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Hibernia is the Classical Latin name for the island of Ireland. The name Hibernia was taken from Greek geographical accounts. During his exploration of northwest Europe (c. 320 BC), Pytheas of Massilia called the island Iérnē (written Ἰέρνη). In his book Geographia (c. 150 AD), Claudius Ptolemaeus ("Ptolemy") called the island Iouerníā (written Ἰουερνία, where "ου"-ou stands for w). The Roman historian Tacitus, in his book Agricola (c. 98 AD), uses the name Hibernia. The Romans also sometimes used Scotia, "land of the Scoti", as a geographical term for Ireland in general, as well as just the part inhabited by those people.
The High King Brian Boru (c. 941–1014) based his title on being emperor of the Irish people, which was in Latin: "Imperator Scottorum", as distinct from claiming to be Emperor of the island of Ireland. From 1172 the Lordship of Ireland gave the King of England the additional title "Dominus Hibernie" (sic, for Hiberniae; also "Dominus Hybernie"), Lord of Ireland. The Kingdom of Ireland created the title Rex Hiberniae, King of Ireland, for use in Latin texts. Gerard Mercator called Ireland "Hybernia" on his world map of 1541. In 1642 the motto of the Irish Confederates, a Catholic-landlord administration that ruled much of Ireland until 1650 was: Pro Deo, Rege et Patria, Hibernia Unanimis. (In English: For God, King and Fatherland, Ireland is United).
However, unlike many Roman geographical names, the Latin "Hibernia" did not become the basis for the name for Ireland in any modern languages, with even Italian using Irlanda. Apart from the Celtic languages all modern languages use a local variant of the English "Ireland". This is presumably because direct medieval contacts between Ireland and continental Europe were at too low a level to embed use of the Hibernian root, or the original Irish Éire, in local vernaculars. This contrasts with Wales, which is still "Pays de Galles" in French, with similar terms in other Romance languages.
By the classicising 18th century the use of Hibernia had revived in formal, even somewhat pretentious, contexts, just as had the use of Caledonia, one of the Latin terms for Scotland, and Britannia for Britain. "Hibernia" was used on Irish coins and companies such the Hibernian Insurance Company were established (later renamed the Hibernian Group). The name took on popularity with the success of the Irish Patriot Party. At a time when Palladian classical architecture and design were being adopted in northern Europe, Hibernia was a useful word to describe Ireland with overtones of classical style and civility, particularly by the prosperous Irish Ascendency who were taught Latin at school. "Hibernian" was used as a term for people, and a general adjective. Royal Exchange in Dublin was built in 1769–79 with the carved inscription "SPQH" for Senatus Populusque Hibernicus – The senate and people of Ireland. The Royal Hibernian Academy dates from 1823.
Hibernia is a word that is rarely used today with regard to Ireland, except in long-established names. It is occasionally used for names of organisations and various other things; for instance: Hibernia National Bank, Hibernian Insurance Group, Ancient Order of Hibernians, The Hibernian magazine, Hibernia College, Hibernian Football Club, HMS Hibernia, the Hibernia oil field, and modern derivatives, from Latin like Respublica Hibernica (Irish Republic) and Universitas Hiberniae Nationalis (National University of Ireland). Hibernia is also the name of a large sea oil platform off the shores of Newfoundland, in which this Canadian province has strong ties to Ireland.
Another occurrence is in familial Hibernian fever or TRAPS (tumor necrosis factor receptor-associated periodic syndrome), a periodic fever first described in 1982 in a family of Irish and Scottish descent, but found in all ethnic groups.
Hibernia in the historical record
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The island of Ireland was never incorporated into the Roman Empire.The fact that the Romans never occupied Ireland meant that Roman influence on Ireland was limited to trading contacts with more fertile farmland countries. There are remains near Dublin of what appears to be a Roman camp, which is thought to have been a regular seasonal fair for trading in both directions. Ancient Roman pottery, coins, and other Roman products are found in Irish archaeology from the period, though not in large quantities. The Roman historian Tacitus makes reference to an expedition to Ireland by the general Agricola in AD 82. He is reported in one passage to "have crossed the water", the water in context is unknown and perhaps is reference to some exploratory mission, however the remainder of the passage deals exclusively with Ireland. According to Seneca, Agricola was of the opinion that Ireland could be conquered with one legion and a moderate amount of auxiliaries, in all roughly 6,000 men. Reference is also made about an Irish king who had fled the island in search of refuge. Agricola provided him with safety in the hope that it might be a reason to possibly invade the island. The Ulster historian Richard Warner has theorised that the Midlands leader Túathal Techtmar, usually thought mythical, was in fact historical and went to Britain to get Roman support for his military campaigns (along with other later exiles). If there is any truth in this hypothesis, the Romans may have had a greater influence on the southeast of Ireland than normally thought by scholars. Overall, the relative lack of Roman influence on Ireland meant that it preserved its ancient culture to a much greater degree than continental countries such as Gaul.
Irish raids harried the Roman provinces of Britannia (Britain) and Gaul (France) as evidenced from surviving Roman texts; this became an increasing problem as the Roman military machine weakened in later periods.
In the early 1st century, Roman and Greek knowledge of Ireland was thin, at least among metropolitan writers. The geographers Strabo and Pomponius Mela describe a cold land populated by extremely fierce inhabitants, where, despite the coldness, the grazing for cattle was lush.
By the 2nd century, the geographer Ptolemy gave coordinates for a surprisingly detailed map of Ireland, naming tribes, towns, rivers and headlands. This information could have come from a variety of sources but does demonstrate the increasing knowledge and interest in Ireland.
Irish written history does not mention Rome at all. However, the lack of written history does not mean that Rome or the Roman province of Britannia did not significantly interact with Ireland. Archaeologists have found an enormous fort complex at Chester (Deva Victrix) in northwest England that may have been planned as a centre to rule the islands, or as a military base to deter Irish invasions.
- McPartland E. The Royal Exchange Competition JRSAI vol.102, p.63. See the original SPQR
- Although it is found in the first line of the Aeolus section (part 2, episode 7) of James Joyce's novel Ulysses: IN THE HEART OF THE HIBERNIAN METROPOLIS (a fictional newspaper headline referring to Dublin).
- Laxer, Ronald M.; David D. Sherry (June 2012). "Pediatric Rheumatology, An Issue of Pediatric Clinics". The Clinics: Internal Medicine (Elsevier Health Sciences) 59 (2). The TNF-receptor-associated periodic syndrome. ISBN 9781455744251. Retrieved 5 January 2013.
- British Archaeology, no 14, May 1996: Features
- "The Celts".