Talk:British Isles/References

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When we think about social work in the British Isles, a contentious term if there ever was one, what do we expect to see?

For example, the term 'British Isles', in strict geographical language refers to all islands that comprise the Republic of Ireland, United Kingdom, Channel Islands and so on. However, like other such terms it is probably not an easy term to accept for some who inhabit one or other part of these islands (particularly Ireland) since 'British' may refer more to non-Irish parts of these islands.

The difficulties of finding a correct, suitable and acceptable term for these islands may seem a rather uninteresting and trivial semantic issue. However, the difficulty in finding a suitable short convenient term indicates a deeper problem. It suggests, indeed confirms, that these islands are not often thought to be a unity, an entity.

Recognizing that there is no satisfactory solution to the problem of how to refer to these territories as an entity, we have taken refuge in the geographically 'correct', if slightly archaic term, 'the British Isles' throughout this book to refer to all of the islands. We offer our apologies to all who dislike this term and invite them to provide a better one!

These are various quotes from Chapter 1 of the book Social Work in the British Isles, by Malcolm Payne & Steven Shardlow, published 2001 by Jessica Kingsley Publishers ISBN:1853028339


However, the New British History, may now be in danger of running into difficulties—not over basic aims but over its name. 'Britannia' strictly speaking referred to the island later divided into England, Scotland and Wales, and excluded Ireland. While both islands were ruled by a regime based in London, British Isles seemed a useful term to refer to its home (non-colonial) territories, but once most of the island of Ireland became the independent Republic of Ireland it seemed to some no longer appropriate. It seemed a term cunningly conceived to enmesh Ireland in Britain, a colonialist term. 'British Isles' might seem to suggest some lingering claim to British hegemony even after Irish independence. With sensitivities increasingly acute through continuing conflict over the status of Northern Ireland, ther came growing acceptance that 'the British Isles' was a politically incorrect term. In the context of historical writing there was an easy answer to the need for a new name to cover the whole of the group of islands lying off the north-west European mainland which have been intimately linked through many centuries of history and have closely overlapping experiences. 'British' or 'British Isles' history could become 'Three Kingdoms' history. (An alternative suggestion, to re-name the island group the 'North Atlantic Archipelago' was striking, but hardly catchy).

Three Kingdoms might suit the needs of historians, but is of no use to modern politicians dealing with the problems of the 'One Republic and One Monarchy' Island group. Instead a new term has slipped into debate that is not contentious, promoted especially by the Irish. The British Isles have become 'These Islands.' It may seem at first bizarre and evasive, but it may be that within a generation or two 'These Islands' will be boldly emblazoned on maps where 'British Isles' once stood. Or perhaps just 'The Isles,' for there is already in shadowy existence a 'Council of the Isles' made up of representatives of the British and Irish governments, of the devolved assemblies of Wales and Northern Ireland and of the parliament of Scotland.

The New British History, having transformed our perspectives of the past and contributed to recent debates on devolution, may abandon its name as the British Isles is doing, and re-emerge as Isles History. If this be thought unlikely, remember how quickly British historians abandoned the term 'German Ocean' when that was found unacceptable with the outbreak of the First World War. In its place came 'North Sea,' and historians hastened to impose it on the past.

Stevenson, D. [1973] (2003). The Scottish revolution 1637-1644: the triumph of the covenanters. pp. 9-10. OCLC 185759152. Author's preface to the 2003 edition.


Another distortion that New British History visited upon history writing on Ireland and Scotland was that it encouraged scholars to look for similarities and downplay differences between the historical experience of their respective countries and that of England. This desire to assume, if not prove, similarity, at least for the early modern period, has brought its practitioners to attribute an integrity to Britain and Ireland as a historical and political unit that exceeded the reality. Moreover, by employing the solecism 'the British Isles' (a locution that had been studiously avoided by Irish historians of previous generations, including those who were Ulster Unionists) to lend credibility to this supposed integrity, they alienated that very Irish audience they should have been seeking to influence.

Nicholas Canny, 2003, "Writing Early Modern History: Ireland, Britain, and the Wider World" in The Historical Journal, 46, 3 (2003), pp. 723–747, Cambridge University Press

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

At the outset, it should be stated that while the expression 'The British Isles' is evidentially still commonly employed, its intermittent use throughout this work is only in the geographical 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 'great England', or an extended south-eastern English imperium, under a common Crown from 1603 onwards. The influential English historian, Edward Gibbon, in speaking of 'England', referred to 'the extraneous appendages of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales." The historical basis of this deep and widespread perception was not just from raw English aggrandizement, crude English colonialism, or simple defense interests, but also from wider European Resaissance ideas of monarch and increasingly proactive, centralizing regal government. The Anglo-British isles originated ultimately in the Norman Conquest, was later boosted by Tudor expansionism and territorial consolidation, and the mutated into an Anglo-Scottish condominium driven by Stewart all-'British' ideology.

