Despite its former reputation as being violent and dangerous the political situation has stabilised quite a bit. Although a few extremist paramilitary organizations are still active, the six counties are much safer to visit than they formerly were.
Northern Ireland was established on May 3, 1921 when the British government split Ireland into two autonomous territories. It comprises six of the nine counties of Ulster (one of the four ancient Irish provinces), with the remaining three (Monaghan, Cavan and Donegal) staying in what is now the modern day Republic of Ireland. For this reason Ulster is a popular colloquial alternative name for Northern Ireland, even if it is not in the strictest sense historically accurate.
Belfast is situated in County Antrim, as is the stunning North Coast and Giant’s Causeway.
Formerly the most militarised territory in Western Europe and home of the Navan Fort.
The city of Londonderry is located here.
The coastal town Bangor is found here. Also the Mourne Mountains – an area of outstanding natural beauty.
Largely rural county adjacent to the Irish border, famed for its numerous lakes.
A rural county, home to the Sperrin Mountains.
Place names and national identity
Owing to the political situation in the region, the actual nomenclature used for the region itself, and certain towns and cities is something of a sensitive issue. As a general rule, those who sympathise with the Unionist/Loyalist cause (i.e. those who wish Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom), tend to steer away away from calling the country “Ireland”, or describing themselves as “Irish” – preferring the terms “Ulster” or “Northern Ireland”, or “Northern Irish” or “British”, to differentiate themselves from the Republic, which is commonly referred to simply as “The South”.
For the Republican/Nationalist side (i.e those who wish Northern Ireland to secede from the United Kingdom and reunite with the Republic to form a single independent Ireland), the opposite is true – in formal conversation they will refer to the country as the “North of Ireland” or simply “Ireland”, since the ancient province of Ulster actually includes three counties (Monaghan, Donegal and Cavan) which are still part of the Republic of Ireland.
The best example of this ambiguity however, is the city of Londonderry, which is still recognised by its pre-Union name of Derry among the Republican/Nationalist community – the most visible evidence of this being the road signs that point to the city from the Republic which still say “Derry”, contrasting with those that say “Londonderry” in Northern Ireland. Some road maps tried to resolve this by referring it as “Londonderry/Derry”, which gave rise to the nickname “Stroke City” among locals. (“Stroke” is one word for what, in American English, is usually called a “slash”: / ) However a compromise was reached in the 1990s, whereby the city’s local council was renamed “City of Derry Corporation”, whilst it was still called “Londonderry” officially at national level.