Ulster is the traditional name of the area of the United Kingdom now known as Northern Ireland. About a thousand years ago, I traced my ancestry back as far as I could and hit upon a fella named John Stafford, who was born in Ireland in 1721 and came to Virginia in 1754. That’s about all I know about him, but I fixated on that small factoid to decide that I’m Irish. Never mind that it’s 9 generations back. And I have no idea where in Ireland John came from, but since I’m protestant, I decided he must have been from Northern Ireland.
Ulster was one of the original firths (fifths) of ancient Ireland, known as Cúige Uladh in those times. Northern Ireland today remains a part of the United Kingdom and the site of bloody, sectarian violence with the predominately Catholic Republic of Ireland over religion and independence. It was formally created in 1921 by an act of Parliament prior to the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922. The Good Friday Agreement in 1998 made it largely self-governing, and the violence of the mid-late 20th century, marked by the activities of the terrorist Irish Republican Army and its more mainstream political wing, Sinn Fein in response to anti-Catholic and anti-republican discrimination by the predominantly Anglican unionists, has largely subsided. Of course, it’s not as simple as all that, but those are the high points.
Its most prominent symbol, used by both republicans and unionists, is the Red Hand of Ulster. Legend holds that the kingdom at one time had no rightful heir. It was agreed that a boat race would be held and the first one to touch land would be king. One of the contestants was said to have severed his own hand and thrown it on shore, thus winning the kingdom.