Nowadays, however, 'Britain and Ireland' is the more favoured expression, though there are problems with that too. For the sake of convenience and without any coded undertones I have, however, opted simply to use both expressions interchangably. 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 appeal beyond captious scholars.

- Ian Hazlettm, 2003, The Reformation in Britain and Ireland: An Introduction, Continuum: London
  • On the use of a hyphen between British and Irish in British-Irish Council:

I myself believe that the insertion or reinsertion of the hyphen between British and Irish will come to be seen in time as significant as the insertion of the hyphen between Angle and Saxon. This provided the critical mass for something approaching a proto-Anglo- Saxon state, which lasted for the second half of the 10th century, although it should be noted that this polity already "incorporated" the Brythonic-speakers of Cornwall. (Incidentally, the term Anglo-Saxon survives in the most unlikely of places, such as "Anglo-Saxon capitalism", which indicates a continuing commonality between Britain and America on economic matters, though I would place a large bet than neither country contains anyone who could claim to be purely such.)

Its significance might also be apparent if we consider that the extreme Irish nationalists behind the moves to secede from UK before and after World War I called themselves "Sinn Fein", in Gaelic meaning "Ourselves Alone" - condensing their wish to establish an autarkic, rural, Gaelic-speaking, sovereign and predominantly Catholic Ireland. To insert the hyphen is to challenge the originating ideology of the southern Irish state. It also challenges a burgeoning Anglo-Saxon-Cornish-Welsh British (British being derived from the Brythonic Prydein under Tudor influence) hegemony of the 16th century which felt free to name these isles 'British', and which later, at times, wanted to rename the Catholic Irish as West Britons.

- Simon Partridge, 2000, The British-Irish Council: the trans-islands symbolic and political possibilities, British Council: London.
  • I should say from the start that throughout this book I use the term 'British Isles' (and, only very occasionally, 'British') in the traditional sense: to refer to all of the islands in the immediate vicinity of Britain, including Ireland, Shetland and Orkney (and even more distant ones such as the Channel Islands which were included in the genetic dataset that I have used). I appreciate that many Irish do not regard themselves as British, with good reason. My inclusion of Ireland as part of the British Isles is only to avoid repeating the geographic reality, and not to make any contemporary political statement. I use 'Britain' in the Roman sense to refer to the 'big island' in case of the cumbersome political term Great Britain with its overtones of the Act of Union.

Stephen Oppenheimer, Origins of the British, Constable and Robinson, London, 2007, p.xvi:

  • ...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). The Discovery of Islands. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. p. 29. 

  • My contributoin concerns the transformed intellectual landscape that has placed national identity and nationalism-as well as possibly postnationalism-at the center of political and intellectual discussions in the "British" Isles. I say the "British" Isles here, rather than simply Britain, because the rethinking of the component parts of Britain-or more precisely the United Kingdom-entails just that: a reconfiguring of the relationships in the entire archipelago. Indeed, may feel that the "British Isles" is no longer a viable term, given the imperialist associations with "British." Atlantic Isles and North Atlantic Isles are among those terms that have been put forward as substitutes. I have settled on "the isles," certainly the most general term possible and one given currency by Norman Davies in his best-selling history The Isles (1999). Given the historical antagonism between Britain and Ireland, and the very different intellectual cultures that they have produced, intellectual discussion across the Irish Sea have not been in abundance. They are, however, beginning to take place, and, even when they are faint it is possible to detect a theoretical space that is being carved out from contributions on both sides of the Irish/British divide. I am trying to sketch out some of the elements of what a postnationalist and contemporary intellectual history of "the Isles" looks like.

- Begoña Aretxaga et al. (eds.), 2004, Empire & Terror: Nationalism/postnationalism in the New Millennium, University of Nevada Press: Nevada, p.42

Apart from some separatist nationalists,many people, perhaps most,in these islands now have a multiple or hyphenated sense of identity. In the sheer density of familial,civic, cultural and economic links between the islands,including reciprocal citizenship rights, we seem to be witnessing the birth of a British-Irish commonality across them, including settlers and their descendants from the new Commonwealth.This growing phenomenon,hopefully, will be given proper expression through the proposed British-Irish Council.In time, a new word may emerge to cover this politico-cultural sharing,akin to Nordic, Scandinavian or Iberian, areas,paradoxically, in which there are greater linguistic and cultural differences.The classical Greek name for these islands,“Pretanic”,has been suggested.For the time being,it seems we will have to live with the hyphenated “British–Irish”or “Irish–British”,and learn to say goodbye to the mutual linguistic colonialisms of the “British Isles”and “Republic of Ireland”.

