British Isles naming dispute: Wikis


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Satellite photo: Ireland is the island on the left and Great Britain is on the right

There is dispute and disagreement over the term British Isles, particularly in relation to Ireland. The term is defined in dictionaries as "Great Britain and Ireland and adjacent islands".[1] However, the association of the term "British" with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,[2] as well as its association with the island of Great Britain, causes the term to be regarded as objectionable or inappropriate to many Irish people.[3][4] Alternative terms suggested include common terms like "Britain and Ireland", 'the British and Irish Isles', "these islands" or "these isles" and rarer terms like "Anglo-Celtic Isles", "The Celtic Isles", "The Anglo-Celtic Archipelago", "Islands of the North Atlantic" (IONA), "Northwest European Archipelago" or "The Celtic Archipelago".[citation needed]

The dispute is partly semantic: to some the term is a value-free geographic one, while to others the term can be a value-laden political one.[citation needed] That the British Isles were all, with the exception of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, included in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until 1922, when most of Ireland left, is also highly relevant to some. Although early variants of the term date back to Ancient Greek times, the term fell into disuse for over a millennium and was introduced into English in the late 16th or early 17th centuries by English and Welsh writers whose writings have been described as propaganda and politicized[5][6][7]. The term was not in wide use in Britain before at least the second half of the 17th century. The term was widely accepted from the late 18th century to at least the early 20th and problems with the term date mostly to the period after Irish independence.[citation needed]

The island of Ireland is currently occupied by two states: Ireland occupies five sixths of the island and Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, occupies the remaining one sixth. The respective names of the two states: Ireland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland were themselves also the subject of a long dispute between the Irish and British governments. 78% of the people living in Northern Ireland label themselves as "British" to some degree and 77% say that they are "Irish" to some degree. 23% of the population say that they are not at all "Irish" and 22% say that they are not at all "British". (See People of Northern Ireland.)

No branch of the Government of Ireland officially uses the term British Isles,[8] and although it is on occasion used in a geographical sense in Irish parliamentary debates, it is often used in a way that excludes Ireland. A spokesman for the Irish Embassy in London has said use of the term would be discouraged.[9]

Its use is also avoided in relations between the governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom, who generally employ the term these islands.[10][11]

The term "British Isles" is sometimes used in the same way as British Islands.[citation needed]


Perspectives in Britain

In general, the use of the term British Isles to refer to the archipelago is common and uncontroversial within Great Britain,[12] at least since[citation needed] the concept of Britishness was gradually but widely accepted in Britain after the 1707 Act of Union. In Britain it is commonly understood as being a politically neutral geographical term, although the term is sometimes used to describe the UK or Great Britain alone.[13][14][15][16][17]

In 2003 Irish newspapers reported an British Government internal briefing that advised against the use of British Isles[18][19] and there is evidence that its use has been increasingly avoided in recent years in some fields of use, such as by cartographers and in some academic work, such as Norman Davies's history of Britain and Ireland called The Isles: A History. As a pure geographical term in a technical context (such as geology and natural history), there is less evidence of alternative terms being chosen. Recent histories of Great Britain and Ireland, published by major British academic publishers like the Oxford and Cambridge University presses, have discussed the acceptability of the term the British Isles in Ireland, although one has continued to use the term "for convenience".[20] Recognition of the issues with the term, as well as problems over definitions and terminology was also discussed by the columnist Marcel Berlins, writing in The Guardian in 2006. Starting by saying "At last, someone has had the sense to abolish the British Isles", he gives his opinion that "although purely a geographical definition, it is frequently mixed up with the political entities Great Britain, or the United Kingdom. Even when used geographically, its exact scope is widely misunderstood". He also acknowledges that some view the term as representing Britain's imperial past, when it ruled the whole of Ireland.[21] Another historian of British and Irish history has described the term as "politically loaded"[22].

Perspectives in Ireland


Republic of Ireland

The perspective within the state of Ireland (which rules twenty-six of the thirty-two counties in the island of Ireland) is often quite different from the view in Britain. From the Irish perspective, the term British had never applied to Ireland until at least the late 16th century[23] and onwards, a period that coincided with the Tudor conquest of Ireland, the subsequent Cromwellian activities in Ireland, then the Williamite accession in Britain and the Williamite War in Ireland, all of which resulted in severe impact on Irish people, landowners and native aristocracy, e.g. the Flight of the Earls and the Flight of the Wild Geese. From that perspective the term "British Isles" is not a neutral geographical description but is an unavoidably political term. Use of the name "British Isles" is often rejected in the Republic of Ireland and amongst Irish Nationalists in Northern Ireland because its use implies a primacy of British identity over all of the islands, which includes the Irish state, the British territories of the Isle of Man and Channel Islands as well as the United Kingdom, and many feel that the term does not apply to what is now the Republic of Ireland since its secession from the United Kingdom.[24][25][26][27]

Many bodies, including the Irish Government, avoid describing the Ireland as being part of the British Isles. The term "British Isles" is occasionally used at governmental level in Ireland, as when a cabinet minister, Síle de Valera, delivered a speech at the opening of a drama festival containing the term in 2002.[28] British Isles has been used in a geographical sense in Irish parliamentary debates, including by government ministers,[29][30] although it is often used in a way that defines the British Isles as excluding the Republic of Ireland.[31][32][33][34] In October 2006, Irish educational publisher Folens announced that it was removing the term from its popular school atlas from January 2007. The decision was made after the issue was raised by a Geography teacher. Folens stated that no parent had complained directly to them over the use of "British Isles", and that they had a policy of acting first on the appearance of a "potential problem".[35][36] This attracted some press attention in the UK and Ireland, during which a spokesman for the Irish Embassy in London said, "The British Isles has a dated ring to it, as if we are still part of the Empire".[37]

Perspectives in Northern Ireland

Different views on terminology are probably most clearly seen in Northern Ireland (which covers six of the thirty-two counties in Ireland), where the political situation is difficult and national identity is contested. A survey[citation needed] in Northern Ireland found that unionists generally considered the British Isles to be a natural geographical entity, considering themselves primarily British with a supplementary Irish identity. Another survey highlighted the British and Irish identity of the Protestant community, showing that 51% of Protestants felt "Not at all Irish" and 41% only "weakly Irish"[38][39] In contrast, nationalists considered their community to be that of the Irish nation, a distinct cultural and political community extending across the whole of Ireland. Identities were diverse and multi-layered, and Irishness was a highly contested identity, and nationalists expressed difficulty in understanding unionist descriptions of Britishness.[40]

