Abstract Diversity of plant species and the species composition (identity) are known to influence below-ground diversity. In this paper we examine the effects of plant species diversity (richness and evenness), rates of nitrogen application and planting density, on earthworm community structure in grassland. The study was carried out at three sites in Ireland using a Simplex experimental design to define the compositions of the experimental plant communities used. A negative relationship was detected between diversity (evenness) of plant species and diversity of earthworms in the soils. However, plant species identity also affected the structure of the earthworm assemblage. In particular, the legume, Trifolium repens had a strong effect but this was conditional on the rate of nitrogen application. No earthworm species favoured communities dominated by slow growing grasses (Phleum pratense and Dactylis glomerata) (P = 0.02). Higher N inputs reduced earthworm abundance and biomass under T. repens. Earthworm richness, was negatively influenced by elevated amounts of N inputs. No effect of planting density was detected but this factor also did not affect plant biomass production.