Munster is one of the four Provinces of Ireland, occupying the south-west of the island, wholly in the Republic of Ireland. In Ancient Ireland, this was one of the 'fifths' ruled by its own king or a "king of over-kings" Irish: rí ruirech, the most famed of whom was Brian Boru, whom made himself king over all Ireland, and from whom descend the O'Brian clan.
In the Irish labnguage the province is known as an Mhumhain.
Munster consists of six counties:
Of these, all are south and east of the River Shannon apart from County Clare, which lies north of ther Shannon Estuary facing County Limerick.
In the early centuries AD, Munster was the domain of the Iverni and the legendary Clanna Dedad led by Cú Roí and to whom the celebrated Conaire Mór also belonged.
During the Early Middle Ages, most of the area was part of the Kingdom of Munster, ruled by the Eóganachta dynasty. Prior to this date, the area was ruled by the Dáirine and Corcu Loígde overlords from the early 7th century onwards, perhaps beginning with the notable career of Faílbe Flann mac Áedo Duib. Later rulers from the Eóganachta who would dominate a greater part of Ireland were Cathal mac Finguine and Feidlimid mac Cremthanin. Notable regional kingdoms and lordships of Early Mediæval Munster were Iarmuman (West Munster), Osraige (Ossory), Uí Liatháin, Uí Fidgenti, Éile, Múscraige, Ciarraige Luachra, Corcu Duibne, Corcu Baiscinn, and Déisi Muman.
By the 9th century the Gaels had been joined by Norwegian Vikings who founded Ireland's first towns, amongst them Cork, Waterford and Limerick, and these were for the most part incorporated into a maritime empire by the Dynasty of Ivar the Boneless, who periodically would threaten Munster with conquest in the next century. Around this period Ossory broke away from Munster. The 10th century saw the rise of the Dalcassians (probably descendants of the ancient Mairtine, a sept of the Iverni/Érainn), who had earlier annexed Thomond, north of the Shannon to Munster. Their leaders were the ancestors of the O'Brien dynasty and spawned Brian Bóru, perhaps the most noted High King of Ireland, and several of whose descendants were also High Kings. By 1118 Munster had fractured into the Kingdom of Thomond under the O'Briens, the Kingdom of Desmond under the MacCarthy dynasty (Eóganachta), and the short-lived Kingdom of Ormond under the O'Kennedys (another Dalcassian sept); three kingdoms represented in the three crowns of the arms of Munster.
Norman influence from the 14th Century was led by the adventuring of the FitzGerald, de Clare and Butler houses, two of whom carved out earldoms within the Lordship of Ireland, the Earls of Desmond eventually becoming independent potentates, for a time the greatest in Ireland, while the Earls of Ormond remained closer to England. The O'Brien of Thomond and MacCarthy of Desmond surrendered and regranted sovereignty to the Tudors in 1543 and 1565, accepting incorporation into the Tudor Kingdom of Ireland. The terrible Desmond Rebellions, led by the FitzGeralds, soon followed.
Almost three centuries later much of the area was hit hard in the Great Famine, especially the west.. Before the Famine, there were just under three million people living in the province, but the population dropped devastatingly low due to mass emigration in the 1840s.
During the Irish Civil War of the 1920s, a brief Munster Republic was declared, which was soon defeated by the Irish Free State's army.
Munster's counties are famed for Irish traditional music. There are many ancient castles and monasteries in the province; this coupled with the vast green countryside and three cities makes it a feature of the tourism industry.
In Irish mythology, a number of pagan goddesses are associated with the province including Anann, Áine, Grian, Clíodhna, Aimend, Mór Muman, Bébinn, Aibell and Queen Mongfind. Each is historically associated with certain septs of the nobility. The druid-god of Munster is Mug Ruith. A more shadowy figure is Donn, associated with Tech Duinn, beyond the mortal realm.
The majority of Irish ogham inscriptions are found in Munster, principally in areas occupied by the Iverni tribe, especially the Corcu Duibne. Later, Europe's first linguistic dictionary in any non-Classical language, the Sanas Cormaic, was compiled by Munster scholars, traditionally thought to have been directed by the king-bishop Cormac mac Cuilennáin (d. 908).
The School of Ross in Munster was one of Europe's leading centres of learning in the Early Middle Ages.
The Golden Vale is considered rich pastureland and has historically contributed to the wealth of Munster. It is the best land in Ireland for dairy farming.
The Economies of Cork and of Limerick are the main engines of the province's economy. The Cork harbour area was the centre of Ireland's heavy industry manufacturing sector. Cork had a steel mill, a shipyard, a car assembly plant, a tyre plant, a deep harbour, and a thriving textile sector in the mid twentieth century. However heavy taxes, excessive regulation, competition from larger centres of economic activity, and the sudden removal of protective tariffs upon membership of the European Economic Community caused a decline in the 1970s. Cork was Ireland's rust belt city in the 1980s, as heavy industry moved out, and newer sectors tried to get established in as unemployment peaked.
Shannon Airport, a rich music tradition, the best food from land and sea, and landscapes of international renown, have all been influential in the development of the tourist sector in Munster.
The largest employment hub in Munster is Metropolitan Cork, with many large multinational firms, and the second is the Shannon Free Zone with over 120 international firms based there employing over 7,500 people.
Cork Harbour is the largest natural harbour in Europe and has always had a long and important maritime history.
Haulbowline Island is the home of the Irish fleet and the Irish Naval College.
The town of Cobh and the village of Dunmore East are the only cruise ship destination. Cobh was also the last port of call of the Titanic, before heading into the Atlantic towards its infamous disaster in the ice.
The Irish language, or more specifically Munster Irish is spoken as a first language in Gaeltachtaí (Irish-speaking areas);
- in western Kerry (Corca Dhuibhne)
- in southern Kerry (Uíbh Ráthach).
- in western Cork (Múscraí)
- in southwestern Cork (Oileán Cléire)
- in southwestern Waterford (Gaeltacht na Rinne or Gaeltacht na nDéise)
There are about 35,000 Irish language speakers in Munster, with 9,737 native speakers in the Munster Gaeltacht areas of Cork, Kerry and Waterford and there is also the 12,219 attending the 46 Gaelscoils (Irish language primary schools) and 22 Gaelcholáiste (Irish language secondary schools) across the province. According to the Irish Census 2011 there are 13,193 daily speakers outside the education system in the province.
The number of Gaelscoileanna (Irish language schools) has increased sharply in the last ten years. Children learn Irish and speak Irish in the Gaelscoileanna. Munster has the second highest number of Irish-medium primary schools (46) in Ireland and the highest number of Irish-medium secondary schools (22) of any Irish province.
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- The ruins of the Iron Age mountaintop fortress Caherconree, preserving the name of Cú Roí, can also be found in their lands.