The overall opinions of people in Northern Ireland about the term, like the opinions of those in the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain, have never been formally gauged. Politicians from the Irish Unionist traditions do readily use the term "British Isles"[41][42] The contrast between Unionist and Nationalist approaches to the term was shown in December 1999 at a meeting of the Irish Cabinet and Northern Ireland Executive in Armagh. The First Minister of Northern Ireland, David Trimble, told the meeting:

This represents the Irish government coming back into a relationship with the rest of the British Isles. We are ending the cold war that has divided not just Ireland but the British Isles. That division is now going to be transformed into a situation where all parts work together again in a way that respects each other.[43]

In contrast, the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, did not use the term in his address to the meeting.[43]

At a gathering of the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body in 1998, the sensitivity about the term became an issue. Referring to plans for the then-planned British-Irish Council, which was being supported by both Nationalists and Unionists, British MP for Falkirk West Dennis Canavan was paraphrased by official note takers as having said in a caveat:

He understood that the concept of a Council of the Isles had been put forward by the Ulster Unionists and was referred to as a "Council for the British Isles" by David Trimble. This would cause offence to Irish colleagues; he suggested as an acronym IONA-Islands of the North Atlantic.[44]

In a series of documents issued by the United Kingdom and Ireland, from the Downing Street Declaration to the Good Friday Agreement (Belfast Agreement), relations in the British Isles were referred to as the East–West strand of the tripartite relationships defined.[45]

Alternative terms

There are several terms that are used as alternatives for the term British Isles.

These Islands

These Islands or these Isles are purposely vague terms recognising that the ‘the British Isles’, has proved increasingly irksome to the Irish.[46] They have been used since the end of the 20th century [46] using the same logic that denotes the Persian Gulf as the Gulf. These Islands was used in Strand Three of the Good Friday Agreement to establish the British-Irish Council, and has been described as the favoured term of Irish politicians.[47] The term These Islands is also used frequently by the current SNP Scottish Government, both in official and unofficial contexts. Clearly these terms are only useful when context has been established beforehand or when used within 'these islands'.

(Great) Britain and Ireland

Probably the most common alternative term in modern usage is "Great Britain and Ireland", or more simply, "Britain and Ireland". This is very common and almost entirely uncontroversial, made up of the geographical names of the two major islands. However, it is very similar to the name of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the state which preceded the modern UK, until the secession of what would become the state of Ireland.

British Isles and Ireland

Another term that is sometimes used is British Isles and Ireland. Similar to "Great Britain and Ireland", this has been used in a variety of contexts — among others religion,[48] nursing,[49] zoological publications,[50] academia,[51] and other sources. This form of title is also used in some book titles[52] and legal publications.[53] This usage, however, implies that Northern Ireland is not part of the British Isles, which causes problems in itself.

United Kingdom (or UK) and (Republic of) Ireland (or ROI)

Sometimes the term "UK & Ireland" is used to refer to the archipelago, however this excludes the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, which except for some specific legal purposes (e.g. Nationality Law) are not part of the UK. This term is also a more precise way of referring specifically to the two countries alone in cases where the more inclusive term "British Isles" would be incorrect.

Islands of the North Atlantic (or IONA)

In the context of the Northern Ireland peace process the term Islands of the North Atlantic, and its acronym IONA, was a term created by then Conservative Party MP Sir John Biggs-Davison.[54] It has been used as a neutral term to mean the British Isles or the two main islands, without referring to the two states.

IONA has been used by, among others, the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Bertie Ahern:

The Government are, of course, conscious of the emphasis that is laid on the East-West dimension by Unionists, and we are, ourselves, very mindful of the unique relationships that exist within these islands — islands of the North Atlantic or IONA as some have termed them.[55]

Others have interpreted the term more narrowly to mean the Council of the Isles or British-Irish Council. Peter Luff MP told the British House of Commons in 1998 that

In the same context, there will be a council of the isles. I think that some people are calling it IONA — the islands of the north Atlantic, from which England, by definition, will be excluded.[56]

His interpretation is not widely held, particularly in Ireland. In 1997 the leader of the Irish Green Party, Trevor Sargent, discussing the Strand Three (or East–West) talks between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, commented in Dáil Éireann (the Irish House of Representatives):

I noted with interest the naming of the islands of the north Atlantic under the acronym IONA which the Green Party felt was extremely appropriate.[57]

His comments were echoed by Proinsias De Rossa, then leader of Democratic Left and later President of the Irish Labour Party, who told the Dáil, "The acronym IONA is a useful way of addressing the coming together of these two islands."[58]

Anglo-Celtic Isles

Anglo-Celtic Isles has been used in academia for the isles.[59][60] This reflects the supposed ethnic make up of the islands of Celtic peoples — the Irish, Manx, Scottish, Cornish and Welsh — and the Anglic people — the English, but ignoring the Danes, Normans and later immigrants.

Northwest European Archipelago

Some academics in the 1990s and early 2000s also used the term Northwest European archipelago.[61] Usage however appears sporadic in historiography and rarely repeated outside it, to date.

West European Isles

The name the West European Isles is one translation of the islands' name in the Gaelic languages of Irish[62] and Manx[63], alongside equivalent terms to British Isle[64] and Manx.[65] In Irish, Éire agus an Bhreatain Mhór, literally Ireland and Great Britain, is the more common term.[66]

A somewhat similar usage exists in Iceland. Westman is the Icelandic name for a person from Gaelic areas of Britain and Ireland (Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man), and the Western Lands is the translation of the name for the islands in Icelandic.[67]

Pretanic Isles

A return to the Greek term Pretan(n)ic Isles has been suggested and has seen some usage in academic contexts, particularly in reference to the islands in a pre-Roman context.[68]


Insular art and Insular script are uncontroversial terms in art history and paleography for the early medieval art and script of all the islands. Insular Celtic is a similar term in linguistics. However this adjective is used only in relation to contexts originating over a thousand years ago.

