Ulster - Northern Ireland

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The place name 'Ulster' is used in two ways.

  • It is sometimes used as an alternative name for Northern Ireland, i.e., the six counties of Antrim, Down, Armagh, Fermanagh, Tyrone, and Londonderry together with the cities of Belfast and Londonderry (or Derry), which form one of the constituent countries of the United Kingdom. (The expression 'The Six Counties' is sometimes used, informally, as a way of referring to Northern Ireland, especially within Northern Ireland itself.) The use of 'Ulster' as an alternative name for Northern Ireland is reflected in the names of various organisations in Northern Ireland, e.g., the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and certain paramilitary groups (such as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA)).

However, this use of the word 'Ulster' is better avoided, as it is found offensive by many nationalists or republicans, i.e, those who believe that Northern Ireland should not be part of the United Kingdom but should become part of the Republic of Ireland. Recognition that this use of 'Ulster' offends nationalist sentiment was among the considerations that motivated the renaming in 1998 - after the 'Good Friday' Agreement, see further below - of the Northern Ireland police force, until then the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), as the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

  • The word 'Ulster' is also, and preferably, used to refer to the nine counties, i.e., Cavan, Monaghan, Donegal, and the six counties of Northern Ireland, which constituted one of the four provinces or ancient kingdoms of Ireland. (The other three provinces are Leinster, Munster, and Connacht (alternatively spelt Connaught).)

The province of Ulster was divided by the British government under the Government of Ireland Act 1920, which granted the greater part of Ireland independence from Great Britain and led to the formation in 1921 of the Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland or, in Irish, Éire or Poblacht na hÉireann). The Act recognised that in some parts of the province there was a Protestant majority which strongly wished to remain within the United Kingdom, and so Ulster was divided, Cavan, Monaghan, and Donegal being assigned to the Irish Free State, while Antrim, Down, Armagh, Fermanagh, Tyrone, and Londonderry remained part of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland's short history has been disfigured by hostility between its unionist and largely Protestant majority and its nationalist and largely Roman Catholic minority and, until recently, by aggressive discrimination by the former against the latter. This hostility has led to two prolonged periods of politically motivated violence - sometimes referred to as 'The Troubles' - in the 1920s and from the late 1960s to the 1990s. The latter period of sectarian conflict was effectively ended by the Belfast 'Good Friday' Agreement (1998), which sought to accommodate the legitimate demands of both unionists and nationalists and to promote reconciliation between the two communities.

For 'ulster' as the name of a type of heavy overcoat see Words Derived From Names of Places.