- Simon Partridge, [date] The British Union State: imperial hangover or flexible citizens’ home?, The Catalyst Trust: London


  • 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). Making Ireland British: 1580-1650. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. p. viii. 
  • ...having writen Europe: a history, I was invited to give a lecture at University College, Dublin. After the presentation, someone in the audience asked about my current project. I started to reply that I was thinking of writing a history of 'the British—'. I then realized that in Dublin, of all places, one cannot fairly talk of 'the British Isles'. The Isles ceased to be British precisely fifty years ago when the Republic of Ireland left the Commonwealth, though few people in the British residue have yet cared to notice. Various clumsy alternatives were discussed, such as 'the British and Irish Isles', 'Europe's Offshore Islands', and the 'Anglo-Celtic Archipelago'. In the end, it was decided that the only decent name for the forthcoming book was 'A History of These Islands'. And such was one of several working titles until, after much trial and error, I eventually arrived at The Isles: A History.

    Davies, Norman (1999). The Isles: A History. London: Oxford University Press. pp. p. xxii. 
  • ...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. 
  • ...has raised issues of taxonomy (classification). Irish historians find the title `New British History' and the use of terms like `British Isles' problematic. Alternatives have been suggested. John Morrill has tried `the Britannic Isles' in an attempt to find a title which predates Modern and Early Modern Nations. Jane Ohlmeyer has used the term `Three Kingdoms', but this buries Wales within England, and the nature of the distinctiveness of Wales's civil war and revolutions is an important topic. Nicholas Canny has referred to the `Atlantic Archipelago', but this has not caught on either. `Four Nations' has been used too, recognising that the term nation was flexible at the time and could mean both a state and a people. Many others use Britain and Ireland or, in the case of James Scott Wheeler's latest book, Ireland and Britain.

    Bennett, Martyn (2003). "What's in a Name? the Death of the English Civil War: Martyn Bennett Examines How the Terminology We Use about the Great Conflict of the Mid-Seventeenth Century Reflects and Reinforces the Interpretations We Make". History Review. 
  • Finding an acceptable shorthand geographical description for the countries which formed the UK before the creation of Eire has proved difficult. 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'.

    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. p. 2. 
  • The principle that British history covers Scotland and Wales as well as England is straightforward enough, but the assertion that it covers Ireland too is more contentious. ‘Britain’ encompasses only England, Wales and Scotland, and the habit of using it to include Ireland is very irritating to the Irish, just as the habit of using ‘England’ to include Scotland and Wales irritates the Scots and Welsh; we therefore appreciate how Irish historians can be ‘Brito-sceptics’ (Canny, p. 147). Historians have coined, as an alternative, terms such as ‘the (East) Atlantic archipelago’ and ‘these islands’ to refer collectively to England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Yet, as we have found in editing this book, such terminology is generally too clumsy for convenient use, especially adjectivally; so, like others before us, we have fallen back on the terms ‘British Isles’ and ‘British history’. That does not imply that Ireland is actually subsumed within Britain; but it does reflect the fact that the history of the island of Ireland has been intimately connected with, and in some ways determined by, the history of the island of Britain for well over eight hundred years.

    Grant, Alexander (1995). Uniting the Kingdom? The Making of British History. New York: Routledge. p. 5.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)
  • The very concept of 'the British Isles' is rejected by some Irish historians. In part this reflects the different nuances of the term within the two islands: in nationalist Ireland, 'British' is the antithesis of 'Irish', is frequently synonymous with 'English', and it refers to the modern British state; whereas in Britain it is also frequently used as an 'umbrella' term to describe the peoples of the British Isles collectively without respect to their nationality. There is, however, clearly a need for a term to denote the modern mix of Celtic, Germanic and Romance cultures and peoples and the Anglo-Norman administrative structures which are common to Britain and Ireland. Thus in default of a convenient, neutral, and readily recognizable alternative, the traditional usage must be allowed to stand. Yet the very fact that no single word, analogous to Japan or Indonesia, exists to describe the group of islands dominated by Britain and Ireland is itself significant: the very phrase 'the British Isles' also draws attention to an arrested process of state formation.

    Barber, Sarah G. (1995). Conquest and Union: Fashioning a British State, 1485-1725. London: Pearson UK. pp. p. 2.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)
  • I take it that ' Britain', rather than 'the British Isles' would have been the preferred geographical term for the archipelago as the national territory, if this political process had enjoyed wider success. It is of course implied by the development of subcategories (which have had a chequered history) like ' Great Britain', 'North Britain' (for Scotland), 'the British mainland' (with reference to Northern Ireland), and 'West Briton' (now a term of abuse for an Irish person who apes British customs), as also by the earliest (Greek) usage which styled as British both the island of Albion and of Ierna.