Names of the islands through the ages

In classical times, several Greco-Roman Geographers used derivatives of the Celtic languages' term "Pretani", like "Brit-" or "Prit-" with various endings to describe the islands to the north west of the European mainland, although several included islands not currently viewed as part of the "British Isles", e.g. Thule. Later in the Roman era the term Britannia came to mean more specifically the Roman province of Britain.

Other early classical geographers and also later native sources in the post-Roman period used the general term oceani insulae, simply meaning islands of the ocean. Great Britain was called "Britannia" and Ireland was called "Hibernia" and also, between about the fifth and eleventh centuries, "Scotia". The Orkneys ("Orcades") and Isle of Man were typically also mentioned in descriptions of the islands. No specific collective term for the islands was used other than "islands of the ocean".

The term "British Isles" entered the English language in the seventeenth century as the description of Great Britain, Ireland and the surrounding islands, but was not in common use until the first half of the nineteenth century[69] and, in general, the modern notion of "Britishness" only started to become common after the 1707 Act of Union.[70] While it is probably the most common term used to describe the islands, use of this term is not universally accepted and is sometimes rejected in Ireland.[71]

Other descriptions are also used, including "Great Britain and Ireland", "The British Isles and Ireland", "Britain and Ireland", and the deliberately vague "these isles", as well as other less common designations like "IONA" (Islands of the North Atlantic), "The Anglo-Celtic Isles", etc.

Pretanic Islands and Britanniae

The earliest known names for the islands come from Greco-Roman writings. In some cases sources included the Massaliote Periplus, a merchants' handbook from around 500 BC that describes searoutes,[72][73] and the travel writings of the Greek Pytheas from around 320 BC. Although the earliest texts have been lost, excerpts were quoted or paraphrased by later authors. The main islands were called Ierne, equating to the term Ériu for Ireland,[74] and Albion for modern-day Great Britain. These later writers referred to the inhabitants as the ??etta???, Priteni or Pretani, probably from a Celtic languages term meaning "people of the forms".[75], and Pretannia as a place-name was Diodorus's rendering in Greek of this self-description. It is often taken as a reference to the practice by the inhabitants of painting or tattooing their skin, though as it is unusual for an ethnonym or self-description to describe appearance, this name may have been used by Armoricans.[76] There is considerable confusion about early use of these terms and the extent to which similar terms were used as self-description by the inhabitants.[77] From this name a collective term for the islands was used, appearing as a? ??eta???a? ??s?? (Pretanic Islands)[78] and a? ??etta??a? (Brittanic Isles).[79] Cognates of all these terms are still used.[80]

In 55 and 54 BC Caesar's invasions of Britain brought first hand knowledge, and in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico he introduced the term Britannia.[81]

Around AD 70 Pliny the Elder, in Book 4 of his Naturalis Historia, describes the islands he considers to be Britanniae as including Great Britain, Ireland, Orkney, smaller islands such as the Hebrides, Isle of Man, Anglesey, possibly one of the Friesan Islands, and islands that have been identified as Ushant and Sian. He refers to Great Britain as the island called Britannia, while noting that its former name was Albion. The list also includes the island of Thule, most often identified as Iceland, although some express the view that it may have been the Faroe Islands, the coast of Norway or Denmark or possibly Shetland.[82]

Ptolemy included essentially the same main islands in the Britannias. He was writing around AD 150, though he used the now lost work of Marinus of Tyre from around fifty years earlier.[83] His first description is of Ireland, which he called Hibernia. Second was the island of Great Britain, which he called Albion. Book II, Chapters 1 and 2 of his Geography are respectively titled as Hibernia, Island of Britannia and Albion, Island of Britannia.[84] Ptolemy included Thule in the chapter on Albion, although the coordinates he gives have been mapped to the area around modern Kristiansund in western Norway.[85]

Following the conquest of AD 43 the Roman province of Britannia was established,[86] and Roman Britain expanded to cover much of the island of Great Britain. An invasion of Ireland was considered, but this was taken no further and Ireland remained outside the Roman Empire.[87] The Romans failed to consolidate their hold on the Scottish Highlands, and the northern extent of the area under their control, which at times was defined by the Antonine Wall across central Scotland, stabilised at Hadrian's Wall across the north of England by about AD 210.[88] Inhabitants of the province continued to describe themselves as Brittannus or Britto, and gave their patria (homeland) as Britannia or as their tribe.[89] The vernacular term Priteni came to be used for the barbarians north of the Antonine Wall, with the Romans using the tribal name Caledonii more generally for these peoples who after AD 300 they called Picts.[90]

The post-Roman era saw Brythonic kingdoms established in all areas of Britain except the Scottish Highlands, but coming under increasing attacks from Picts, Scotti and Anglo Saxons. At this time Ireland was dominated by the Gaels or Scotti, who subsequently gave their name to Ireland and then to Scotland, where it still applies.

Oceani insulae

In classical geography. the world of the Mediterranean was thought to be surrounded by a fast flowing river, personified as the Titan Oceanus. As a result, islands off the north and west shores of continental Europe were termed (in Latin) the Oceani Insulae or Islands of the Ocean. For example, in AD 43 various islands, including Britain, Ireland and Thule, were described as "Septemtrionalis Oceani Insulae", meaning Islands of the Northern Ocean, by Pomponius Mela, one of the earliest Roman geographers.[91]

This description was also used in indigenous sources of the post-Roman period, which also used the term "Oceani Insulae" or "Islands of the Ocean" as a term for the islands in the Atlantic and elsewhere. One such example is the Life of Saint Columba, a hagiography recording the missionary activities of the sixth century Irish monk Saint Columba among the peoples of modern-day Scotland. It was written in the late seventh century by Adomnán of Iona, an Irish monk living on the Inner Hebridean island.[92] No Priteni-derived collective reference is made. Jordanes writing in Getica (AD 551) also describes the various islands, particularly in the western Ocean as "islands of the ocean", naming various islands in the North Atlantic, and believing Scandinavia to be one of them.[93] Jordanes subsequently gives a description of Britain, but does not mention Ireland.

