A Mnemonic for the Thirty-two Traditional Counties of Ireland (Geography)


The source of the data.

This Wikipedia article has a good map of the 32 traditional counties of Ireland.

The mnemonic verse.

This mnemonic is a tweetable verse

Containing six lines (ten syllables each).

Fallen P, balanced parallelogram.

F. TA, DAD, Lough Neagh. D, (F — jumped) C, M.

Leitrim and Louth block in Northern Ireland.

LiMeD (WoW!) CoKe LaKe FoWL, RaiL SMoG, CaKe CoW TaiL.

Upper case vowels in nonsense phrases are initial letters of the names of counties. Lower case vowels in nonsense phrases are padding. This applies everywhere in this mnemonic.

On the other hand, once you understand how the various parts of the mnemonic work, there is no need to stick to my format. It’s perfectly alright to write, instead of LiMeD, for example, LIMED, Limed, or limed.

A line by line explanation of the mnemonic follows.

Fallen P, balanced parallelogram.

Ten syllables that recalls that the outline of Northern Ireland looks like a capital ‘P’ (it also looks a little like a sickle with Fermanagh as the handle) that has fallen forwards onto the ground, lying face down in a sort of diagonal position due to the great size of the head. The hole in the ‘P’ is the largest lake in Ireland and the British Isles, Lough Neagh which is shaped roughly like a parallelogram standing on one of its short sides, looking like it might fall forward any time, but for the time being is balanced albeit precariously.

F. TA, DAD, Lough Neagh.

The six counties that are in both Ulster and Northern Ireland, and the big lake, in the middle of Northern Ireland, that is so hard to spell and pronounce — Wikipedia has an article about it — that I included partly because it’s so big and important and partly to bring to the total number of syllyables in the line to ten.

“F. Ta Dad. Lough Neagh”. Five syllables that recall FTADAD, the initials of the counties of Northern Ireland (also known as “The Six Counties”) as well as the name of Loch Neagh. The counties are in order in an unbroken chain, starting at the base of the stem of the ‘P’ and winding anticlockwise around Loch Neagh to complete the ‘P’. County Fermanagh, County Tyrone, County Armagh, County Down, County Antrim, County Derry, all except County Fermanagh touching (and administering part of) Loch Neagh.

I imagine a young man angrily telling his father that he got an F in his exam and ironically thanks his father (“ta” means thanks in Northern Ireland) because he blames his father for it for some reason. Finally he says where he is going: to jump in the lake (Lough Neagh) literally, maybe because his father had said, if you get an F you can go jump in the lake.

D, (F — jumped), C,M.

The three counties in Ulster that are not in Northern Ireland. ‘F(jumped)’ means the F of F TA DAD Lough Neagh, which is County Fermanagh (already encoded), is jumped over by the mnemonic.

The mnemonics for the 32 traditional Counties of Ireland have all the counties in a single chain of contiguous counties except for one gap, the gap between County Donegal and County Cavan (where the chain skips/jumps over Fermanagh which is explicitly referred to in the relevant mnemonic.
Leitrim and Louth block in Northern Ireland.

This line recalls that Leitrim and Louth are the only counties of the Republic of Ireland that are not in Ulster and yet border Northern Ireland. The idea is that these two counties “block in” Northern Ireland. Besides that, they are both start with “L” and both have some coastline.

It may be of some interest to those who are only interested in Northern Ireland and the counties of the Republic of Ireland that border it. These folk can dispense with the rest of the mnemonic.

LiMeD (WoW!) CoKe LaKe FoWL.

The twelve counties in Leinster. Note that the F stands of Offaly, while the o is vowel padding.

The information is in the consonants LMDWWCKLKFWL each one of which is the first consonant of the name of each county.

They are in order as you start at Louth (which borders County Monaghan) at the northeastern tip of Leinster and the Republic, and then follow the straight coast due south to the southeastern tip of Leinster and of the Island. Then west to the southwestern tip of Leinster, and then north to the northwestern tip of the province.

The twelve are Counties Leitrim, Meath, Dublin, Wicklow, Wexford (at the SE corner of Ireland), Carlow, Kilkenny, Laoise, Kildare, Offaly (the first consonant is ‘F’), West Meath, and Longford. I imagine someone expressing the fact of being amazed at the presence of fowl on a lake of Coca Cola to which lime juice has been added, because it is believed by that person that adding lime juice to a lake of Coca Cola will drive away all fowl immediately because although they love Coca Cola they hate lime juice.

RaiL SMoG, CaKe CoW TaiL.

The five counties in Connaught, and after the comma, the six counties in Munster.

