Ulster (/; Irish: Ulaidh pronounced [ˈul̪ˠəi] or Cúige Uladh pronounced [ˈkuːɟə ˈul̪ˠə], Ulster Scots: Ulstèr or Ulster) is a province in the north of the island of Ireland. It is made up of nine counties: six of these constitute Northern Ireland (a part of the United Kingdom); the remaining three are in the Republic of Ireland. It is the second largest (after Munster) and second most populous (after Leinster) of Ireland's four provinces, with Belfast being its biggest city. Unlike the other provinces, Ulster has a high percentage of Protestants, making up almost half of its population. English is the main language and Ulster English the main dialect. A minority also speak Irish, and there are Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking regions) in southern Londonderry, the Gaeltacht Quarter of Belfast and in Donegal, where 25% of the total Gaeltacht population of Ireland is located. Lough Neagh, in the east, is the largest lake in the British Isles, while Lough Erne in the west is one of its largest lake networks. The main mountain ranges are the Mournes, Sperrins, Croaghgorms and Derryveagh Mountains.
Historically, Ulster lay at the heart of the Gaelic world made up of Gaelic Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. According to tradition, in ancient Ireland it was one of the fifths (Irish: cúige) ruled by a rí ruirech, or "king of over-kings". It is named after the overkingdom of Ulaid, in the east of the province, which was in turn named after the Ulaid folk. The other overkingdoms in Ulster were Airgíalla and Ailech. After the Norman invasion of Ireland in the 12th century, eastern Ulster was conquered by the Anglo-Normans and became the Earldom of Ulster. By the late 14th century the Earldom had collapsed and the O'Neill dynasty had come to dominate most of Ulster, claiming the title King of Ulster. Ulster became the most thoroughly Gaelic and independent of Ireland's provinces. Its rulers resisted English encroachment but were defeated in the Nine Years' War (1594–1603). King James I then colonized Ulster with English-speaking Protestant settlers from Great Britain, in the Plantation of Ulster. This led to the founding of many of Ulster's towns. The inflow of Protestant settlers and migrants also led to bouts of sectarian violence with Catholics, notably during the 1641 rebellion and the Armagh disturbances. Along with the rest of Ireland, Ulster became part of the United Kingdom in 1801. In the early 20th century, moves towards Irish self-rule were opposed by many Ulster Protestants, sparking the Home Rule Crisis. This, and the subsequent Irish War of Independence, led to the partition of Ireland. Six Ulster counties became Northern Ireland, a self-governing territory within the United Kingdom, while the rest of Ireland became the Irish Free State, now the Republic of Ireland.
Ulster has no official function for local government purposes in either country. However, for the purposes of ISO 3166-2, Ulster is used to refer to the three counties of Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan only, which are given country sub-division code "IE-U". The name is also used by various organisations such as cultural and sporting bodies.
The name Ulster has several possible derivations: from the Norse name ‘Uladztir’, which is an adaptation of Ulaidh and tir, the Irish for ’land’; or similarly it may be derived from Ulaidh plus the Norse genitive s followed by the Irish tir. It has also been suggested to have derived from Uladh plus the Norse suffix ster (meaning place), which was common in the Shetland Islands and Norway.
The Irish name, Cúige Uladh, means the ’province of the Ulaid’ (Ulaidh in modern Irish), with the term cúige formerly referring to a fifth. The Ulaidh were a group of tribes who dwelt in the region.
Ulaidh has historically been anglicised as Ulagh or Ullagh and Latinised as Ulidia or Ultonia. The latter two have yielded the terms Ulidian and Ultonian. The Irish word for someone or something from Ulster is Ultach, and this can be found in the surnames MacNulty, MacAnulty, and Nulty, which all derive from Mac an Ultaigh, meaning ’son of the Ulsterman’. Words that have been used in English are Ullish and Ulsterman/Ulsterwoman.
Northern Ireland is often referred to as Ulster, despite including only six of Ulster's nine counties. This usage is most common amongst people in Northern Ireland who are unionist, although it is also used by the media throughout the United Kingdom. Most Irish nationalists object to the use of Ulster in this context.