Another native source to use the term is the Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum of Bede written in the early eighth century. Bede's work does not give a collective term for the archipelago, referring to Brittania solely as the island "formerly called Albion" and treating Ireland separately. As with Jordanes and Columba, he refers to Britain as being Oceani insula or "island of the ocean".[94]

Isidore of Seville's Etymology, written in the early seventh century and one of the most used textbooks in Europe throughout the Middle Ages,[95] similarly lists Britain (Britannia), Ireland (called 'Scotia or Hibernia), Thule, and many other islands simply as "islands" or "islands of the Ocean" and uses no collective term.

In the seventeenth century, Peter Heylyn in Microcosmus described the Classical conception of the Ocean and so included in the Iles of the Ocean consisted of all the classically known offshore islands, that is Zeeland, Denmark, the British Isles, and those in the Northerne Sea.[96]

British Isles

The term British Isles came into use in English at the same time as the term British Empire. This map shows the British Isles (red) at the centre of the empire (pink) at its height in 1897 where England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales are referred to as the Home Nations.

In his Historia Regum Britanniae of around 1136, Geoffrey of Monmouth responded to the slights of English historians with a theme of the sovereignty of Britain which exalted Welsh national history, portraying a once unified Britannia, founded by Brutus of Troy, defended against Anglo-Saxon invasion by King Arthur of the Britons who was now sleeping, one day to return to the rescue. By the end of the century, this adaptation of myths common to Wales, Cornwall and Brittany had been adopted in the service of England, with Henry II of England enthusiastically taking up Arthurian legend, and Edward I of England putting on pageantry to show the Welsh that he was Arthur's heir. The Welsh and the Scots Edward Bruce used the legends to find common cause as one "kin and nation" in driving the English out of Britain.[97] Both Welsh rebels and English monarchs continued such claims, particularly Henry Tudor who had Welsh ancestry and claims of descent from Arthur. His son Henry VIII incorporated Wales into England, but also laid claim to be an heir of Arthur as did his successor Elizabeth I of England.[98]

The rediscovery of Ptolemy's Geographia by Maximus Planudes in 1300 brought new insight, and circulation of copies widened when it was translated into Latin in 1409.[99][100] This spread Ptolemy's naming of Hibernia and Albion as Island[s] of Britannia.[101] The Latin equivalents of terms equating to "British Isles" started to be used by mapmakers from the mid sixteenth century onwards, for example Sebastian Münster in Geographia Universalis, a 1550 re-issue of Ptolemy's Geography, uses the heading De insulis Britannicis, Albione, quæ est Anglia, & Hibernia, & de cuiutatibus carum in genere.[102] Gerardus Mercator produced much more accurate maps, including the British Isles in 1564.[102][103] Ortelius, in his atlas of 1570, uses the title "Angliae, Scotiae et Hiberniae, sive Britannicar. insularum descriptio". This translates as "A Representation of England, Scotland and Ireland, or Britannica's islands".[104]

The geographer and occultist John Dee, of Welsh family background,[105] was an adviser to Queen Elizabeth I of England, and also prepared maps for several explorers. He helped to develop legal justifications for colonisation by Protestant England, breaking the duopoly the Pope had granted to the Spanish and Portuguese Empires. Dee coined the term British Empire and built his case in part on the claim of a British Ocean including Britain and Ireland as well as Iceland, Greenland and possibly extending to North America, using alleged Saxon precedent to claim territorial and trading rights.[5] Current scholarly opinion is generally that "his imperial vision was simply propaganda and antiquarianism, without much practical value and of limited interest to the English crown and state."[5] The Lordship of Ireland had come under tighter English control as the Kingdom of Ireland, and diplomatic efforts interspersed with warfare tried to also bring Scotland under the English monarch. Apparently Dee used the term Brytish Iles in his writings of 1577 which developed his arguments claiming these territories.[106] This appears to be the first use of a recognisable version of the modern term.

Elizabeth was succeeded by her cousin king James VI of Scotland, who brought the English throne under his personal rule as king James I of England, and proclaimed himself as 'King of Great Brittaine, France and Ireland'.[107] However, the states remained separate until the monarchy was overthrown in the civil wars of the Three Kingdoms and the Commonwealth of England briefly ruled all before the restoration of the monarchy restored separate states.

The Oxford English Dictionary states that the first published use in English of "British Isles" was in 1621 (before the civil wars) by Peter Heylin (or Heylyn) in his Microcosmus: a little description of the great world,[108] a collection of his lectures on historical geography. Writing from his English political perspective, he grouped Ireland with Great Britain and the minor islands by three asserting points:[109]

  • The inhabitants of Ireland must have come from Britain as it was the nearest land.
  • He notes that ancient writers, such as Ptolemy, called Ireland a "Brtti?h Iland".
  • He cites the observation of the first century Roman writer Tacitus that the habits and disposition of the people in Ireland were not much unlike the "Brittaines",[110]

Modern scholarly opinion[111][112] is that Heylyn "politicized his geographical books Microcosmus ... and, still more, Cosmographie" in the context of what geography meant at that time. Rather, Heylyn's geographical work must be seen as political expressions concerned with proving or disproving constitutional matters and "demonstrated their authors' specific political identities by the languages and arguments they deployed." In an era when "politics referred to discussions of dynastic legitimacy, of representation, and of the Constitution ... [Heylyn's] geography was not to be conceived separately from politics."

Following the Acts of Union of 1707 the Kingdom of Great Britain and conflict with France brought a new popular enthusiasm for Britishness, mostly in Britain itself,[113] and the term British Isles came into common use despite the persistent stirrings of Irish nationalism. A desire for some form of Irish independence had been active throughout the centuries, with Poyning's Law a common focus of resentment. After the hugely turbulent sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a sort of nationalism surfaced among the Irish Protestant population and eventually lead to the legislative independence of the Irish Parliament under Grattan's Parliament — followed after the Act of Union in 1800 by renewed assertiveness of the Irish Catholics, who first agitated for Catholic Emancipation and later for Repeal of the Union under Daniel O'Connell.

