Including Ireland, there are 26 countries where counties are a recognised administrative or geographic division and there are nearly 7000 counties across the world. So, this isn’t going to be another “Ranking of Ireland’s 32 Counties” article. Not at all. It’s far more definitive than that. Allow me to explain that there are nearly 7000 counties in the world and still, there isn’t a county among the rest that’s quite like Galway.
Galway is not the greatest county in Ireland.
Galway is the greatest county in the world.
Part One – The Rest of the World
[To begin with, Anglo-phone countries where county and counties have a similar meaning.]
The United Kingdom
England is divided into 83 metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties. Scotland’s 33 local government counties were abolished in 1975 for different council areas that have since been abolished as well. The 13 historic counties of Wales made way for 22 unitary authorities; 11 of which are legally recognised as counties and the other 11 are county boroughs. Anyway, with Brexit and all that, it won’t be long before the whole map is getting torn asunder and smaller and smaller entities are created until every British citizen is, in fact, their own sovereign entity. Which they still won’t be happy about. Anyway, it’s also quite easy to get a majority agreement from the rest of the world that Great Britain does not have a contender for a great county since we all hate them.
The United States of America
Most states in the United States are subdivided into counties, and I know it’d be easier to ignore that and draw comparisons with the 50 states as if they were counties themselves. But I’m being specific. To that end, there are roughly 3095 counties in the United States: Alaska call them boroughs or census areas, Louisiana call them parishes, while Connecticut and Massachusetts may abolish most of if not all their counties – as recognised administrative divisions, at least. In what they might call patriotism but we all recognise as a startling lack of originality, nearly every state has a Washington County. Are there any contenders? Grand County, Colorado, might be close. Bacon County, Georgia; Hooker County, Nebraska; Licking County, Ohio; and Yolo County, California are pretty funny. There’s a Woodford County in Illinois and Kentucky… Of course, Jason Flynn and the rest of the Tommy Larkins club know where they’d rather be. America can be proud of their “World Champions” in baseball, basketball, and American Football all they want – there isn’t one American county out of the lot with an All-Ireland championship, though…
At present, there are about 58 counties in four provinces of Canada where counties remain a recognised division. New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Ontario are the current four while Alberta and Quebec have changed to a mix of municipalities, regions and territories. Frankly, there’s not much point in considering a country where their counties are disrespected in this manner. Did you think all Canadians are happy, friendly people? Not as happy as they could be… Not nearly as happy as a Galway person who knows that their county is there to stay… Have all the Maple Syrup and Tim Hortons you want, Canada, you’ll need it to fill the void of your impermanent county structures.
New Zealand no longer has counties for administrative purposes, although some of the old county names are still in use. It’s like referring to a ghost, though. Those counties don’t really exist. It’s hardly surprising that so many Kiwis have settled in Galway, even if the majority of them are involved in Connacht Rugby.
Australia uses the term county in some states (New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and part of South Australia) but they are only used for land titles references. Do they mean anything more to Aussies than land titles? Do they ever see someone in maroon and white and feel like they’re part of something greater than themselves? Do they ever feel that tribal sense of belonging? Probably not… And if you think AFL is close enough, you’re kidding yourself.
Jamaica is divided into parishes, which are grouped into three counties: Cornwall, Middlesex, and Surrey. However, counties are no longer used for any administrative purpose in Jamaica. Which is a pity because I don’t think there’s a single GAA player who wouldn’t make that trip for an inter-county fixture…
[Next, countries where county and counties have a near equivalent.]
Albania has 12 counties, only a county is called a Qark in Albania. Don’t get me wrong, I think an Inter-Qark Championship could be unreal. As yet, though, no registered interest in a GAA crossover, so we’ll need to review Albania another time – a great prospect on the county scene.
Argentina has 376 departments, an administrative division that is roughly equivalent to a county. They’ve also got a bit of disputed territory with our neighbours, the Brits, which you’d think would make for more of a connection between our two countries. However, let’s not fool ourselves here. If Argentina wanted to be taken seriously, they’d call them counties instead of departments. Not in the same conversation at all, lads. Don’t cry about it, whatever else you do…
In China, the county is called a xian. China is sub-divided into 2871 districts, counties, autonomous counties, banners, committees and cities. Of these, 1548 are counties or autonomous counties. Not one of them has an All-Ireland; bad form, China.
