British Isles naming dispute
In standard English usage, the toponym "the British Isles" refers to a European archipelago consisting of Great Britain, Ireland and adjacent islands. However, the word "British" is also an adjective and demonym referring to the United Kingdom (cf. the British Islands, which excludes the Republic of Ireland). For this reason, the name British Isles is avoided in Irish English as such usage could be construed to imply continued territorial claims or political overlordship of the Republic of Ireland by the United Kingdom.
Proposed alternatives to renaming the British Isles to something more neutral include "Britain and Ireland", "Atlantic Archipelago", "Anglo-Celtic Isles", the "British-Irish Isles" and the Islands of the North Atlantic. In documents drawn up jointly between the British and Irish governments, the archipelago is referred to simply as "these islands".
To some, the dispute is partly semantic; the term is a value-free geographic one while, to others, it is a value-laden political one. The Crown dependencies of the Channel Islands, are considered part of the British Islands and may also be for geo-political reasons be included in the British Isles, despite not being geographically part of the archipelago. Early variants of the term date back to Ancient Greek times; it 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 politicised. The term became more resisted after the two largest islands, Great Britain and Ireland, had ceased to be part of the same political entity in 1922.
The names of the archipelago's two sovereign states were themselves the subject of a long dispute between the Irish and British governments.
- 1 Perspectives in Britain
- 2 Perspectives in Ireland
- 3 More alternative terms
- 4 Names of the islands through the ages
- 5 Footnotes
- 6 References
Perspectives in Britain
In general, the use of the term British Isles to refer to the archipelago is common and uncontroversial within Great Britain, at least since the concept of "Britishness" was gradually accepted in Britain after the 1707 Act of Union. In Britain it is commonly understood as being a politically neutral geographical term, although it is sometimes used incorrectly to refer to the UK or Great Britain alone.
In 2003, Irish newspapers reported a British Government internal briefing that advised against the use of "British Isles". There is evidence that its use has been increasingly avoided in recent years in fields like cartography and in some academic work, such as Norman Davies 's history of Britain and Ireland The Isles: A History. As a purely geographical term in technical contexts (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 such as the Oxford and Cambridge University presses) have discussed the acceptability of the term "British Isles" in Ireland, although one study continues to use the term "for convenience". Recognition of 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. Beginning with "At last, someone has had the sense to abolish the British Isles", he opines 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. Another historian of British and Irish history has described the term as "politically loaded".
Perspectives in Ireland
Republic of Ireland
The perspective within the state of Republic 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 and onwards. This period coincided with the Tudor conquest of Ireland, the subsequent Cromwellian activities in Ireland, the Williamite accession in Britain and the Williamite War in Ireland—all of which resulted in severe impact on the Irish people, landowners and native aristocracy. From that perspective, the term "British Isles" is not a neutral geographical term but an unavoidably political one. Use of the name "British Isles" is often rejected in the Republic of Ireland, especially amongst Irish Nationalists in Northern Ireland because its use implies a primacy of British identity over all the islands outside the United Kingdom, including the Irish state, the British territories of the Isle of Man and Channel Islands that was historically dominating and is currently inaccurate, since Ireland is neither Britain nor British.
Many political bodies, including the Irish government, avoid describing Ireland as being part of the British Isles; Eamon de Valera, for example, corrected John Gunther when the journalist used the term during a private meeting in the mid-1930s. However, the term "British Isles" has been used by individual ministers, as did cabinet minister Síle de Valera when delivering a speech including the term at the opening of a drama festival in 2002, and is used by government departments in relation to geographic topics. The term was later formally disavowed by the Irish Government. "British Isles" has been used in a geographical sense in Irish parliamentary debates by government ministers, although it is often used in a way that defines the British Isles as excluding the Republic of Ireland. In October 2006, Irish educational publisher Folens announced that it was removing the term from its popular school atlas effective in 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 proactively, upon the appearance of a "potential problem". This attracted 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".
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 contested. A survey 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". 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; Nationalists expressed difficulty in understanding Unionist descriptions of Britishness.