Subsequently the Great Irish Famine, the Land War, the failure of William Ewart Gladstone and Charles Stuart Parnell to get partial independence or a Bill for Home Rule through the Westminster Parliament lead to the events of and the eventual total secession/independence of most of Ireland from the United Kingdom and the end of British rule in most of Ireland.


  1. ^ Definitions from
  2. ^ Walter, Bronwen (2000). Outsiders Inside: Whiteness, Place, and Irish Women. New York: Routledge. p. 107. "A refusal to sever ties incorporating the whole island of Ireland into the British state is unthinkingly demonstrated in naming and mapping behaviour. This is most obvious in continued reference to 'the British Isles'." 
  3. ^ Kevin Myers,"An Irishman's Diary" The Irish Times, (subscription needed) 9 March 2000: "millions of people from these islands — oh how angry we get when people call them the British Isles"
  4. ^ "Geographical terms also cause problems and we know that some will find certain of our terms offensive. Many Irish object to the term the 'British Isles';..." The Dynamics of Conflict in Northern Ireland: Power, Conflict and emancipation. Joseph Ruane and Jennifer Todd. Cambridge University Press. 1996
    Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Reformation: Europe's House Divided 1490-1700. (London: Penguin/Allen Lane, 2003): “the collection of islands which embraces England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales has commonly been known as the British Isles. This title no longer pleases all the inhabitants of the islands, and a more neutral description is ‘the Atlantic Isles’” (p. xxvi). On 18 July 2004, The Sunday Business Post questioned the use of British Isles as a purely geographic expression, noting:

    [The] "Last Post has redoubled its efforts to re-educate those labouring under the misconception that Ireland is really just British. When British Retail Week magazine last week reported that a retailer was to make its British Isles debut in Dublin, we were puzzled. Is not Dublin the capital of the Republic of Ireland?. When Last Post suggested the magazine might see its way clear to correcting the error, an educative e-mail to the publication...:

    Retrieved 17 July 2006

    "...I have called the Atlantic archipelago – since the term ‘British Isles’ is one which Irishmen reject and Englishmen decline to take quite seriously." Pocock, J.G.A. [1974] (2005). "British History: A plea for a new subject". The Discovery of Islands. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 29. OCLC 60611042.
    "...what used to be called the "British Isles," although that is now a politically incorrect term." Finnegan, Richard B.; Edward T. McCarron (2000). Ireland: Historical Echoes, Contemporary Politics. Boulder: Westview Press, p. 358.

    "In an attempt to coin a term that avoided the 'British Isles' - a term often offensive to Irish sensibilities - Pocock suggested a neutral geographical term for the collection of islands located off the northwest coast of continental Europe which included Britain and Ireland: the Atlantic archipelago..." Lambert, Peter; Phillipp Schofield (2004). Making History: An Introduction to the History and Practices of a Discipline. New York: Routledge, p. 217.

    "..the term is increasingly unacceptable to Irish historians in particular, for whom the Irish Sea is or ought to be a separating rather than a linking element. Sensitive to such susceptibilities, proponents of the idea of a genuine British history, a theme which has come to the fore during the last couple of decades, are plumping for a more neutral term to label the scattered islands peripheral to the two major ones of Great Britain and Ireland." Roots, Ivan (1997). "Union or Devolution in Cromwell's Britain". History Review.

    The British Isles, A History of Four Nations, Second edition, Cambridge University Press, July 2006, Preface, Hugh Kearney. "The title of this book is ‘The British Isles’, not ‘Britain’, in order to emphasise the multi-ethnic character of our intertwined histories. Almost inevitably many within the Irish Republic find it objectionable, much as Basques or Catalans resent the use of the term ‘Spain’. As Seamus Heaney put it when he objected to being included in an anthology of British Poetry: 'Don’t be surprised If I demur, for, be advised My passport’s green. No glass of ours was ever raised To toast the Queen. (Open Letter, Field day Pamphlet no.2 1983)"
    (Note: sections bolded for emphasis do not appear bold in original publications)