    (Barber, 1995, footnote p. 4)
  • 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'. Other phrases in common use include 'mainland Britain' in discussions of Northern Ireland (implying that it is 'offshore Britain'), and 'the Celtic fringe' (of the absent centre, England).

    Walter, Bronwen (2000). Outsiders Inside: Whiteness, Place, and Irish Women. New York: Routledge. pp. p. 107. 
  • ...what used to be called the "British Isles," although that is now a politically incorrect term.

    Finnegan, Richard B. (2000). Ireland: Historical Echoes, Contemporary Politics. Boulder: Westview Press. pp. p. 358.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)
  • A further and much more effective unionist tactic in countering the nationalist insistence on the territorial integrity of the island of Ireland was to change the geographical frame of reference to that of the whole archipelago of the British Isles. This does not make partition seem more legitimate, but it places the onus for it on the secession of twenty-six counties of Ireland from the United Kingdom rather than on the exclusion of Northern Ireland from the new Irish state.

    Mcgarry, John (2001). Northern Ireland and the Divided World: The Northern Ireland Conflict and the Good Friday Agreement in Comparative Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. p. 230. 
  • The claim that the British Isles should constitute a single political entity by reason of its map image as a 'natural' unit is at least as strong if not stronger than the geographical case for a united Ireland...the British Isles map image has not been very strongly articulated by any of the parties to the conflict. While use by unionists of the concept has grown, they remain divided on its exploitation, in part because of the fear that it could be used to undercut their own claim to autonomy.

    (Mcgarry, 2001, p. 231)
  • However, nationalist opinion remains sensitive to the potential of the British Isles map image, and that is reflected in nationalist rejection of the very description 'British Isles'. Nationalists use the awkward and ambiguous description 'these islands' as an alternative. However, outside the British Isles, or these islands, if preferred, the term British Isles remains quite commonly used.

    (Mcgarry, 2001, p. 231)
  • quoting Terence O'Neill

    It is very difficult to be Anglo-Irish. In the first place, if you have an Irish name you are romantically involved with Ireland even if you do not speak with an Irish accent. And yet you are brought up to believe that London is the capital of the British Isles and that the Monarch is the Head of your State.

    Mulholland, Marc (2000). Northern Ireland at the Crossroads: Ulster Unionism in the O'Neill Years, 1960-9. Basingstoke: Macmillan. pp. p. 86. 
  • again quoting O'Neill

    Maybe it will be a different kind of association from that enjoyed by the parliaments for the north east and north west but nevertheless the kind of association that would mean the British Isles becoming the British Isles again.

    (Mulholland, 2000, p.169)
  • This series is based on the premise that whatever the complexities and ambiguities created by this state of affairs, it makes sense to offer an overview, conducted by leading scholars whose research is on the leading edge of their discipline. That overview extends to the whole of the British Isles. The expressions is not uncontroversial, especially to many in Ireland, for whom the very word ‘British’ implies an unacceptable politics of dominion. Yet there is no other formulation that can encapsulate the shared experience of ‘these islands’, to use another term much employed in Ireland and increasingly heard in Britain, but rather unhelpful to other inhabitants of the planet.

    A note from the editor of the Oxford Series on the History of the British Isles (http://www.oup.co.uk/oxfordtextbooks/history/sohbi/general.editor/) which is also in the printed books.


  • ...the British Isles (a term which is itself offensive to Irish Nationalists)

    from Language and Identity: National, Ethnic, Religious. John E. Joseph, published by Macmillan.
  • The British Isles does include the island of Ireland although the adjective British used in this context is often found offensive by Irish Nationalists.....it is as simple to refer to Britain and Ireland or to recognize that the term 'British Isles' was in widely accepted and common usage during the period covered by this chapter.

    What is a Nation?: Europe 1789-1914 By Timothy Baycroft, Mark Hewitson, published by Oxford.
  • 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. ISBN:052156879X.

  • Irish sports fans have worked out a system of allegiances that is more complex, and more honest, than the old apartheid...And for the weekly fix of televised glamour, Manchester United, Liverpool and Glasgow Celtic provide both a globalised cosmopolitanism and (the darkest secret of all) a sense of belonging to what used to be called the British Isles.