The overall opinion of the Northern Irish people about the term (like the opinion of those in the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain) has never been formally gauged. Politicians from the Irish Unionist tradition readily use the term "British Isles"; 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.
At a gathering of the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body in 1998, sensitivity about the term became an issue. Referring to plans for the proposed British-Irish Council (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.
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 relationship.
More alternative terms
There are several terms used as alternatives for the term "British Isles" other than those cited above:
British Isles and Ireland
A term sometimes used is "British Isles and Ireland". Similar to "Great Britain and Ireland", this has been used in a variety of contexts—among others religious, medical, zoologic, academic and others. This form is also used in some book titles and legal publications.
United Kingdom (or UK) and (Republic of) Ireland (or ROI)
Sometimes the term "UK and 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 (for example, the 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 inappropriate.
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. It has been used as a term to denote either all the islands, or the two main islands, without referring to the two states.
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.
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.
His interpretation is not widely shared, 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.
His comments were echoed by Proinsias De Rossa, then leader of the 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."
This name is ambiguous, because of the other islands in the North Atlantic which have never been considered part of the British Isles.
Northwest European Archipelago
Some academics in the 1990s and early 2000s also used the term "Northwest European archipelago"; however, its use appears sporadic in historiography and rare outside it.
West European Isles
The name "West European Isles" is one translation of the islands' name in the Gaelic languages of Irish and Manx, with equivalent terms for "British Isle". In Irish, Éire agus an Bhreatain Mhór (literally "Ireland and Great Britain") is the more common term.
A somewhat similar usage exists in Iceland. "Westman" is the Icelandic name for a person from the 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.
A return to the Greek term "Pretan(n)ic Isles" has been suggested and has seen some use in academic contexts, particularly in reference to the islands in the pre-Roman era.
Insular art and Insular script are uncontroversial terms in art history and palaeography for the early medieval art and writing of all the islands. Insular Celtic is a similar term in linguistics. However, this adjective is used only in relation to artefacts 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 (such as "Brit-" or "Prit-" with various endings) to refer to the islands northwest of the European mainland; several included islands not currently viewed as part of the "British Isles"—Thule, for example. During the Roman era, the word "Britannia" came to mean the Roman province of Britain in particular.
Other early classical geographers (and native sources in the post-Roman period) used the general term oceani insulae, which meant "islands of the ocean". Great Britain was called "Britannia"; Ireland was known as "Hibernia" and, between about the 5th and 11th centuries, "Scotia". The Orkney Islands ("Orcades") and the Isle of Man were typically also included in descriptions of the islands. No collective term for the islands was used other than "islands of the Ocean".
The term "British Isles" entered the English language in the 17th century to refer to Great Britain, Ireland and the surrounding islands; it did not enter common usage until the first half of the 19th century and, in general, the modern notion of "Britishness" evolved after the 1707 Act of Union. While it is probably the most common term for the islands, this use is not universally accepted and is sometimes rejected in Ireland.
Pretanic Islands and Britanniae
The earliest known names for the islands come from Greco-Roman writings. Sources included the Massaliote Periplus (a merchants' handbook from around 500 BC describing sea routes) 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", equal to the term Ériu for Ireland, and "Albion" for present-day Great Britain. These later writers referred to the inhabitants as the Ρρεττανοι, "Priteni" or "Pretani", probably from a Celtic term meaning "people of the forms"; "Pretannia" as a place-name was Diodorus' 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; since it is unusual for an autonym (a self-description) to describe appearance, this name may have been used by Armoricans. 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. From this name a collective term for the islands was used, appearing as αἱ Πρετανικαι νησοι ("Pretanic Islands") and αἱ Βρεττανιαι ("Brittanic Isles"). Cognates of these terms are still in use.
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, the Isle of Man, Anglesey, possibly one of the Frisian Islands, and islands which have been identified as Ushant and Sian. He refers to Great Britain as the island called "Britannia", 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.
Ptolemy included essentially the same main islands in the Britannias. He wrote around AD 150, although he used the now-lost work of Marinus of Tyre from about fifty years earlier. 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. 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.
