The county is colloquially referred to as “The Rebel County”. This name has 15th Century origins, however from the 20th century the name has been more commonly attributed to the prominent role Cork played in the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921) when it was the scene of considerable fighting; in addition, it was an anti-treaty stronghold during the Irish Civil War (1922–23). Much of what is now county Cork was once part of the Kingdom of Deas Mumhan (South Munster), anglicised as “Desmond”, ruled by the MacCarthy Mór dynasty. After the Norman Invasion in the 12th century, the McCarthy clan were pushed westward into what is now West Cork and County Kerry. Dunlough Castle, standing just north of Mizen Head, is one of the oldest castles in Ireland (A.D. 1207). The north and east of Cork were taken by the Hiberno-Norman FitzGerald dynasty, who became the Earls of Desmond. Cork City was given an English Royal Charter in 1318 and for many centuries was an outpost for Old English culture. The Fitzgerald Desmond dynasty was destroyed in the Desmond Rebellions of 1569–1573 and 1579–83. Much of county Cork was devastated in the fighting, particularly in the Second Desmond Rebellion. In the aftermath, much of Cork was colonised by English settlers in the Plantation of Munster.
In 1491 Cork played a part in the English Wars of the Roses when Perkin Warbeck, a pretender to the English throne, landed in the city and tried to recruit support for a plot to overthrow Henry VII of England. The mayor of Cork and several important citizens went with Warbeck to England but when the rebellion collapsed they were all captured and executed. Cork’s nickname of the ‘rebel city’ originates in these events.
In 1601 the decisive Battle of Kinsale took place in County Cork, which was to lead to English domination of Ireland for centuries. Kinsale had been the scene of a landing of Spanish troops to help Irish rebels in the Nine Years War (1594–1603). When this force was defeated, the rebel hopes for victory in the war were all but ended. County Cork was officially created by a division of the older County Desmond in 1606.
Tipperary was one of the first parts of Ireland to be shired during the 13th century following the Norman invasion of Ireland. For local government purposes the county is divided into the counties of North Tipperary and South Tipperary. This division dates back to the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898, with the county’s two “ridings” having had separate assize courts for much longer. The use of riding for the divisions was an historical misnomer, since the word derives from the dividing of an area into three parts. The expression “riding” has been discontinued for official purposes since 2002.
Tipperary is sometimes referred to as the “Premier County”, a description attributed to Thomas Davis, Editor of The Nation newspaper in the 1840s as a tribute to the nationalistic feeling in Tipperary and said that “where Tipperary leads, Ireland follows”. Tipperary was the subject of the famous song “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” written by Jack Judge, whose grandparents came from the county. It was popular with regiments of the British army during World War I. The song “Slievenamon”, which is traditionally associated with the county, was written by Charles Kickham from Mullinahone, and is commonly sung at sporting fixtures involving the county.
The county is rich in evidence of early human habitation. Portal tombs (sometimes called dolmens) exist at Ballybrittas (on Bree Hill) and at Newbawn — and date from the Neolithic period or earlier. Remains from the Bronze Age period are far more widespread. Early Irish tribes formed the Kingdom of Uí Cheinnsealaig, an area that was slightly larger than the current County Wexford. The county was one of the earliest areas of Ireland to be Christianised, in the early 5th century. Later, from 819 onwards, the Vikings plundered many Christian sites in the county. Wexford town became a Viking settlement near the end of the 9th century.
Wexford was the site of the invasion of Ireland by Normans in 1169 at the behest of Diarmuid Mac Murrough, King of Uí Cheinnsealaig and king of Leinster (Laigin), which led to the subsequent colonisation of the country by the Anglo-Normans.
The native Irish began to regain some of their former territories in the 14th century, especially in the north of the county, principally under Art MacMurrough Kavanagh. Under Henry VIII the great religious houses were dissolved, 1536–41; in Co. Wexford this included Glascarrig Priory, Clonmines Priory, Tintern Abbey, and Dunbrody Abbey.
On 23 October 1641, a major rebellion broke out in Ireland, and Co. Wexford produced strong support for Confederate Ireland. Oliver Cromwell and his English Parliamentarian Army arrived 1649 in the county and captured it. The lands of the Irish and Anglo-Normans were confiscated and given to Cromwell’s soldiers as payment for their service in the Parliamentarian Army. At Duncannon, in the south-west of the county, James II, after his defeat at the Battle of the Boyne, embarked for Kinsale and then to exile in France.
Co. Wexford was the most important area in which the Irish Rebellion of 1798 was fought, during which significant battles occurred at Vinegar Hill (Enniscorthy) and New Ross. The famous ballad Boolavogue was written in remembrance of the Wexford Rising. At Easter 1916, a small rebellion occurred at Enniscorthy town, on cue with that in Dublin. During World War II, German planes bombed Campile. In 1963 John F. Kennedy, then President of the United States, visited the county and his ancestral home at Dunganstown, near New Ross.