    "The Croker Conversion" (Subscription needed). Fintan O'Toole. The Irish Times. February 10, 2007. Accessed June 2008.
  • Staying with the banking theme, I received a note from a reader who was upset by my reference to the British Isles in a recent piece about transferring money between overseas banks. I used the term geographically rather than politically but was actually referring to the sterling zone and was, mentally, excluding the Republic from that equation since we are such happy europhiles.

  • However, the term is, as the reader suggests, possibly inappropriate these days. And so, if I'm talking about the sterling zone I shall use that term in future which, I hope, keeps everyone happy.

    "Familiarity led to failure at Allfirst" (Subscription needed). Sheila O'Flanagan. The Irish Times. March 22, 2002. Accessed June 2008.
  • Children and teenagers interested in family research should check out the WorldGenWeb for Kids, where they can post questions, answer queries and join the mailing list. For some reason, Ireland is listed under the British Isles - go to www.rootsweb.com/wgwkids/ to complain.

    "Rooting out your family tree" (Subscription needed). Sarah Marriott. The Irish Times. March 30, 2001. Accessed June 2008.
  • Even our sense of where Ireland is has been radically unsettled. As the old, curiously comforting architecture of Ireland, Britain and the North falls away before the peace process and Tony Blair's constitutional reforms, people in the Republic find themselves having to use the very word "Ireland" differently, giving it a new inflection that half-includes the North, yet that contains all sorts of unspoken reservations and sensitivities. A place we don't even have a name for since "the British Isles" became unsayable ("these islands?", "Islands of the North Atlantic?", "the Anglo-Celtic archipelago?") has come into existence.

    "Who are we? (Part 1)" (Subscription needed). The Irish Times. December 28, 1999. Accessed June 2008.
  • Sir, Mr M. M. Delmonte (letters, December 27th) alludes to "most continental weather forecasters" using the term "The British Isles" when referring to the islands of Ireland and Great Britain. TV5, the international French language channel, has to admit that it did use the expression in weather forecasts until a detailed submission was received from a regular TV5 viewer, Mr Anthony Collins of Athlone.

  • Mr Collins asked us in late 1993 to "take the sensibilities of the Irish" into consideration before TV5 became generally available in the bigger cities of Ireland on cable. He enclosed documents from the Department of Foreign Affairs and from the Professor of Geography in UCG to back up his claim that Ireland was not in the British Isles.

  • Mr Patrick Imhaus, president of TV5, immediately gave instructions to weather forecasters to ensure that they referred to Ireland and Great Britain in lieu of the incorrect "British Isles". This has been, and continues to be the policy in our Meteo des Cinq Continents, shown five times daily. Full credit was given to Mr Collins on screen, one day in February 1994, to emphasise this change. Occasional human errors do occur, however.

  • TV5...has an obligation to its viewers in Ireland, where nearly 300,000 households may access our 24-hour service. It will continue trying to get it perfectly, politically correct. Yours, etc., Correspondant, TV5 En Irelande...

    "The British Isles" (Subscription needed). Noel A. Canty. The Irish Times. January 10, 1996. Accessed June 2008.
  • An internal document circulated to British officials ahead of the EU presidency gives a startling insight into what they think of the Irish. The document, which has been seen by the Irish Examiner, characterises the Irish as a people who, bizarrely, won't find jokes about potatoes funny; have a strong government but no credible opposition and look to Britain to make the running on major issues where there is common ground...

  • Officials are warned not to patronise the Irish because memories of 800 years of conquest remain vivid. Other no-nos include getting into debates about Northern Ireland and referring to the country as Éire. They are also advised not to use words such as Mainland, Southern Ireland, British Isles, Ulster (three counties are in the Republic) or Anglo-Irish.

    "Revealed: What the British really think of us". Harry McGee. Irish Examiner. December 13, 2003. Accessed September 2008.
  • There is and never has been a geopolitical term covering Britain and Ireland; and although from the Roman period and throughout the Renaissance period, European scholars and mapmakers had a clear notion of the Insulae Britannicae and Britons subsequently had no difficulty with the geographical term 'The British Isles', that term has been and is resisted and resented by the majority population of the island of Ireland

The New British History: Founding a Modern State 1603-1715, by Glenn Burgess, Published by I.B.Tauris, 1999 ISBN 1860641903, 9781860641909, Page 86, point 7.

  • The British Isles: Ireland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It should be noted that the term British Isles is unpopular among many people in Ireland

World Geography of Travel and Tourism By Alan Lew, C. Michael Hall, Timothy J. Dallen, Dallen J. Timothy, published by Butterworth-Heinemann, 2008 ISBN 0750679786, 9780750679787, Page 94 --HighKing (talk) 17:40, 21 October 2008 (UTC)

  • Lord Kilclooney said: "The Common Travel Area between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland requires common controls, whether entry is in Dover or Cork."