Following the conquest of AD 43 the Roman province of Britannia was established, and Roman Britain expanded to cover much of the island of Great Britain. An invasion of Ireland was considered but never undertaken, and Ireland remained outside the Roman Empire. The Romans failed to consolidate their hold on the Scottish Highlands; the northern extent of the area under their control (defined by the Antonine Wall across central Scotland) stabilised at Hadrian's Wall across the north of England by about AD 210. Inhabitants of the province continued to refer to themselves as "Brittannus" or "Britto", and gave their patria (homeland) as "Britannia" or as their tribe. 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.
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 names to Ireland and Scotland.
In classical geography, the Mediterranean world 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." In AD 43, various islands (including Britain, Ireland, and Thule) were referred to as Septemtrionalis Oceani Insulae ("islands of the Northern Ocean") by Pomponius Mela, one of the earliest Roman geographers.
This term was also used by indigenous sources during the post-Roman period, who also used the term Oceani Insulae 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 6th century Irish monk Saint Columba among the peoples of modern-day Scotland. It was written in the late 7th century by Adomnán of Iona, an Irish monk living on the Inner Hebridean island. No Priteni-derived collective reference is made. Jordanes, writing in his AD 551 Getica, describes the islands (particularly in the Western Ocean) as "islands of the Ocean"; he named various islands in the North Atlantic, and believed Scandinavia to be one of them. He described 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 8th century. Bede's work does not have 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".
Isidore of Seville's Etymology, written in the early 7th century and one of the most popular textbooks in Europe during the Middle Ages, similarly lists Britain ("Britannia"), Ireland ("Scotia" or "Hibernia"), Thule, and many other islands simply as "islands" or "islands of the Ocean" and uses no collective term.
In the 17th century, Peter Heylin, in his Microcosmus, described the classical conception of the Ocean and included in the "Iles of the Ocean" all the classically known offshore islands—Zealand, the British Isles, and those in the "Northerne Sea".
In his Historia Regum Britanniae of around 1136, Geoffrey of Monmouth responded to the slights of English historians with his theme of the sovereignty of Britain—exalting Welsh national history, portraying a once-unified Britannia (founded by Brutus of Troy) defending itself against Anglo-Saxon invasion by King Arthur's Britons. Arthur (who was now sleeping) would one day return to the rescue. By the end of the twelfth century this adaptation of myths common to Wales, Cornwall and Brittany had been adapted 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. Both Welsh rebels and English monarchs (particularly Henry Tudor) continued such claims; Henry had Welsh ancestry, and claimed descent from Arthur. His son Henry VIII incorporated Wales into England; he also claimed to be an heir of Arthur, as did his successor Elizabeth I of England.
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. This spread Ptolemy's naming of Hibernia and Albion as "Island[s] of Britannia". The Latin equivalents of terms equating to "British Isles" started to be used by mapmakers from the mid-16th century onwards; Sebastian Münster in Geographia Universalis (a 1550 reissue of Ptolemy's Geography) uses the heading De insulis Britannicis, Albione, quæ est Anglia, & Hibernia, & de cuiutatibus carum in genere. Gerardus Mercator produced much more accurate maps, including one of "the British Isles" in 1564. 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".
The geographer and occultist John Dee (of Welsh ancestry) was an adviser to Queen Elizabeth I of England and 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, Ireland, Iceland, Greenland and (possibly) North America, he used alleged Saxon precedent to claim territorial and trading rights. 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." The Lordship of Ireland had come under tighter English control as the Kingdom of Ireland, and diplomatic efforts (interspersed with warfare) tried to bring Scotland under the English monarch as well. Dee used the term "Brytish Iles" in his writings of 1577, which developed his arguments claiming these territories. 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—proclaiming himself as "King of Great Brittaine, France and Ireland". However, the states remained separate until the monarchy was overthrown in the civil wars of the Three Kingdoms; the Commonwealth of England briefly ruled all, before the restoration of the monarchy restored separate states.