  5. ^ a b c Ken MacMillan, 2001, "Discourse on history, geography, and law: John Dee and the limits of the British empire," in the Canadian Journal of History, April 2001
  6. ^ R.J. Mayhew, 2000, "Geography is Twinned with Divinity: The Laudian Geography of Peter Heylyn" in Geographical Review, Vol. 90, No. 1 (Jan., 2000), pp. 18-34 "In the period between 1600 and 1800, politics meant what we might now term 'high politics', excluding the cultural and social elements that modern analyses of ideology seek to uncover. Politics referred to discussions of dynastic legitimacy, of representation, and of the Constitution. ... "Geography books spanning the period from the Reformation to the Reform Act ... demonstrated their authors' specific political identities by the languages and arguments they deployed. This cannot be seen as any deviation from the classical geographical tradition, or as a tainting of geography by politics, because geography was not to be conceived separately from politics."
  7. ^ Robert Mayhew, 2005, "Mapping science's imagined community: geography as a Republic of Letters,PDF" in the British Journal of the History of Science, 38(1): 73-92, March 2005
  8. ^ "Written Answers - Official Terms", Dáil Éireann - Volume 606 - 28 September, 2005. In his response, the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs stated that "The British Isles is not an officially recognised term in any legal or inter-governmental sense. It is without any official status. The Government, including the Department of Foreign Affairs, does not use this term. Our officials in the Embassy of Ireland, London, continue to monitor the media in Britain for any abuse of the official terms as set out in the Constitution of Ireland and in legislation. These include the name of the State, the President, Taoiseach and others."
  9. ^ Sharrock, David (2006-10-03). "New atlas lets Ireland slip shackles of Britain". The Times (News International).,,13509-2385403.html. Retrieved 2007-01-06. "A spokesman for the Irish Embassy in London said: 'The British Isles has a dated ring to it, as if we are still part of the Empire. We are independent, we are not part of Britain, not even in geographical terms. We would discourage its useage (sic).'"  [spelling "useage" is from the original article]
  10. ^ Bertie Ahern's Address to the Joint Houses of Parliament, Westminster, 15 May 2007
  11. ^ Tony Blair's Address to the Dáil and Seanad, November 1998
  12. ^ For example, its use can be seen at A Reading University Meteorological Study, and regularly in The Guardian newspaper 9 November 2006, 16 November 2006, 23 November 2006
  13. ^ Website on Megalithic Monuments in the British Isles and Ireland. Ireland in this site includes County Fermanagh, which is politically in Northern Ireland.
  14. ^ "GENUKI — The UK and Ireland Genealogical Information Service on the Internet: The website uses the term "British Isles" in various ways, including ways that use Ireland as all of Ireland, while simultaneously using the term "The British Isles and Ireland", e.g. "Anyone using GENUKI should remember that its name is somewhat misleading — the website actually covers the British Isles and Ireland, rather than just the United Kingdom, and therefore includes information about the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, as well as England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland."
  15. ^ Guide to Narrow Gauge rail in the British Isles and Ireland which includes Belfast lines under the section on Ireland.
  16. ^ British Weather (Part One) at the Internet Archive. This BBC article referred to "a small country such as the British Isles" between at least April 2004 and January 2007. It was changed in February 2007 and now reads "a small area such as the British Isles".
  17. ^ For example, see Google searches of the BBC website.
  18. ^ Herr ambassador Pauls, with these comments, you are really spoiling us..., Sunday Tribune, 23 September 2007
  19. ^ Revealed: What the British really think of us], Irish Examiner, 13 December 2003
  20. ^ Dawson, Jane E.A. (2002). The Politics of Religion in the Age of Mary, Queen of Scots: The Earl of Argyll and the Struggle for Britain and Ireland. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p2: " Whilst accurate, the term 'Atlantic archipelago' is rather cumbersome so, for convenience, I have used the following as virtual synonyms: the islands of Britain; these islands; the British Isles, and the adjective, British. Without intending to imply any hidden imperial or other agenda, they describe the kingdoms of Ireland, Scotland, and England and Wales as they existed in the sixteenth century, following the definition of the British Isles in the Oxford English Dictionary: 'a geographical term for the islands comprising Great Britain and Ireland with all their offshore islands including the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands'."
  21. ^ Is it really so morally objectionable for the father of a murder victim to accept £450,000 'blood money'?, The Guardian, 4 October 2006.
  22. ^ "When I refer to the composite Monarchy ruled over by James VI and I and by King Charles I, it is always described as Britain and Ireland, and I deliberately avoid the politically loaded phrase 'the British Isles' not least because this was not a normal usage in the political discourse of the time". Canny, Nicholas (2001). Making Ireland British 1580–1650. New York: Oxford University Press, p. viii. ISBN 978-0-199-25905-2
  23. ^ "Geographers may have formed the habit of referring to the archipelago consisting of Britain and Ireland as the Britannic isles, but there never had been a historical myth linking the islands. Medieval historians, such as the twelfth-century Geoffrey of Monmouth, had developed the idea that Britain (i.e. England, Scotland, and Wales) had first been settled by Trojan refugees fleeing after the capture and destruction of their city by the Greeks. The founding monarch — Brutus — had then divided up the island between his three sons, the eldest (Albion) inheriting England and the younger sons Scotland and Wales. This permitted English antiquarians to claim a superiority for the English nation and the English Crown. In the fourteenth century the Scots developed their own counter-myth which acknowledged that Trojans had first occupied England and Wales, but asserted that Scotland had been occupied by colonists from Greece — the conquerors of Troy. Faced by such Scottish counter-myths and by the scepticism bred of humanist scholarship, few people took any of these historical claims seriously by 1600. English claims that kings of Scotland had regularly recognized the feudal suzerainty of the English Crown had to be abandoned in 1603 when the Scottish royal house inherited the English Crown. But the fact is that many of the inhabitants of Britain — especially intellectuals around the royal Courts — had for centuries conceptualized a relationship which bound them together into a common history. There was no historical myths binding Ireland into the story. The term 'Britain' was widely understood and it excluded Ireland; there was no geopolitical term binding together the archipelago."
    John Morrill, 1996, The Oxford Illustrated History of Tudor and Stuart Britain, Oxford University Press: Oxford
    "When I refer to the composite monachy ruled over by James VI and I and by King Charles I, it is always described as Britain and Ireland, and I deliberately avoid the politically loaded phrase 'the British Isles' not least because this was not a normal usage in the political discourse of the time."
    Canny, Nicholas (2001). op. cit., p. viii.
  24. ^ The readers' editor of The Guardian, Ian Mayes, noted indirect reports of concerns. "Where are we?", The Guardian, 11 August 2001.
  25. ^ On 18 July 2004 The Sunday Business Post questioned the use of British Isles as a purely geographic expression, noting:

    [The] "Last Post has redoubled its efforts to re-educate those labouring under the misconception that Ireland is really just British. When British Retail Week magazine last week reported that a retailer was to make its British Isles debut in Dublin, we were puzzled. Is not Dublin the capital of the Republic of Ireland? ... Archipelago of islands lying off the north-western coast of Europe?