  • In the House of Lords earlier this month he also warned that failure to enforce common controls throughout what he calls "the British isles" would render the Labour government's current UK Borders Bill "null and void".

    "British and Irish border controls might 'integrate'". Frank Millar. The Irish Times. October 26, 2007. Accessed September 2008.
  • The Mayo General Hospital in Castlebar has, for many years, been recognized as one of the most efficient hospitals in what some people term the British Isles.

    "Capital Comment: A view from the county town". Western People. March 26, 2003. Accessed September 2008.
  • I'm not even British and I'm guilty of correcting anyone who in my company speaks of Ireland as being part of the British Isles. Not while we're flying our own flag, we're not.

  • It was really gratifying during the recent Lions rugby trip to the land of Oz to hear them being referred to as "the British and Irish Lions".

    "Stand tall in the global village". Diarmuid O'Flynn. Irish Examiner. August 28, 2001. Accessed September 2008.
  • So the new dictionary being pitched to Irish school children, My Dictionary, looks like a fun, educational way to get your brat to start paying attention to the language...

  • Yup, our flag has been miraculously transformed into the Union Jack, while Dublin and Cork and Limerick are now considered part of the British Isles.

  • While we could probably strike a deal about Limerick and Cork, the rest is simply not on.

  • It's not quite like the heady days of 1922, when the nation's citizens first tasted freedom as part of the Irish Free State, or 1949 when we formally became a Republic, but I can't help feeling a glow of satisfaction that from January of next year, the country's school atlases will no longer record Ireland as being part of the British Isles.

  • The decision to excise the term has been described by critics as "risible" and "pettyminded", but for this columnist, the two words 'British Isles' . . . often used as a shorthand, even in this country, for Ireland and Great Britain . . . has always been the verbal equivalent of nails down a blackboard. Perhaps that it is down to pettiness on my part, or maybe, just maybe, it is because Ireland is actually not part of the so-called British Isles, a madeup name from a colonial past that has no legal standing...

    "History and geography finally part ways?". Shane Coleman. Sunday Tribune. October 8, 2006. Accessed September 2008.
  • ...Blue Peter explained her remark with commendable thoroughness. Its researchers had confirmed, they said, that three of Ulster's counties were in the Republic (or Eire, as the Blue Peter spokesperson put it . . . let's not go there) and that both communities were equally attached to the Red Hand symbol....

  • Zoe was in trouble again shortly afterwards, when she praised a child's drawing which showed both Britain and Ireland (also known as the British Isles . . . let's not go there either) entirely covered in a Union Jack (or the Butcher's Apron, depending who you happen to be talking to at the time).

    "Oh'Carroll!...and Zoe, Ron and Rodney". Ann Marie Hourihane. Sunday Tribune. January 30, 2005. Accessed September 2008).
  • There is the real possibility of a lasting peace in the North and the Republic quietly walked away from its sacred constitutional cows as it embraced a sophisticated real politik.As our national confidence soared, at times it seemed as if the term 'the British Isles'might even be replaced by 'the Hibernian Archipelago'yet the most popular girl's name last year was the distinctly unIrish Chloe.

  • The term 'British Isles' has no official status and is not a recognised term "in any legal or inter-governmental sense", Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern has said...

  • 'British Isles' is defined in dictionaries as a "group of isles lying off the coast of north-west Europe, from which they are separated by the North Sea and the English Channel.

  • They include Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Hebrides, the Orkney Islands, the Shetland Islands, the Scilly Isles and the Channel Islands."

  • Histories organized on "Four Nations" lines involve taking as their starting line "The British Isles" (a term always to be used with quotation marks)

    Hugh F. Kearney. Ireland: Contested Ideas of Nationalism and History. 2007. Four Nations History in Perspective(2004).
  • From chopstick etiquette in China to raising a toast in Russia, Mark McCrum offers his top tips to avoid social embarrassment - and stay in one piece - when travelling abroad...

  • 3. Referring to Ireland as one of 'the British Isles'

  • Conversational pitfalls abroad often centre around an innocent political inquiry. Ask about the Aboriginal situation in Australia, human rights in China, dowry deaths in India, even bullfighting in Spain and your potential to cause offence quadruples instantly. Americans who mistake Ireland for one of the British isles or want to know why they use euros and not pounds in a Dublin bar will soon find this out. When you get chatting to new people in a new country, it's always wisest to stick with food, children, sport or the beauty of the landscape...

    Top Ten travel faux pas. Mark McCrum. Guardian.co.uk. 15 October 2007. Accessed 11 May 2009.
  • It is no longer accurate to talk of the 'British' Isles since most of Ireland is an independent country.

