JIM REES examines the origins of our county system, introduced to Ireland by the Normans

When you travel through Ireland in the summer, you don’t need roadsigns to tell you which county you’re in. Flags attached to urban gables and farmyard gates, or fluttering from little plastic flag poles clipped to car windows, leave you in no doubt.

The Gaelic Athletic Association season is in full swing and allegiances are proudly displayed in most of the thirty-two counties on the island of Ireland – especially those counties which are in with a chance of winning something, be it in football or hurling.

The GAA justifiably boasts that it reaches into every village and crossroads in the country. It has a presence in even the smallest communities, but the county structure is the backbone of the organisation.
County allegiance is not confined to such matters. The Irish abroad have always banded together and in many instances have formed county associations. Parts of cities like London and New York not only had ‘Irish districts’, but many of these districts had particular streets populated by people from a particular county.

Ask most Irish people where they are from and the chances are they will answer with the name, not of their town, but of their county.

We even go so far as to have our own county anthems, such as ‘The Rose of Tralee’, ‘The Banks of my Own Lovely Lee’, and ‘The Rose of Mooncoin’. I was going to say that the list is endless, but actually it ends at thirty-two and I can’t think of quarter of them.

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