The island of Ireland is divided into two political units: the Republic of Ireland, which makes up the vast majority of the country, and Northern Ireland, which along with England, Scotland, and Wales is part of the United Kingdom. Of Ireland’s 32 counties, all but 6 are in the Republic.
Ireland divided into two separate countries in 1922, when the British government that had occupied Ireland agreed to allow the Republic to become a free state, with the exception of the six northern counties that remained part of the U.K.
Currently, the line between north and south is no longer marked, and the only indication on many roads that you've crossed into a different nation is the road signs, which change from metric distances in the Republic to imperial in Northern Ireland.
The ancient Gaelic regions that once divided Ireland are still used in conversation and directions: Ulster is north, Munster is south, Leinster is east, and Connaught is west. Each region is divided into counties:
In Ulster (to the north) -- Cavan, Donegal, and Monaghan in the Republic; Antrim, Armagh, Derry, Down, Fermanagh, and Tyrone in Northern Ireland.
In Munster (to the south) -- Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary, and Waterford.
In Leinster (to the east) -- Dublin, Carlow, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Longford, Louth, Meath, Offaly, Westmeath, Wexford, and Wicklow.
In Connaught (to the west) -- Sligo, Mayo, Galway, Roscommon, and Leitrim.
Dublin & Environs -- With 40% of the Republic’s population living within 97km (60 miles) of Dublin, the capital is the center of the profound changes that have transformed Ireland into a prosperous and increasingly European country. Within an hour’s drive of Dublin are Dalkey, Dún Laoghaire, and many more engaging coastal towns, as well as the rural beauty of the Wicklow Mountains and the prehistoric ruins in County Meath.
The Southeast -- The southeast offers sandy beaches, Wexford’s lush and mountainous countryside, Waterford’s famous Crystal Factory, Kilkenny's and Cahir’s ancient castles, and the Irish National Heritage Park at Ferrycarrig.
Cork & Environs -- Cork, Ireland’s second largest city, is a buzzy university town and a congenial gateway to the south and west of the island. Within arm’s reach are Blarney Castle (and its famous stone), the culinary and scenic delights of Kinsale, the historic emigration port of Cobh, and the dazzling landscape of West Cork.
The Southwest -- The once remote splendor of County Kerry has long ceased to be a secret, at least during the high season. The Ring of Kerry (less glamorously known as hwys. N70 and N71) encircling the Iveragh Peninsula is Ireland’s most visited attraction after the Book of Kells. That’s both a recommendation and a warning. While Killarney National Park provides a stunning haven from buses, the town of Killarney is filled with souvenir shops and tour groups. Marginally less visited highlights include the rugged Dingle Peninsula and two sets of islands with rich histories: the Skelligs and the Blaskets.
The West -- The west of Ireland offers a first taste of Ireland’s wild beauty and striking diversity, especially handy for those who fly into Shannon Airport. County Clare’s natural offerings—particularly the unique landscapes of the Burren—are unforgettable, and the county also has an array of impressive castles: Knappogue, Bunratty, and (just over the county line in Galway) Dunguaire.
Galway & Environs -- Galway Town is busy, colorful, and funky—a youthful port and university town and the self-proclaimed arts capital of Ireland with lots of theater, music, and dance. County Galway is the gateway to Connemara’s moody, magical mountains and boglands. Offshore lie the atmospheric, mysterious Aran Islands.
The Northwest -- In Ireland it’s easy to become convinced that isolated austerity is beautiful. Nowhere is this more evident than in County Donegal, with its jagged, desolate coastline. (If you don’t mind the cold, it offers some fine surfing.) Inland, Glenveagh National Park has as much wilderness as you could want.
The Midlands -- The lush center of Ireland, bisected by the lazy River Shannon, is a land of pastures, rivers, lakes, woods, and gentle mountain slopes, and a retreat, in high season, from the throngs of tourists who crowd the coasts. The Midlands also hold remarkable sites—Birr Castle and its splendid gardens, for example, and Clonmacnoise, the evocative ruins of a famous Irish monastic center. There is also an array of outdoor pursuits such as cycling, boating, fishing, and hiking.
The North Shannon Valley -- Farther up the coast to the north, past Galway, County Mayo offers the sweet town of Westport on Clew Bay and Achill Island (accessible by car), with its beaches and stunning cliff views. County Sligo inspired the poetry of W. B. Yeats, and it offers a dense collection of stone circles, passage tombs, and cairns at such sites as Carrowmore, Knocknarea, and Carrowkeel.
Northern Ireland -- Across the border, Northern Ireland’s six counties are a decade-and-a-half into a new era. It’s still one of the most underrated parts of Ireland, with such attractions as the stunning Antrim Coast, the extraordinary basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway, and the Glens of Antrim. The old city walls of Derry, the past glory of Carrickfergus Castle, and Belfast’s elaborate political murals make a trip across the border worthwhile.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.