The Oxford English Dictionary asserts 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 (a collection of his lectures on historical geography). Writing from his English political perspective, he grouped Ireland with Great Britain and the minor islands with these three arguments:
- 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 Brttiʃh 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
Modern scholarly opinion is that Heylyn "politicised his geographical books Microcosmus ... and, still more, Cosmographie" in the context of what geography meant at that time. 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), 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 Poynings' Law a common focus of resentment. After the hugely turbulent 16th and 17th centuries, nationalism surfaced among the Irish Protestant population and eventually led to the legislative independence of the Irish Parliament under Henry Grattan—followed after the Act of Union (1800) by the renewed assertiveness of Irish Catholics, who first agitated for Catholic Emancipation and later for Repeal of the Union under Daniel O'Connell.
The Great Irish Famine, the Land War and the failure of William Ewart Gladstone and Charles Stuart Parnell to get partial independence (a Bill for Home Rule) through the Westminster Parliament led to the secession of most of Ireland from the United Kingdom. This meant the end of British rule in most of Ireland.
- "Definitions from Dictionary.com". Dictionary.reference.com. Retrieved 3 February 2011.
- 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'.
- Hazlett, Ian (2003). The Reformation in Britain and Ireland: an introduction. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-567-08280-0.
At the outset, it should be stated that while the expression 'The British Isles' is evidently still commonly employed, its intermittent use throughout this work is only in the geographic sense, in so far as that is acceptable. Since the early twentieth century, that nomenclature has been regarded by some as increasingly less usable. It has been perceived as cloaking the idea of a 'greater England', or an extended south-eastern English imperium, under a common Crown since 1603 onwards. … Nowadays, however, 'Britain and Ireland' is the more favoured expression, though there are problems with that too. … There is no consensus on the matter, inevitably. It is unlikely that the ultimate in non-partisanship that has recently appeared the (East) 'Atlantic Archipelago' will have any appeal beyond captious scholars.
- Studies in Historical Archaeoethnology by Judith Jesch 2003
- Kevin Myers,"An Irishman's Diary"[dead link] 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"
- "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[dead link] 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...:
"...(which) 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.  (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)
- The A to Z of Britain and Ireland by Trevor Montague "...although it is traditional to refer to the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as the British Isles, when considered as a single archipelago, this nomenclature implies a proprietary title which has long since ceased to exist, if indeed it ever really did exist. Despite the very close affinity between the British and Irish people I have no doubt that my title is both expedient and correct"
- Davies, Alistair; Sinfield, Alan (2000), British Culture of the Postwar: An Introduction to Literature and Society, 1945–1999, Routledge, p. 9, ISBN 0-415-12811-0,
Many of the Irish dislike the 'British' in 'British Isles', while the Welsh and Scottish are not keen on 'Great Britain'. … In response to these difficulties, 'Britain and Ireland' is becoming preferred usage although there is a growing trend amounts some critics to refer to Britain and Ireland as 'the archipelago'.
- "Guardian Style Guide", Guardian (London), retrieved 2 June 2014,
British Isles: A geographical term taken to mean Great Britain, Ireland and some or all of the adjacent islands such as Orkney, Shetland and the Isle of Man. The phrase is best avoided, given its (understandable) unpopularity in the Irish Republic. Alternatives adopted by some publications are British and Irish Isles or simply Britain and Ireland
- "...(which) 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.
- D. A. Coleman (1982), Demography of immigrants and minority groups in the United Kingdom: proceedings of the eighteenth annual symposium of the Eugenics Society, London 1981, Volume 1981, Academic Press, p. 213, ISBN 0-12-179780-5,
The geographical term British Isles is not generally acceptable in Ireland, the term these islands being widely used instead. I prefer the Anglo-Celtic Isles, or the North-West European Archipelago.
- Irish historical studies: Joint Journal of the Irish Historical Society and the Ulster Society for Irish Historical Studies, Hodges, Figgis & Co., 1990, p. 98,
There is much to be said for considering the archipelago as a whole, for a history of the British or Anglo-Celtic isles or 'these islands'.
- John Oakland, 2003, British Civilization: A Student's Dictionary, Routledge: London
British-Irish Isles, the (geography) see BRITISH ISLES
British Isles, the (geography) A geographical (not political or CONSTITUTIONAL) term for ENGLAND, SCOTLAND, WALES, and IRELAND (including the REPUBLIC OF IRELAND), together with all offshore islands. A more accurate (and politically acceptable) term today is the British-Irish Isles.
