system already operating in England and Wales into Ireland. The grand jury consisted of the principal landowners of the county and had responsibility for bridges, roads and public works. In 1838 the number of counties was increased to thirty-three when Tipperary was divided into North and South Ridings. The Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 introduced elected county councils taking over the powers of the grand juries.
The "traditional" 26 counties are today only part of the basis for local government, planning and community development purposes, although unlike the counties in Great Britain, the Republic's traditional county boundaries are still generally respected for other purposes (counties on occasion being sub-divided). The administrative borders have subsequently been altered to include various towns originally split between two counties wholly within one.
In the Republic of Ireland, six of the original 26 counties have more than one local authority area, producing a total of 34 "county-level" authorities. The two ridings of County Tipperary were renamed North Tipperary and South Tipperary in 2002. In 1994 County Dublin was split into Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, Fingal, and South Dublin. By 2002 however, upon the establishment of County Development Boards, the definition of "local government" expanded to include the need for a proper identity in each of the new counties; the development of which is ongoing. Of the administrative structures established under the 1898 Local Government Act, the only type to have been completely abolished was the Rural District, which was rendered void in the early years of the Irish Free State amidst widespread allegations of corruption. On the other hand, administrative structures such as Town Councils and Regional Authorities (created to comply with requirements of the EU) exist in parallel with the county system.
The Institute of Technology system was organised on the committee areas or "functional areas", these still remain legal but are not as important as originally envisioned as the institutes are now more national in character and are only really applied today when selecting governing councils, similarly Dublin Institute of Technology was originally a group of several colleges of the City of Dublin committee.
This system usually results in more populated counties having several constituencies: Dublin city and county is subdivided into twelve constituencies, Cork into five. On the other hand, smaller counties such as Carlow and Kilkenny or Laois and Offaly may be paired to form constituencies. An extreme case is the splitting of Ireland's least populated county of Leitrim between the constituencies of Sligo-North Leitrim and Roscommon-South Leitrim.
Each county or city is divided into Local Electoral Areas for the election of councillors. The boundaries of the areas and the number of councillors assigned are fixed from time to time by order of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, following a report by the Local Government Commission, and based on population changes recorded in the census.
In Northern Ireland, a major re-organisation of local government in 1973 replaced the six traditional counties and two county boroughs (Belfast and Derry) by 26 "single-tier" districts for local government purposes, and these cross the traditional county boundaries. The six counties and two county-boroughs remain in use for some purposes, including Lords Lieutenant, vehicle number plates, and the Royal Mail Postcode Address File.
Baronies, Civil Parishes and Townlands
Representatives of local government