Denmark’s counties were abolished January 1st, 2007. They had one look at Galway and knew they couldn’t hack it at county level.
France has 102 departments, a term in common with Argentina for the administrative division. And you know by now that if a country wants to be taken seriously, they’d have counties instead of departments. Great food, great wine, but what good is any of that without a county to call home? It’s no good – good for nothing is all it is.
Germany has 402 kreise or districts – again, this is only roughly equivalent to a county as the Irish understand their counties. In any case, there’s yet to be a German person to visit Galway and not openly consider moving their entire lives there. Forget that stereotype about Germans lacking a sense of humour because, in fairness to them, they absolutely know where the craic is to be found. Plus, the Germans have Oktoberfest, which is like a continental version of the Great October Fair in Ballinasloe, only there’s no horses being sold and they drink less.
Hungary calls their equivalent of a county megye, or megyék in plural. There are 19 county level divisions while Budapest, as the capital, is its own municipality. Hungary is one of Europe’s oldest countries, taking its name from the Huns that settled there. Unfortunately, that means the whole place is crawling with Huns, stunnin’ or otherwise and that includes the counties. No way a bunch of Huns rate higher than the good people of Galway.
Iran has shahrestan to match up with what we call a county. They have, at my best estimate, 424 shahrestan because they keep splitting into new ones and joining up existing ones for the absolute craic. Well, any county – shahrestan or otherwise – that isn’t all that well-defined isn’t going to be highly rated on this list, is it?
In Italy, there are currently 100 provincia but there’s an ongoing push to abolish provinces through political reform. As a side note, Italian politics is perhaps best known for Silvio Berlusconi while politics in Galway has produced Michael D. Higgins. Think it’s fair to say that we can ignore Italy from here on…
There are 47 counties in Kenya and they form an important part of the political system. However, these counties only effectively came into being in March, 2013. Like Albania, one to watch for the future county scene. Let’s hope they take up GAA…
Korea is a tricky one. You see, in South Korea, there are 82 kun – which provide a straight-forward comparison with counties. But in North Korea, there’s a stark-raving lunatic who is advancing towards the threat of nuclear warfare in a country purporting to have 146 kun. But, sure look, if all those kun are still there in another week, who knows?
Liberia is divided into fifteen counties for administrative purposes. Check out the lads at 80 Days for more about Liberia. Sadly, the counties of Liberia have no tradition in any code of GAA, so I’ve no further comment.
Lithuania rounds out nicely with 10 counties or apskritis as they call them. Since 2010, though, the counties have no administrative function. They serve as units of territory or for the purposes of statistics nowadays. It’s sad to see any county go that way, really…
Norway has 19 fylker for counties, or fylke in singular. This year, the Norwegian government announced plans to merge the 19 fylker into 11 regions by 2020. Going the way of Denmark, it seems Norway can’t handle the high standard Galway sets for counties to match.
In Poland, the equivalent of a county is known as a powiat and they have 380 of them on the books. No All-Ireland titles, at the time of writing.
Romania are pure cheeky. We’ll say they have 42 counties, but sure, one of them is a municipality and they know it… I’d have been impressed by 42, now, I must say… But 41? I’m afraid not. Come back to me if Romania ever split an existing county in two…
Sweden has 21 lan – that’s their word for county. Isn’t that nice? Fair play to them, anyway. But every Galwegian knows that a Swedish person is known as a Swede, like the Turnips, and there’s no way a crowd of Turnips are going to have a greater county than Galway.
Beyond in Taiwan, they call their counties xián or koán. At present, Taiwan has 13 xián/koán but they are all directly led by the central government since 1998, a year when Galway Football was a dominant force. Coincidence? Hardly…
It’s by no means exhaustive, but these are all the other countries in the world with counties or near equivalents that returned from numerous searches.
Please send me corrections where any are necessary, safe in the knowledge that I will use this information to more accurately rank these counties outside of the Top 32.
That’s right. There’s a Top 32 and you should know by now that it will be an All-Ireland affair…
[Click here for Part Two – Ireland]