Five syllables that work the same as the five syllables for Leinster. “Rail smog.” recalls RLSMG, the five counties of Connaught: Counties Roscommon (which borders on County Longford), Leitrim, Sligo, Mayo, and Galway.

“CaKe CoW TaiL.” stands for CKCWTL, the six counties of the province of Munster: Counties Clare (which borders on Galway), Kerry, Cork, Waterford, Tipperary, and Limerick. Rail smog I imagine to be smog that is made of full-size train track rail cut into short sections that float in the air, making it difficult to see your own feet (as smog is rumored to do have done on occasion). “CaKe CoW TaiL” I imagine to refer to the tail of a cow which has a body that is made of cake, or the tail of a cow-shaped cake or the tail of a cow that, unlike the rest of the cow, is made of cake or is a cake.

Innovative features.

The mnemonics in this article have several innovative/unique features.

I used FoWL to stand for County Offaly, County Westmeath, and County Longford. The algorithm is to convert each name into a consonant, using the initial consonant of each name, and then fill in with arbitrary vowels make pronounceable syllables that ideally are memorable, perhaps because they are actual words, and or even make some sense. But it must me stressed that nonsensical strings of words and even nonsense syllables are still fairly easily memorized. If you’ve seen this technique anywhere, please let me know.

I packed in extra information when possible. For example, the mnemonics here are configured to remind the user of which counties are in each of the four provinces of the island of Ireland in addition to recalling the names of the counties and which other counties they border on. Thus LiMeD (WoW!) CoKe LaKe FoWL recalls not only twelve counties in order, but also the fact that they compose one province (Leinster, one of the four provinces that the island is divided into).

The mnemonics all have either exactly five syllables. This makes recalling them much easier because you can easily tell when you have missed out any part of the mnemonic by counting the syllables on the digits of one hand as you recite it.

In the cases of Counties Leitrim and Louth when they get a special early extra mention as separate entities. Later they form part of the single chain that includes all the counties in Leinster, Connaught, and Munster, in that order, and are seen again there. This is so that it easy to fill in the names of the counties and provinces in a blank map of the counties of Ireland. It also makes it easier for using the mnemonics for the challenging task of drawing freehand the counties.

The set of mnemonics are designed to be modular. That is, they are designed to be able to be broken into parts and only one or more of the parts being used. For example, if you are only memorizing the UK you can use only the Northern Ireland parts. If you are only interested in which counties of the Republic of Ireland are in Ulster, you can memorize the one pentasyllable. Likewise if you just want to memorize the counties that border Northern Ireland, and which province each one is in, you can do that with the two easy pentasyllables that tell you that.

The order is Northern Ireland, then the rest of Ulster, then Leitrim and Louth getting a special early extra mention because they are the only counties of the Republic that border Northern Ireland while not being in Ulster, then the east coast of the Republic (which has great importance to Northern Ireland — as well as to the Republic of Ireland), including Dublin, then the rest of Leinster, then Connaught which is the other province besides Leinster that borders on Ulster, and finally, Munster, the only province that doesn’t border on Ulster, and the only province that doesn’t border on Northern Ireland. By the way, the northern tip of the mainland is in Ulster, as is the eastern tip, while Munster contains the southern and western tips. Leinster and Connaught do not get a look-in.

The lines of the mnemonic verse do not all work the same way.

For example, “F. Ta Dad. Lough Neagh” encodes the initial letters FTADAD of six counties by using them to make word directly, which is ideal when it is possible, but it is not always possible, usually because there are not enough vowels.

On the other hand, “LiMeD (WoW!) CoKe LaKe FoWL, RaiL SMoG, CaKe CoW TaiL.” encodes the first consonant in each county’s name: LMDWWCKLKFWL and as many arbitrary vowels as are needed are inserted between the consonants to make words. This allows to words to be made in almost every case, and usually, meaningful sentences. Note that the earliest consonant in “Offaly” is “F”. The “o” of “fowl” is an arbitrary vowel. It is not the “O” of “Offaly”. Note that nonsense syllables can also be used. If there was no such word as “ fowl”, it could still be used. Or “fwol”, or “fowal”, or “aifiwoolo” or several nonsense syllables: “foo wa lai”, say. This allows one to adjust the number of syllables, so that you have the correct number of syllables, in this case, five or ten.


Your thoughts, positive or negative or neutral, are more than welcome. In case you don’t want to comment here, I am @bartshmatthew on Twitter, too. I’d be interested to hear any thoughts related to these or other mnemonics, including about other useful new kinds of mnemonics if you know of any. Also, please let me know about any errors that you notice. I suspect there must be a typo or two, at the very least.