Ireland is home to some of the most beautiful cities and towns on the planet, although we may be slightly biased…
However, only five of them are thought of as Ireland’s “main cities.” These are Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, and Waterford.
Whether you’re just curious about Ireland or planning a visit, we will give you some interesting trivia about each of the Emerald Isle’s 5 main cities.
What are the Five Main Cities in Ireland?
We’re assuming you know this, but Dublin is the capital city of Ireland, where the Irish parliament sits, laws are created, and national sports teams play etc. Located on the east coast, at the mouth of the River Liffey, Dublin is the most popular tourist destination in the country.
Two of Ireland’s most famous historic buildings are located in Dublin, St Patrick’s Cathedral, which dates back to 1191, and Dublin Castle.
The city has a deep, rich, and long history. From the formation of The Pale, by English colonisers, to the 1916 Easter Rising, to famous exports like Guinness, U2 and James Joyce, Dublin packs a lot in to a relatively small space when compared to other cities around the globe.
In fact, Dublin’s history goes all the way back to the 10th century, when it became a Viking settlement. The name “Dublin” comes from the Viking word “Dubh Linn,” meaning Black Pool. Referring to a peat-stained pool of water the visitors originally found on their arrival.
We know Rebel County natives believe that Cork should be the capital city but technically it’s still Ireland’s defacto second city.
Located in the South West, Cork is Ireland’s second-largest city by land and third-largest by population but it wasn’t always the bustling city it is today; the name comes from “Corcaigh,” the Irish for Marsh!
But it’s come a long way since then.
Today, Cork can boast about being the first to do many things.
- The first-ever yacht club was set up in Cork in 1720
- The first potato in Ireland was planted in Cork by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1588
- The first temperance society began in Cork in 1833
Cork natives are famously proud of their city, and county, so you can expect a warm welcome if you visit. It’s also home to many famous Irish faces including Cillian Murphy (of Peaky Blinders fame, amongst many other productions), guitarist Rory Gallagher (born in Donegal but raised in Cork), Eileen Walsh, Frank O’Connor, and two of Manchester United’s most famous players of the last 30 years in Roy Keane and Denis Irwin, amongst many other famous names.
Limerick’s story began as far back as 812AD but began to become fully established in 922AD when Vikings invaders arrived and named it Luimneach – named after the general area around the Shannon Estuary.
Today, when people from outside of Ireland hear the word “Limerick,” they might think of a particular type of naughty poem. However, these were probably not invented in Limerick. One theory suggests that the first ever Limerick was about Limerick, and the name stuck around.
The city is home to a few famous faces including the current President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, former BBC broadcaster the late Terry Wogan, and the late Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries. The city is also partly responsible for playing a large part in American history because US President John F Kennedy’s great-grandfather, Thomas Fitzgerald, originally hailed from Limerick.
Galway is the largest city in the west of Ireland and sits on the mouth of the River Corrib, where it meets the Atlantic Ocean.
Galway is well known as a cultural and culinary hub of Ireland and it’s a testament to the people of the city who have worked hard to preserve their proud history, despite the difficulties of previous centuries. In Galway, you’ll find medieval walls, folk music, traditional Irish customs, and a thriving Irish food scene.
The county of Galway, in which the city of the same name sits, is also home to the largest Irish Gaelic-speaking community in the world.
The city also features the King’s Head Pub. Rumour has it the building was initially given to King Charles I’s executioner, by Oliver Cromwell, as a thank you. It was also the hometown of Richard Martin, one of Galway’s first MPs to sit in Westminster during English rule in Ireland. His name might not be familiar to you but he is noted as being responsible for creating anti-animal-cruelty laws that eventually led to the formation of the RSPCA.
Waterford was first established as a Viking settlement in 853AD.
The city itself is probably most famous, both nationally and further afield, for Waterford Crystal, fine cut glass ornaments, vases, glasses and so on.
Unfortunately Waterford Crystal is no longer produced in Ireland, with the original company ceasing to produce in Ireland as of 2009/2010, and the brand is owned by a Finnish company. However, you can still visit a Waterford Crystal museum during your visit to the city.
Waterford has also played a significant role in the national history of Ireland, as the flag that the nation uses today was first flown in the city in 1848 by Thomas Francis Meagher. The tricolour style was adopted via support from French republicans but the colours were switched to green, orange and white to represent a lasting truce between Irish Catholics and British Protestants on the island.
We should also highlight that the cities of Belfast and Derry are actually part of the 5 largest cities on the island of Ireland, by population, but we’ll feature those another day!