Effective mastitis control requires knowledge of the predominant pathogen challenges on the farm. In order to quantify this challenge, the aetiological agents associated with clinical mastitis in 30 milk-recording dairy herds in Ireland over a complete lactation were investigated. Standard bacteriology was performed on 630 pretreatment quarter milk samples, of which 56 per cent were culture-positive, 42 per cent culture-negative and 2 per cent contaminated. Two micro-organisms were isolated from almost 5 per cent of the culture-positive samples. The bacteria isolated were Staphylococcus aureus (23 per cent), Streptococcus uberis (17 per cent), Escherichia coli (9 per cent), Streptococcus species (6 per cent), coagulase-negative Staphylococci (4 per cent) and other species (1 per cent). A wide variety of bacterial species were associated with clinical mastitis, with S aureus the most prevalent pathogen overall, followed by S uberis. However, the bacterial challenges varied widely from farm to farm. In comparison with previous reports, in the present study, the contagious pathogens S aureus and Streptococcus agalactiae were less commonly associated with clinical mastitis, whereas, the environmental pathogens S uberis and E coli were found more commonly associated with clinical mastitis. While S aureus remains the pathogen most commonly associated with intramammary infection in these herds, environmental pathogens, such as S uberis and E coli also present a considerable challenge.