- Ahern, Bertie (1998-10-29). "Address at 'The Lothian European Lecture' - Edinburgh". Department of the Taoiseach, Taoiseach's Speeches Archive 1998. Retrieved 2006-07-28.
[The Island of] Iona is a powerful symbol of relationships between these islands, with its ethos of service not dominion. Iona also radiated out towards the Europe of the Dark Ages, not to mention Pagan England at Lindisfarne. The British-Irish Council is the expression of a relationship that at the origin of the Anglo-Irish process in 1981 was sometimes given the name Iona, islands of the North Atlantic, and sometimes Council of the Isles, with its evocation of the Lords of the Isles of the 14th and 15th centuries who spanned the North Channel. In the 17th century, Highland warriors and persecuted Presbyterian Ministers criss-crossed the North Channel.
- World and its Peoples: Ireland and United Kingdom, London: Marshall Cavendish, 2010, p. 8,
The nomenclature of Great Britain and Ireland and the status of the different parts of the archipelago are often confused by people in other parts of the world. The name British Isles is commonly used by geographers for the archipelago; in the Republic of Ireland, however, this name is considered to be exclusionary. In the Republic of Ireland, the name British-Irish Isles is occasionally used. However, the term British-Irish Isles is not recognized by international geographers. In all documents jointly drawn up by the British and Irish governments, the archipelago is simply referred to as "these islands." The name British Isles remains the only generally accepted terms for the archipelago off the northwestern coast of mainland Europe.
- Marsh, David (11 May 2010). "Snooker and the geography of the British Isles". London: The Guardian newspaper. Retrieved 13 May 2010.
- Oxford English Dictionary: "British Isles: 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."
- Alan, Lew; Colin, Hall; Dallen, Timothy (2008). World Geography of Travel and Tourism: A Regional Approach. Oxford: Elsevier. ISBN 978-0-7506-7978-7.
The British Isles comprise more than 6,000 islands off the northwest coast of continental Europe, including the countries of the United Kingdom of Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) and Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland. The group also includes the United Kingdom crown dependencies of the Isle of Man, and by tradition, the Channel Islands (the Bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey), even though these islands are strictly speaking an archipelago immediately off the coast of Normandy (France) rather than part of the British Isles.
- 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
- 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."
- Robert Mayhew, 2005, " PDF" in the British Journal of the History of Science, 38(1): 73–92, March 2005
- 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
- Website on Megalithic Monuments in the British Isles and Ireland. Ireland in this site includes County Fermanagh, which is politically in Northern Ireland.
- "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."
- Guide to Narrow Gauge rail in the British Isles and Ireland which includes Belfast lines under the section on Ireland.
- British Weather (Part One) at the Wayback Machine (archived 28 January 2007)[dead link]. 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".
- For example, see Google searches of the BBC website.
- [dead link] Herr ambassador Pauls, with these comments, you are really spoiling us..., Sunday Tribune, 23 September 2007
- Revealed: What the British really think of us[dead link], Irish Examiner, 13 December 2003
- 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'."
- Is it really so morally objectionable for the father of a murder victim to accept £450,000 'blood money'?, The Guardian, 4 October 2006.
- "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 978-0-19-925905-2
- "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 recognised 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 conceptualised 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.
- The readers' editor of The Guardian, Ian Mayes, noted indirect reports of concerns. "Where are we?", The Guardian, 11 August 2001.
- On 18 July 2004 The Sunday Business Post[dead link] 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?
- Norman Davies, op. cit. p.xxii.
- "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.
- Gunther, John (1936). Inside Europe. Harper & Brothers. pp. 274–275.
- "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 25 August 2006.
- Irish Government websites
- "Dáil Éireann – Volume 606 – 28 September, 2005, reply by Dermot Ahern TD to parliamentary question from Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD". Retrieved 11 December 2012.
- "Response by the Minister for Health and Children to a question in Parliament". Historical-debates.oireachtas.ie. 3 October 2001. Retrieved 3 February 2011.
