17th July 2007
Some counties have the trace of English rule in their name. For example Dublin is variously called "the Pale" the "Jacks" or the "Jackeens", mainly because of their propensity to fly the Union Jack, even after independence had been achieved. In fairness, it flew in many culchie outbacks even later. Offaly is called the "Kings County" and Laois the "Queens County" a name that has nothing to do with farmers going around in outrageous frilly coats... well hopefully not. These counties usually have non allegiance to England nicknames too. Dublin is known as the "Metropolitans", Laois the "O'Moore's County" and Offaly's preferred name today is the "Faithful County", although they are more popularly know as the "Biffos" - meaning "Big Ignorant ****er From Offaly".
Cork and Galway too have the taint of the outsider in their names. Cork was christened Rebel Cork after the War of the Roses when the citizens of Cork sided with the Yorkist pretenders to the throne. The Galwegians are known as the "Tribesmen" and while the name would appear to connote wild Irish clans chasing sheep around the hills of Connemara, the Tribes of Galway were English and Norman Merchant families who ruled the roost during the 12th and 13th centuries. Galwegians are also know as the "Herring Chokers" - slang for Galway fishermen, especially those down Claddagh way. This is often corrupted as "Heron Chokers". The fisherman nickname is also found in other coastal counties: The Donegal folk are known as the "Herring Gutters" and Sligo as the "Herring Pickers". Both counties have in addition non seafaring names: Donegal as "O'Donnell County" and Sligo as "Yeats County". Because of their black and white football jersies, the Sligos are also known as "the magpies."
Which bring us to counties named after their GAA football jersey. If Sligo are the Zebras, Kildare are the "Lillywhites" and Wexford are famously known as the "Yella Bellies". Incidentally huge controversy broke out in Wexford last year when O'Neill's (the Irish equivalent of Adidas/Nike) redesigned Wexford's purple and yellow jersey, placing the purple strip beneath the yellow strip resulting in the famous yella strip no longer covering the belly. Needless to say the Boys of Wexford were none too happy and Father Murphy was turning in his grave. Wexford of course has traditionally been known as the "Model County" but don't go there expecting to find the likes of the leggy Christy Turlington or Elizabeth Hurley ready to take a whack at your sliothar, the name has more to do with Wexford being the bees knees in all modes of Irish life.
Tipperary is similarly named as the "Premier County", though don't go there expecting to find anything too fancy either, as the thick mucksavages and primordials that roam the hills are also known as "The Stone Throwers."
Longford's name is somewhat football related too. They are known as the "Slashers" after the local Longford football team. Along with other midland counties, you'll often hear them described as the "Country and Western" county.
The grand and glorious county of Mayo traditionally has had no official nickname. However, they are rightfully known as "the Culchies" for that fine word is derived from the town of Kiltimagh in the county of Mayo. Mayo football fans tell me their county is also known as the "Maritime County" and also as "the Heather County", and indeed their anthem "The Boys from the County Mayo" starts off with the words, "far away from the land of the shamrock and heather." In recent times, Mayo has acquired the unfortunate name of "The Whingers". They were christened so by Meath men following the 1996 All-Ireland final, a defeat that Mayo did not take too well. It's come to my attention that much of the bad blood between Meath and Mayo stems from the Land Commission, but that's another story entirely.
As for Meath itself, that county is proudly known as "The Royal County". Royal here has no English association and dates to the crowning of the Kings of Ireland on the hills of Royal Tara. However, everyone knows the real "Kingdom" of Irelandis the county of Kerry. And that's Kerry's nickname. Up Kerry boy!
Cavan is called the "Breffni County" after the ancient Kingdom of Breffni which included most of that area. The miserly character of the denizens or this area is legendary and you'll often hear the Breffni men known as the "Mane shite" county. You heard the one about the Cavan man who had the hip replacement... he brought the bones home to the dogs. Or the Cavanman who found a band-aid.... He went out and cut himself....
The proud county of Clare is known as "the Banner County." The name means what it says. Clare people were always famous for carrying banners. The Clare's Dragoons and various regiments carried banners to war, most famously in the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745. When their hurlers play in Croke Park, they probably bring more flags and banners than any other county. The bring bodhrans and sometimes sheep painted in the blue and saffron colours of Clare as well.
By far the largest group of counties are named due to landmarks or the lay of their land. Louth for example is the smallest county in Ireland, and is known as "The Wee County".
Antrim - The Glens
Armagh - The Orchard County/The Cathedral County
Carlow - The Dolman County
Derry - The Oak Leaf County
Down - The Mourne County
Fermanagh - The Lakeland County
Kildare - The Short Grass County/Thoroughbred County
Kilkenny - The Marble County
Leitrim - The Wild Rose County
Limerick - The Shannonsiders/The Treaty County
Waterford - The Crystal County
Westmeath - The Lake County
Wicklow - The Garden County
Of the above, Kilkenny is now better known as "The Cats" immortalised in the famous Limerick "there once were two cats from Kilkenny." Two cats had been hung on a clotheline by the tail and British soldiers came and cut them by the tail to let them escape - when locals saw the two remains of tails left on the clothesline they thought the cats had devoured each other!
Waterford is known as "The Deise" from an ancient Celtic tribe who inhabited the area, and Kildare as we mentioned, the "Lillywhites", while Carlow has earned itself the more colorful monikers: "The Fighting Cock County" and "The Scallion Aters". And very appropriate names too, although the days of cock fighting could soon be numbered if animal rights groups have their way.
Counties have also earned their names from famous individuals, old baronies, or powerful and leading clans from the region. Thus:
Donegal: O'Donnell County
Laois: The O'Moore County
Longford: O'Farrell County
Monaghan: Farney County/Drumlin County
Sligo: Yeats County
Tyrone: O'Neill County/The Red Hand County
Another subclass are those named from prominent industry within the county. Thus you have Kildare (rich bastids) known as the "Thoroughbred County", Wexford "The Strawberry Pickers" and Waterford as the "Crystal County."
Some counties appear to have some very unfortunate nicknames. Wicklow as "the Goat Suckers", Roscommon "the Sheep Stealers" and Cork - better known as the Rebels - also known as the "Donkey Aters". You can even hear their fans cheering at football games - "up the sheep staylers!", "c'mon de goatsuckers!", "g'wan de donkey aters!" While all names suggest questionable treatment of animals, the nicknames have their origins from famine days when the starving were driven to desperate measures for food.
So there you have it. A nickname for every county in Ireland. I hope I haven't forgotten anyone. On yeah, Donegal is often known as The Forgotten County.