    The Prehistory of Britain and Ireland. Richard Bradley. Cambridge University Press. 2007.

Alternate names[edit]

Ireland and Great Britain[edit]

  • In 1947 Ireland’s Department of External Affairs drafted a letter to the heads of all government departments, which was designed “to prevent the use—not only at International Conferences, but in ordinary Departmental files and correspondence here at home—of expressions which are not in accordance with our external position and may prove embarrassing to us on policy grounds.” These included the use of the term “Dominion—to describe this country; the use of Eire for Ireland, the use of the term British Isles to describe Ireland and Great Britain, of Northern Ireland to describe the six north-eastern counties, and of Government of the United Kingdom where the British Government is meant.” The expression “British Isles” was “a complete misnomer and its use should be thoroughly discouraged”; it should be replaced “where necessary by Ireland and Great Britain.”

    The Irish Free State/E´ ire/Republic of Ireland/Ireland: “A Country by Any Other Name”?, Mary E. Daly, Journal of British Studies 46 (January 2007): p 72–90 Wotapalaver (talk) 19:13, 30 April 2008 (UTC)

Britain and Ireland[edit]

  • Great Britain, or Britain, since 1707 has comprised England, Scotland, and Wales. The United Kingdom, formed in 1801, comprises Great Britain plus Northern Ireland; the present Republic of Ireland was included until 1922. The British Isles comprise Great Britain, Ireland, and the adjacent islands, including the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Be aware that the Irish may object to the name British Isles, even in a strictly geographic sense. The plate in the National Geographic Atlas of the World once titled "British Isles" now reads "Britain and Ireland."


    National Geographic Styleguide Manual, November 2006 [1].


  • .... It is difficult to find neutral descriptions even of territory. Many of the Irish dislike the "British" in "British Isles", while the Welsh and Scottish are not keen on "Great Britain". As the Scottish poet Douglas Dunn puts it 'At certain points the cultures of Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England overlap. But there's too much resistance from each of them - and, quite rightly so, from England too for these tentatively shared concerns to make a "Britain".' (Crawford 1992:290) In response to these difficulties "Britain and Ireland" is becoming a preferred usage, although there is also a growing trend among some critics to refer to "Britain and Ireland" as "the archipelago".

    British Culture of the Postwar: An Introduction to Literature and Society, 1945-1999, By Alistair Davies Alan Sinfield, Published by Routledge, 2000, ISBN 0415128110.

Anglo-Celtic isles[edit]

  • The British-Irish Council is a current constitutional innovation of great significance to pan-Celticism, a potential shift of the geopolitical centre of gravity of the Anglo-Celtic isles for the first time since the establishment of the Irish Republic.

    Harvey, David C. (2001). Celtic Geographies: Old Culture, New Times. New York: Routledge. pp. p. 241.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)
  • The emergence, partly as a response to the 9th century Viking assaults, of new national monarchies in England and Ireland, and to a lesser degree Scotland, was having political consequences affecting the Scandinavian settlements in the Anglo-Celtic Isles as a whole.

    Dolley, Michael (1976-11-19). "The Anglo-Danish and Anglo-Norse coinages of York". In R A Hall ed. Viking Age York and the North; CBA Research Report No 27. Council for British Archaeology. pp. pp. 26–31. Retrieved 2006-07-20. 

Atlantic archipelago[edit]

  • 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...For historians like Raphael Samuel, the term 'the Atlantic archipelago' has 'a subtly, and no doubt unconscious, anti-European bias'. Partly for this reason and partly for reasons of intelligibility, most historians have steered clear of the term, although it does occur sporadically in the historiography.

    Lambert, Peter (2004). Making History: An Introduction to the History and Practices of a Discipline. New York: Routledge. pp. p. 217.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)

British and Irish Isles[edit]

  • History seemed to have brought the natural geographical entity, the British and Irish Isles, to a common-sense political conclusion.

    Sawyer, Roger (1993). We Are but Women: Women in Ireland's History. New York: Routledge. pp. p.86. 
  • Wood mice are the most common mammal in the British and Irish isles — yet, they are rarely seen.

    "Meditations on mice and men". Irish Examiner. June 2, 2008. Accessed September 2008.
  • Aer Lingus must capitalise on Europe’s deregulated air transport market and begin to grow bases across the Irish and British Isles where it has a strong brand.

    "National airline destined to remain a niche carrier". Irish Examiner. August 18, 2007. Accessed September 2008.

