BACKGROUND: This article reports the findings from a population-based survey conducted to determine baseline knowledge regarding the signs, symptoms and risk factors of stroke. METHODS: Data were collected in Northern Ireland from 892 adults using a self-completed questionnaire. RESULTS: In general, the results indicate that respondents appeared knowledgeable about the risk factors of stroke but their recognition of the warning signs was poor. In addition, approximately half of those surveyed would not contact the ambulance service in the case of a suspected stroke but instead would make initial contact with their general practitioner (41.5%) or family/relatives (2.3%). CONCLUSIONS: Given the importance of early hospital presentation for effective stroke rehabilitation, these findings are of particular concern in a community where the death rate from stroke is one of the highest in Europe. Future health education campaigns should provide accurate and appropriate information regarding the warning signs of stroke and highlight the importance of early hospital presentation.