    Retrieved 17 July 2006
  26. ^ Norman Davies, op. cit. p.xxii.
  27. ^ "Irish Genealogical Sources No. 25 — History of the Royal Hibernian Military School, Dublin" uses the term "then British Isles" to refer to Ireland's relationship association with it prior to 1922.
  28. ^ "Speech by Síle de Valera, T.D., Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands at the opening of the Clare Drama Festival in Scarriff Community College". Retrieved 2006-08-25. 
  29. ^ Response by the Minister for Health and Children to a question in Parliament
  30. ^ Official Report of the Parliament of Ireland: [1], [2]PDF (346 KiB), [3]PDF (914 KiB), [4]PDF (883 KiB), [5]PDF (938 KiB), [6]PDF (798 KiB), [7]PDF (389 KiB)
  31. ^ Parliamentary Debates: Joint Committee on Education and Science, 17 November 2005
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^ Áine Kerr, Folens to wipe 'British Isles' off the map in new atlas, Irish Times, 2 October 2006
  36. ^ Details of current editions of Folens atlases: Primary, Post-primary
  37. ^ "New atlas lets Ireland slip shackles of Britain". A spokesman for the Irish Embassy in London said: “The British Isles has a dated ring to it, as if we are still part of the Empire. We are independent, we are not part of Britain, not even in geographical terms. We would discourage its usage [sic].”
  38. ^ Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, 1999. Module: Community Relations. Variable: Irish
  39. ^ Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey. Module: Community Relations. Variable: British: Summary: 78% of Protestants replied "Strongly British."
  40. ^ Tom Hennessey and Robin Wilson, With all due respect — pluralism and parity of esteem, Democratic Dialogue (1997)
  41. ^ Speech by the Rt Hon David Trimble to the Northern Ireland Forum. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
  42. ^ Speech by Mr David Trimble to the AGM of the Ulster Unionist Council, 20 March 1999. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
  43. ^ a b Partnership plan for peace and prosperity, Irish Independent, 14 December 1999; retrieved 16 July 2006.
  44. ^ British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body. 15th Plenary Session. 30 March 1998
  45. ^ Three sets of relationships were defined. (i) Within Northern Ireland. (ii) North–South for the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and (iii) East–West for relationships on the islands.
  46. ^ a b These islands Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (17th ed)
  47. ^ in Linnean, Hugh; "The Islands in the Stream", Irish Times; July 15, 2006
  48. ^ Prayer Association of British Isles and Ireland
  49. ^ Macey & Morgan, Learning on the road: nursing in the British Isles and Ireland (Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, 1988)
  50. ^ Badham, M., and Richards, V. (1991). Gibbon Regional Studbook: British Isles and Ireland, 13th Edition, Twycross Zoo, East Midland Zoological Society, Twycross.
  51. ^ FOLK 547 640: Folklore of the British Isles and Ireland, a course in the University of Pennsylvania; British archaeology
  52. ^ For example, P. North, The Private International Law of Matrimonial Causes in the British Isles and the Republic of Ireland (1977).
  53. ^ See Law Society Gazette, Law Society of Ireland, July 2001.<!
  54. ^ Open Republic. Retrieved 5 July 2006.
  55. ^ Statement by the Taoiseach and Leader of Fianna Fáil, Mr Bertie Ahern, TD on "Northern Ireland: Political Situation and Developments" at the Forty-Second Plenary Session of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, Dublin Castle, 5 December 1997
  56. ^ House of Commons. Vol.304. Col.663. 16 January 1998.
  57. ^ Dáil Debates. Vol.484. Col.466. 9 December 1997.
  58. ^ Dáil Debates. Vol 484. Col.466. 9 December 1997.
  59. ^ Dolley, Michael). R A Hall ed. The Anglo-Danish and Anglo-Norse coinages of York. Viking Age York and the North; CBA Research Report No 27, pp. 26–31, Council for British Archaeology.
  60. ^ "The British-Irish Council is a ... potential shift of the geopolitical centre of gravity of the Anglo-Celtic isles". Harvey, David C.; Rhys Jones, Neil Mcinroy, Christine Milligan (2001). Celtic Geographies: Old Culture, New Times. New York: Routledge, p241.
  61. ^ David Armitage, "Greater Britain: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis?" in American Historical Review, Vol. 104, No. 2 (Apr., 1999) p.427.
  62. ^ Oileáin Iarthair Eorpa seems rather appropriate, in Patrick Dinneen. 1927. Irish–English Dictionary. Dublin: Irish Texts Society
  63. ^ Ellanyn Sheear ny hOarpey in Douglas C. Fargher. 1979. Fargher's English-Manx dictionary. Douglas: Shearwater Press.
  64. ^ Na hOileáin Bhreatanacha, in T. J. Dunne, tr. Toirdhealbhach Ó Raithbheartaigh. 1937. Tír-Eóluíocht na h-Éireann. Baile Átha Cliath: Oifig Díolta Foillseacháin Rialtais
  65. ^ Ny hEllanyn Goaldagh s.v. British-Isles, in Douglas C. Fargher. 1979. Fargher's English-Manx dictionary. Douglas: Shearwater Press.
  66. ^
  67. ^ "Vest-madr", "Vestr-lond" R Cleasby & G. Vigfusson Icelandic–English Dictionary Oxford 1874
  68. ^ Google search for term Pretanic Isles and Pretannic Isles
  69. ^ "When I refer to the composite Monarchy ruled over by James VI and I and by King Charles I, it is always described as Britain and Ireland, and I deliberately avoid the politically loaded phrase 'the British Isles' not least because this was not a normal usage in the political discourse of the time". Canny, Nicholas, op. cit., p. viii.
  70. ^ Snyder "The Britons", p281, quoting Linda Colley.
  71. ^ "I have called the Atlantic archipelago – since the term 'British Isles' is one which Irishmen reject and Englishmen decline to take quite seriously." Pocock, J.G.A. (2006). The Discovery of Islands. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p29. ISBN 978-0-521-85095-7.
  72. ^ Snyder 2003, p. 12, Ó Corráin 1989, p. 1
  73. ^ Cunliffe 2002, pp. 38-45, 94 The Massaliote Periplus describes a sea route south round the west coast of Spain from the promontory of Oestriminis (Cape Finisterre) back to the Mediterranean. The poem by Avienus makes used of it in describing the voyage of Himilco the Navigator, also incorporating fragments from 11 ancient writers including Pytheas. When Avienus says it's two days sailing from Oestriminis to the Holy Isle, inhabited by the Hierni, near Albion, this differs from the sailing directions of the Periplus and implies that Oestriminis is Brittany, a conflict explained if it had been taken by Avienus from one of his other sources.
  74. ^ Ó Corráin 1989, p. 1
  75. ^ Snyder 2003, p. 12, 68