- Official Report of the Parliament of Ireland: [dead link], PDF (346 KB), PDF (914 KB), PDF (883 KB), PDF (938 KB), PDF (798 KB), PDF (389 KB)
- Parliamentary Debates: Joint Committee on Education and Science[dead link], 17 November 2005
- "Díospóireachtaí Coistí – Committee Debates". Gov.ie. 12 January 2011. Retrieved 3 February 2011.
- "Díospóireachtaí Coistí – Committee Debates". Gov.ie. 12 January 2011. Retrieved 3 February 2011.
- "Díospóireachtaí Coistí – Committee Debates". Gov.ie. 12 January 2011. Retrieved 3 February 2011.
- Áine Kerr, Folens to wipe 'British Isles' off the map in new atlas[dead link], Irish Times, 2 October 2006
- Details of current editions of Folens atlases: Primary[dead link], Post-primary[dead link]
- "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].”
- "Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, 1999. Module: Community Relations. Variable: Irish". Ark.ac.uk. 9 May 2003. Retrieved 3 February 2011.
- Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey. Module: Community Relations. Variable: British: Summary: 78% of Protestants replied "Strongly British."
- Tom Hennessey and Robin Wilson, With all due respect — pluralism and parity of esteem, Democratic Dialogue (1997)
- Speech by the Rt Hon David Trimble to the Northern Ireland Forum. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
- Speech by Mr David Trimble to the AGM of the Ulster Unionist Council, 20 March 1999. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
- Partnership plan for peace and prosperity[dead link], Irish Independent, 14 December 1999. Retrieved 16 July 2006.
- British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body. 15th Plenary Session. 30 March 1998[dead link]
- 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.
- "Prayer Association of British Isles and Ireland". Prayer-alert.net. Retrieved 3 February 2011.[dead link]
- Macey & Morgan, Learning on the road: nursing in the British Isles and Ireland (Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, 1988)
- Badham, M., and Richards, V. (1991). Gibbon Regional Studbook: British Isles and Ireland, 13th Edition, Twycross Zoo, East Midland Zoological Society, Twycross.
- FOLK 547 640: Folklore of the British Isles and Ireland, a course in the University of Pennsylvania; British archaeology
- For example, P. North, The Private International Law of Matrimonial Causes in the British Isles and the Republic of Ireland (1977).
- See Law Society Gazette, Law Society of Ireland, July 2001.
- Open Republic. Retrieved 5 July 2006.[dead link]
- Statement by the Taoiseach and Leader of Fianna Fáil, Mr Bertie Ahern, TD on "Northern Ireland: Political Situation and Developments[dead link]" at the Forty-Second Plenary Session of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, Dublin Castle, 5 December 1997
- Department of the Official Report (Hansard), House of Commons, Westminster (16 January 1998). "House of Commons. Vol.304. Col.663. 16 January 1998". Publications.parliament.uk. Retrieved 3 February 2011.
- Dáil Debates. Vol.484. Col.466. 9 December 1997.
- "Dáil Debates. Vol 484. Col.466. 9 December 1997". Historical-debates.oireachtas.ie. Retrieved 3 February 2011.
- "Introduction to the three Northatlantic Islands". Northatlantic-islands.com. Retrieved 3 February 2011.
- David Armitage, "Greater Britain: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis?" in American Historical Review, Vol. 104, No. 2 (Apr. 1999) p.427.
- Oileáin Iarthair Eorpa seems rather appropriate, in Patrick Dinneen. 1927. Irish–English Dictionary. Dublin: Irish Texts Society
- Ellanyn Sheear ny hOarpey in Douglas C. Fargher. 1979. Fargher's English-Manx dictionary. Douglas: Shearwater Press.
- Na hOileáin Bhreatanacha, in T. J. Dunne, tr. Toirdhealbhach Ó Raithbheartaigh. 1937. Tír-Eóluíocht na h-Éireann. Baile Átha Cliath: Oifig Díolta Foillseacháin Rialtais
- Ny hEllanyn Goaldagh s.v. British-Isles, in Douglas C. Fargher. 1979. Fargher's English-Manx dictionary. Douglas: Shearwater Press.
