Munster is a province of Ireland, located in the south-west of the island. The province is not used as an administration division as such, with the counties filling that role. Much of the area aside from Clare is represented internationally by the South constituency of the European Parliament. The province is of ancient origin and continues as a cultural region forming a strong part of local identity. Geographically Munster covers a total area of 15,290 square miles (39,600 km2) and the most populated city is Cork.
In the early centuries AD Munster was the domain of the Iverni, and the legendary Clanna Dedad led by Cú Roí. During the Early Middle Ages most of the area was part of the Kingdom of Munster, ruled by the famous Eóganachta, who succeeded the Dáirine and Corcu Loígde overlords from the 7th century onwards, beginning with the notable career of Faílbe Flann mac Áedo Duib. Notable regional kingdoms were Iarmuman (West Munster), Osraige (Ossory), Uí Liatháin, Uí Fidgenti, Éile, Corcu Duibne, and Déisi Muman. By the 9th century the Gaels had been joined by Norse Vikings who founded towns such as Cork, Waterford and Limerick. Around this period Ossory broke away from Munster. The following century saw the rise of the Dál gCais (Dalcassians) who annexed Thomond, north of the Shannon to Munster. Their leaders were the O'Briens and spawned Brian Bóruma, perhaps the most noted High King of Ireland. By 1118 Munster had fractured into the Kingdom of Thomond, Kingdom of Desmond and the short-lived Kingdom of Ormond.
There was Norman influence from the 14th century, due to adventuring of the FitzGerald, de Clare and Butler houses, two of whom carved out earldoms within the Lordship of Ireland. The O'Brien of Thomond and MacCarthy of Desmond surrendered and regranted sovereignty to the Tudors in 1543 and 1565, joining the Kingdom of Ireland. Much of the area was hit hard in the Great Hunger, especially the west. After the kingdom was merged into the United Kingdom, there was a war in the 20th century resulting in secession of the Irish Free State. There was a brief Munster Republic during the Irish Civil War, soon defeated by the Irish Army — the Free State became a republic in 1937.
The culture of Munster features prominently in the overall culture of Ireland. The area is famed for Irish traditional music, especially in County Clare where the Willie Clancy Summer School is held. Munster has a strong sporting heritage, being the birthplace of the modern Gaelic games, especially hurling — the provincial rugby union side Munster Rugby are a prominent identity symbol and are amongst the elite of Europe. There are many ancient castles and monasteries in the province; this coupled with the vast green countryside and three cities makes it a feature of the tourism industry. A 5th century bishop named Ailbe is the patron saint of Munster.
An ancient and frequently remarked upon feature of the spiritual life of Munster is the number of celebrated and notorious goddesses the province claims: Anann, Áine, Grian, Clídna, Aimend, Mór Muman, Bébinn, Aibell, and the infamous Queen Mongfind. Each is historically associated with certain septs of the nobility, but these relationships are not exclusive and many commoners have greatly enjoyed their company when offered. Several are known into modern times.