  76. ^ Cunliffe 2002, p. 95, Encyclopedia of the Celts: Pretani
  77. ^ Cunliffe 2002, p. 94
  78. ^ O'Rahilly 1946
  79. ^ Snyder 2003, p. 12
  80. ^ Cognates of Albion (normally referring only to Scotland) — English: Albion (archæic); Cornish: Alban; Irish: Alba; Manx: Albey; Scots: Albiane; Scottish Gaelic: Alba; Welsh: Yr Alban. Cognates of IerneEnglish: Ireland; Cornish: Iwerdhon; Irish: Éire; Manx: Nerin; Scots: Irland; Scottish Gaelic: Éirinn; Welsh: Iwerddon though in English Albion is deliberately archæic or poetical. Cognates of PriteniWelsh: Prydain; English: Briton and British.
  81. ^ 4.20 provides a translation describing Cæsar's first invasion, using terms which from IV.XX appear in Latin as arriving "tamen in Britanniam", the inhabitants being "Britannos", and on p30 "principes Britanniae" is translated as "chiefs of Britain".
  82. ^ "The opinions as to the identity of ancient Thule have been numerous in the extreme. We may here mention six:
    1. The common, and apparently the best founded opinion, that Thule is the island of Iceland.
    2. That it is either the Ferroe group, or one of those islands.
    3. The notion of Ortelius, Farnaby, and Schœnning, that it is identical with Thylemark in Norway.
    4. The opinion of Malte Brun, that the continental portion of Denmark is meant thereby, a part of which is to the present day called Thy or Thyland.
    5. The opinion of Rudbeck and of Calstron, borrowed originally from Procopius, that this is a general name for the whole of Scandinavia.
    6. That of Gosselin, who thinks that under this name Mainland, the principal of the Shetland Islands, is meant.
    It is by no means impossible that under the name of Thule two or more of these localities may have been meant, by different authors writing at distant periods and under different states of geographical knowledge. It is also pretty generally acknowledged, as Parisot remarks, that the Thule mentioned by Ptolemy is identical with Thylemark in Norway."Bostock, John and H.T. Riley, ed (1855). "Britannia". The Natural History of Pliny. footnote #16. OCLC 615995. 
  83. ^ Ó Corráin 1989
  84. ^ Ptolemy's Geography.
  85. ^ Since meridian 30° P corresponds to our meridian 8°24'E, Thule must be identified with the maze of islands and fjords around the three main islands that form the city of Kristiansund — Thule, The Mapping of the Earth
  86. ^ Snyder 2003, p. 34
  87. ^ Ó Corráin 1989, p. 3
  88. ^ Snyder 2003, p. 46
  89. ^ Snyder 2003, p. 54 refers to epigraphic evidence from those Britons at home and abroad who left Latin inscriptions.
  90. ^ Snyder 2003, p. 68, Cunliffe 2002, p. 95
  91. ^ Pomponii melæ de situ orbis
  92. ^ Book 2, 46 in the Sharpe edition = Book 2, 47 in Reeves edition.
  93. ^ Jordanes, Getica — De Origine Actibusque Gothorum, Chapter 1, section 7–9
  94. ^ Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, Book I — In Latin and English
  95. ^ Isidore, Catholic Encyclopedia
  96. ^ Peter Heylyn, Microcosmus, pp453–454 (1621)
  97. ^ Snyder 2003, pp. 231–6, 243–6
  98. ^ Snyder 2003, pp. 274-276
  99. ^ Jeppe Strandsbjerg, 2006, The Cartographic Production of Territory: mapping and Danish state formationPDF (1.39 MB), BISA Conference, University College Cork writes: "The translation of Ptolemy’s Geography into Latin in 1409 is frequently named as the symbolic beginning of this process because it (re-)introduced the principles that inform scientific cartography to Western Europe."
  100. ^ Utpal Mukhopadhyay, Mercator and his MapPDF (945 KB), Renonance, March 2005: "The Geographia of Ptolemy contained a world map and twenty six other maps. However, the book soon disappeared into oblivion, resulting in a deterioration in the art of mapmaking. With its rediscovery in the fifteenth century, and the subsequent discovery of printing and engraving techniques, there was a revival in the art of mapmaking. In the sixteenth century, publication of maps became a lucrative business. However, as regards distortion in shape and distance, these maps were of the same standard as that of Ptolemy's map. The person who liberated mapmaking from the influence of Ptolemy was Gerhard Mercator.")
  101. ^ Maps of the Holy Land in Special CollectionsPDF (345 KB), The George Washington University ("With the expansion of Western power came Europe’s rediscovery of Claudius Ptolemy’s Geographia (150 AD), the earliest known atlas of the world. Reprinted in 1477 it contained instructions on how to accurately illustrate the shape of the earth on a flat surface by using a curved grid of longitude and latitude. However, many later cartographers simply copied Ptolemy’s work without copying his methods")
  102. ^ a b British Isles Old Maps. Retrieved 12 March 2007
  103. ^ Showcases:: Mercator Atlas of Europe
  104. ^ Anglia and Scotia, 1570, by Ortelius.
  105. ^ Chapter 1 Page 3 from Fell Smith, Charlotte (1909). John Dee: 1527–1608. London: Constable and Company. 
  106. ^ John Dee, General and rare memorials pertayning to the Perfect Arte of Navigation, London (1577), p.63; seeQueen Elizabeth as Astraea, Frances A. Yates (Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 10, (1947), p.47
  107. ^ Proclamation styling James I King of Great Britain on 20 October 1604
  108. ^ Peter Heylyn, Oxford English Dictionary, second ed. Online Version (2000)
  109. ^ Peter Heylyn, Microcosmus, p.502 (1621).
  110. ^ Tacitus himself had treated Ireland and Britain separately and had also seen similarities between the Britons and the Gauls of the continent. Tacitus: Germania and Agricola; Chpt 10.
  111. ^ R.J. Mayhew, 2000, "Geography is Twinned with Divinity: The Laudian Geography of Peter Heylyn", Geographical Review, Vol. 90, No. 1 (January 2000), pp18–34 "In the period between 1600 and 1800, politics meant what we might now term 'high politics', excluding the cultural and social elements that modern analyses of ideology seek to uncover. Politics referred to discussions of dynastic legitimacy, of representation, and of the Constitution. ... "Geography books spanning the period from the Reformation to the Reform Act ... demonstrated their authors' specific political identities by the languages and arguments they deployed. This cannot be seen as any deviation from the classical geographical tradition, or as a tainting of geography by politics, because geography was not to be conceived separately from politics."
  112. ^ Robert Mayhew, 2005, "Mapping science's imagined community: geography as a Republic of Letters,PDF" in the British Journal of the History of Science, 38(1): 73–92, March 2005
  113. ^ Snyder 2003, p. 281


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