Islands of the North Atlantic[edit]

  • Revolutionary Unionism is based on the need for the countries comprising the British Isles to unite and give themselves a voice that guarantees that it is their values that will prevail within the European Union. It is not the first time the concept of a common home has been mooted. In 1980, Sir John Biggs-Davison, the former Conservative front-bench spokesman on Northern Ireland, suggested a loose linkage of the United Kingdom, the Republic, Isle of Man and Channel Islands to form the Islands of North Atlantic (IONA). In reality, the only political grouping representing these values that could have any effective and meaningful voice in Europe is the British Commonwealth of nations. Revolutionary Unionism's all-Ireland scenario would see the Republic rejoining the British Commonwealth with the Monarchy as head of state. The countries which formed the geographical British Isles would be ruled by a Council of the Isles.

    Coulter, John (Summer, 2005). "Revolutionary Unionism". Open Republic Magazine. Open Republic Institute. Retrieved 2006-07-28.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  • The Agreement established a British-Irish Council (BIC) comprising representatives of the British and Irish Governments and the newly devolved institutions of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales together with representatives of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. The purpose of the BIC was to consult on a wide range of matters of mutual interest and suitable issues were identified such as transport links, agriculture, the environment and approaches to EU issues. The procedures were to be entirely consensual but members could either opt out if they so wished or they could develop bilateral arrangements. The BIC was to meet twice a year at summit level and more regularly in specific sectoral formats. The BIC was seen as an East/West balance to the North/South Ministerial Council and therefore a concession to unionist concern about the need for a British dimension to the Agreement. The UUP had long been interested in such an overarching Council of the British Isles and it had also been an idea that inspired British Conservatives like Sir John Biggs-Davison who had earlier coined the acronym IONA, Isles of the North Atlantic, for a similar vision. In this shape it represented an intellectual counter-attack against the familiar thesis of Irish nationalism that the demise of the Union was inevitable.

    Aughey, Arthur (2005). The Politics of Northern Ireland: Beyond the Belfast Agreement. New York: Routledge. pp. p. 91. 
  • Mr Denis Canavan (Falkirk West)...It was important the Body put forward views on how a parliamentary tier should develop, and there was merit in such a tier being associated with an intergovernmental tier. A parliamentary tier would enable more freedom of expression and a more frank and robust debate; it should comprise members of the Oireachtas, the British Parliament, the Northern Ireland and the Welsh Assemblies and the Scottish Parliament. 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.

    "15th Plenary Session Minutes". British Irish Inter-Parliametary Body. 1998-03-30. Retrieved 2006-07-28. 
  • What is it that the people of this kingdom are being offered? There will be a Parliament for Scotland--quite an ambitious and wide-ranging Parliament--with significant powers. There will be an assembly for Wales, with fewer significant powers. There will be a new devolved body for Northern Ireland. I am sure that that will have its merits in the context of the Northern Ireland peace process. 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. I have no objection to that exclusion. I think that the proposal is the right course for the Northern Ireland peace process to pursue.

    "House of Commons Debate, Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)". 1998-01-16. Retrieved 2006-07-28. 
  • The agreement proposes the formation of a "British Irish Council" that will bring together representatives of England and Ireland and the devolved parliaments of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, with the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands included. This macro island community has been referred to in the peace agreement as "the totality of relationships among the peoples of these islands." The new confederation of "Islands of the North Atlantic" or IONA for short is also the name of a tiny island off Scotland settled by Columba and a band of Irish monks.

    Barry, Kevin. "Resiliency, Tolerance and Avoidance in Northern Ireland" (PDF). Journal of Pastoral Counseling. XXXIII. 
  • note: unsure which author is the subject of the footnote

    Invited as editor of NLR to give a twenty-five minute lecture on 'socialism' on Channel Four in the run-up to the 1987 election, I urged that English socialists and republicans should work for the break-up of the United Kingdom and should respond positively to Charles Haughey's proposal of iona, a federation of the 'Islands of the North Atlantic', comprising the independent republics of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. This talk was published in The Listener in January 1987 as "Socialism and Britain's Ancien Régime".

    Blackburn, Robin (1995). "New Left Podsnappery: The British Left and Ireland". New Left Review (212): footnote 8, p.154.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)
  • note: discussing the island

    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.

    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. 
  • Several British commentators, alert to a more amplified European perspective, are proposing a new social geography and history of these islands according to which the ‘Irish’ and ‘British’ nations may be reconceived as binary constructs of a larger whole. Viewed from this more inclusive perspective—variously called the ‘Britannic melting pot’, the ‘British-Irish archipelago’ or ‘Islands of the North Atlantic’(IONA)—the different peoples of these islands are shown to be ‘mixed-up’ with each other at many levels, cultural, ethnic, linguistic.

    Kearney, Richard (1997). Postnationalist Ireland: Politics, Culture, Philosophy. London: Routledge. pp. p. 179.