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For other places and things named Ulster, see Ulster (disambiguation).
Area: 24,481 km²
Population: 1,931,981 (estimate)
Map of Ulster

Ulster (Irish: Uladh) is one of the four provinces on the island of Ireland.

Geography & demographics

It has a population of just under 2 million people and an area of 24,481 square kilometres (8,952 square miles). Its biggest city is Belfast (Béal Feirste). Since 1922, six of its nine counties, Antrim (Aontroim), Armagh (Ard Mhacha), Down (An Dún), Fermanagh (Fear Manach), Londonderry (Doire) and Tyrone (Tír Eoghain), are known collectively as Northern Ireland, and are still part of the United Kingdom.

Northern Ireland is sometimes referred to by Unionists as "Ulster". However that usage is controversial and disputed by Nationalists and by geographers who use the term exclusively to apply to the nine-county province of Ulster. Three counties in the province of Ulster, Cavan (An Cabhán), Donegal (Dún na nGall/Tír Chonaill) and Monaghan (Muineachán) are part of the Republic of Ireland. About half of Ulster's population live in Antrim and Down.

English is spoken by virtually everyone in Ulster, apart from a few immigrants living in the province, and a handful of monoglots in the Donegal Gaeltacht. Irish is probably the second most widely-spoken language, though this is hard to verify as many people claim fluency while having only a basic working knowledge of the language. Cantonese is the third most common mostly due to the considerable Chinese community of Belfast, the province's largest city. Belfast has more Chinese restaurants per capita than any other European city.

The biggest lake in Ireland (and the British Isles), Lough Neagh, is in eastern Ulster. Its highest point is Slieve Donard, in Down (848 metres). The most northerly point of Ireland, Malin Head, is in Donegal. The second highest sea cliffs in Europe, at Slieve League, are also in this county. The biggest river in Ireland, the Shannon, rises in Cavan. Volcanic activity in eastern Ulster led to the formation of the Antrim Plateau and the Giant's Causeway, one of Ireland's three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The geographical centre of Ulster is near the village of Pomeroy , in Tyrone.

History & politics

In the 1600s Ulster functioned as the last redoubt of the traditional Gaelic way of life, and following the defeat of the Irish forces in the Nine Years War at the battle of Kinsale (1601), Elizabeth I succeeded in subjugating Ulster and all of Ireland. The Gaelic leaders of Ulster, the O'Neills, and O'Donnells decamped en masse in 1607 to Catholic Europe, finding their power under English suzerainty limited. This allowed the Crown to settle Ulster with more loyal English and Scottish planters , which began in earnest in 1610. The Plantation of Ulster, which was government run, settled only the counties confiscated from the Irish rebels of the Nine Years War. However, the most extensive settlement in Ulster of English and Scots occurred in Antrim and Down, which were not officially planted, but had been de-populated during the war. This unofficial settlement continued well into the 18th century, interrupted only by the Catholic uprising of 1641. Thousands of Protestants were slaughtered by dispossessed Catholics, an event which remains strong in Ulster Protestant folk memory. In the ensuing wars, Ulster became a battleground between the Protestant settlers and the native Irish Catholics. The war in Ulster ended with the defeat of the Irish Catholic army at the battle of Scarrifholis in1650 and the occupation of the province by the Cromwellian New Model Army.

Forty years later, in 1689, the conflict was re-fought in Williamite war in Ireland, which provided Protestant loyalists with the iconic victories of the Siege of Derry and the Battle of the Boyne, which are still commemorated today. Under the subsequent "Protestant Ascendancy" in Ireland, most of Ulster's population was excluded from power on religious grounds. Roman Catholics, descended from the indigenous Irish, and Presbyterians, descended from Scottish planters were both discriminated against by the Penal Laws, which gave full political rights only to Anglican Protestants, who were mostly descended from English settlers. As a result, in the 1790s, many Catholics and Presbyterians joined together in the United Irishmen movement to found a non-sectarian republic. However, this period also saw the much sectarian violence between Catholics and Protestants, notably the "battle of the Diamond " in 1795, a faction fight between the rival "Defenders" (Catholic) and "Peep of Day Boys" (Protestant), which led to the founding of the Orange Order. In 1798, the United Irishmen launched a rebellion in Ulster, mostly supported by Presbyterians, but were swiftly put down by the British authorities, who employed severe repression after the fighting had ended. In the wake of the failure of this rebellion, and the abolition of religious discrimination after the Act of Union in 1800, most Ulster Protestants returned to the British Protestant identiy that had characterised the initial settlement of the province.

In the 19th century, Ulster became the most prosperous province in Ireland - with the only large-scale industrialisation in the country. In the latter part of the century, Belfast overtook Dublin as the largest city on the island. Belfast became famous in this period for its huge dockyards and shipbuilding - notably of the RMS Titanic. In the 19th century sectarian divisions in Ulster became hardened into the policial categories of unionist (supporters of the Union with Britain, mostly Protestant) and Irish nationalist (usually Catholic advocates of Irish independence). The origins of Northern Ireland's current politics lie in these late 19th century disputes over Home Rule for Ireland, which Ulster Protestants usually opposed - fearing for their status in an autonomous Catholic ruled Ireland and also not trusting southern politicians with managing their industrial economy. To resist Home Rule, thousands of unionists signed the "Solemn League and Covenant" of 1912 pledging to resist Irish independence. This movement also saw the creation of the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force. in response, Irish nationalists created the Irish Volunteers -forerunners of the IRA.

After World War I, in which thousands of Ulstermen of all religions were killed, Ireland saw several years of political violence, which ended in the partition of Ireland between the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland. In 1922 most of Ulster became Northern Ireland and remained in the United Kingdom, whilst the rest became part of the Irish Free State. For the subsequent history of Ulster see History of Northern Ireland and History of the Republic of Ireland.

While the Ulster Catholics of Northern Ireland have long opposed Northern Ireland's existence, the Ulster Protestants of the three Free State counties have assimilated well, although some sectarian tension remains. Seven of Northern Ireland's eighteen MPs are Catholic, while one of Ulster's ten TDs is Protestant.

The flag of Ulster, shown to the right, was the basis for the official flag of Northern Ireland , which was abolished in 1973.

See also

Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04