- "Focal.ie". Focal.ie. Retrieved 3 February 2011.
- "Vest-madr", "Vestr-lond" R Cleasby & G. Vigfusson Icelandic–English Dictionary Oxford 1874
- "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.
- Snyder 2003, p. 281 quoting Linda Colley.
- Snyder 2003, p. 12,Ó Corráin 1989, p. 1
- 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.
- Ó Corráin 1989, p. 1
- Snyder 2003, pp. 12, 68
- Cunliffe 2002, p. 95,
- Cunliffe 2002, p. 94
- O'Rahilly 1946
- Snyder 2003, p. 12
- Cognates of Albion (normally referring only to Scotland) — Albion (archæic); Cornish: Alban; Irish: Alba; Manx: Albey; Scots: Albiane; Scottish Gaelic: Alba; Welsh: Yr Alban. Cognates of Ierne — 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 Priteni – Welsh: Prydain; Briton and 'British'.
- 4.20 provides a translation describing Caesar'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".
- "The opinions as to the identity of ancient Thule have been numerous in the extreme. We may here mention six:
- The common, and apparently the best founded opinion, that Thule is the island of Iceland.
- That it is either the Ferroe group, or one of those islands.
- The notion of Ortelius, Farnaby, and Schœnning, that it is identical with Thylemark in Norway.
- 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.
- The opinion of Rudbeck and of Calstron, borrowed originally from Procopius, that this is a general name for the whole of Scandinavia.
- That of Gosselin, who thinks that under this name Mainland, the principal of the Shetland Islands, is meant.
- Ó Corráin 1989
- Ptolemy's Geography[dead link].
- 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
- Snyder 2003, p. 34
- Ó Corráin 1989, p. 3
- Snyder 2003, p. 46
- Snyder 2003, p. 54 refers to epigraphic evidence from those Britons at home and abroad who left Latin inscriptions.
- Snyder 2003, p. 68, Cunliffe 2002, p. 95
- Pomponii melæ de situ orbis
- Book 2, 46 in the Sharpe edition = Book 2, 47 in Reeves edition.
- Jordanes, Getica — De Origine Actibusque Gothorum, Chapter 1, section 7–9
- Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, Book I – In Latin and English
- Isidore, Catholic Encyclopedia
- Peter Heylin, Microcosmus (1621), pp 453–454
- Snyder 2003, pp. 231–6, 243–6
- Snyder 2003, pp. 274–276
- Jeppe Strandsbjerg, 2006, PDF (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."
- Utpal Mukhopadhyay, PDF (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.")
- PDF (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")
- British Isles Old Maps. Retrieved 12 March 2007.
- Showcases:: Mercator Atlas of Europe[dead link]
- Anglia and Scotia, 1570, by Ortelius.
- Chapter 1 Page 3 from Fell Smith, Charlotte (1909). John Dee: 1527–1608. London: Constable and Company.
- 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
- Francois Velde. "Proclamation styling James I King of Great Britain on 20 October 1604". Heraldica.org. Retrieved 3 February 2011.
- Peter Heylyn, Oxford English Dictionary, second ed. Online Version (2000)
- Peter Heylyn, Microcosmus, p.502 (1621).
- 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.
- 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."
- Robert Mayhew, 2005, " PDF" in the British Journal of the History of Science, 38(1): 73–92, March 2005
- Snyder 2003, p. 281
- Cunliffe, Barry (2002). The extraordinary voyage of Pytheas the Greek (revised ed.). New York: Walker & Co. ISBN 0-14-029784-7. OCLC 49692050.
- Ó Corráin, Donnchadh (1989). "Chapter 1: Prehistoric and Early Christian Ireland". In Foster, R. F. The Oxford History of Ireland (reissue ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press (published 1 November 2001). ISBN 0-19-866270-X. OCLC 231969888.
- O'Rahilly, T. F. (1946). Early Irish History and Mythology (reprinted 1964, 1971, 1984 ed.). Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. ISBN 0-901282-29-4
- Snyder, Christopher A. (2003). The Britons. Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0-631-22260-X. OCLC 237823808