|Native name: |
English / Scots: British Isles1
The British Isles in relation to Europe</td></tr>
|Major islands||Great Britain and Ireland</td></tr>|
|Area||315,134 km2 121,673 sq mi</td></tr>|
|Highest point||Ben Nevis (1,344 m (4,409 ft))</td></tr>|
|Sovereign states and Crown Dependencies</tr>|
|Largest city||Saint Peter Port</td></tr>|
|Largest city||Saint Helier</td></tr>|
|Ethnic groups||Britons, English, Irish, Scottish, Ulster-Scots, Welsh, Cornish, Channel Islanders, Manx</td></tr>|
|<p align="left">1 May appear in Scots as "Breetish" Isles.</td></tr>
</table> The British Isles are a group of islands off the northwest coast of continental Europe that include Great Britain and Ireland, and numerous smaller islands. There are two sovereign states located on the islands: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and Ireland. The British Isles also includes the Crown Dependencies of the Isle of Man and, by tradition, the Channel Islands, although the latter are not physically a part of the island group.
The term British Isles is controversial in relation to Ireland, where there are objections to its usage due to the association of the term "British" with Ireland. The Government of Ireland discourages its use, and in relations with the United Kingdom the name "these islands" is used.British Isles was first introduced to the English language in the late 16th century by English writer John Dee whose writings have been described as being politicised.Although still used as a geographic term, the controversy means that alternative names such as "Britain and Ireland" are increasingly used.
Alternative names and descriptionsEdit
Several different names are currently used to describe the islands. Dictionaries, encyclopaedias and atlases that use the term British Isles define it as Great Britain and Ireland and adjacent islands – typically including the Isle of Man, the Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland. Some definitions include the Channel Islands. Commonly used alternative names are British-Irish Isles, Britain and Ireland, Great Britain and Ireland, British Isles and Ireland, or UK and Ireland. Some of these are used by corporate entities and can be seen on the internet, such as in the naming of Yahoo UK & Ireland, or the renaming of the rugby union team British Isles or British Lions to the current British and Irish Lions. However, these may be be ambiguous regarding the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. Some critics have opted to use simply "the archipelago".
UK media organisations such as the The Times and the BBC have style-guide entries to try to maintain consistent usage, but these are not always successful. Encyclopædia Britannica, the Oxford University Press (publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary) and the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (publisher of Admiralty charts) have all occasionally used the term British Isles and Ireland (with Britannica and Oxford contradicting their own definitions), and some specialist encyclopedias also use that term. The Economic History Society style guide suggests that use of the term British Isles should be avoided.
A number of international publications have abandoned the term – in early 2008, National Geographic abandoned use of the term and replaced the plates on its maps which formerly read British Isles with British and Irish Isles. Likewise, publishers of road atlases such as Michelin, SK Baker, Hallwag, Philip's, Reader's Digest and The Automobile Association (AA) have replaced British Isles with Great Britain and Ireland or Britain and Ireland in their recent maps. In 2008, Folens, an Irish publisher of school text books, decided to abandon using the term in Ireland while continuing to use it in the United Kingdom.
There are about 136 permanently inhabited islands in the group, the largest two being Great Britain and Ireland.
Great Britain is to the east and covers 216,777 km2 (83,698 square miles), over half of the total landmass of the group.
Ireland is to the west and covers 84,406 km2 (32,589 square miles).
The largest of the other islands are to be found in the Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland to the north, Anglesey and the Isle of Man between Great Britain and Ireland, and the Channel Islands near the coast of France.
The islands are at relatively low altitudes, with central Ireland and southern Great Britain particularly low lying: the lowest point in the islands is the Fens at −4 m (−13 ft). The Scottish Highlands in the northern part of Great Britain are mountainous, with Ben Nevis being the highest point in the British Isles at 1,344 m (4,409 ft). Other mountainous areas include Wales and parts of the island of Ireland, but only seven peaks in these areas reach above 1,000 m (3,281 ft). Lakes on the islands are generally not large, although Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland is an exception, covering 381 km2 (147 square miles); the largest freshwater body in Great Britain is Loch Lomond at 71.1 km2 (27.5 square miles). Neither are rivers particularly long, the rivers Severn at 354 km (219 miles) and Shannon at 386 km (240 miles) being the longest.
The British Isles have a temperate marine climate, the North Atlantic Drift ("Gulf Stream") which flows from the Gulf of Mexico brings with it significant moisture and raises temperatures 11 °C (20 °F) above the global average for the islands' latitudes. Winters are thus warm and wet, with summers mild and also wet. Most Atlantic depressions pass to the north of the islands, combined with the general westerly circulation and interactions with the landmass, this imposes an east-west variation in climate.
The English Channel and the southern North Sea are the busiest seaways in the world. The Channel Tunnel, opened 1994, links Great Britain to France and is the second-longest rail tunnel in the world. The idea of building a tunnel under the Irish Sea has been raised since 1895, when it was first investigated, but is not considered to be economically viable. Several potential Irish Sea tunnel projects have been proposed, most recently the Tusker Tunnel between the ports of Rosslare and Fishguard proposed by The Institute of Engineers of Ireland in 2004. A different proposed route is between Dublin and Holyhead, proposed in 1997 by a leading British engineering firm, Symonds, for a rail tunnel from Dublin to Holyhead. Either tunnel, at 80 km, would be by far the longest in the world, and would cost an estimated €20 billion. A proposal in 2007, estimated the cost of building a bridge from County Antrim in Northern Ireland to Galloway in Scotland at £3.5bn (€5bn). However, none of these is thought to be economically viable at this time.
The British Isles lie at the juncture of several regions with past episodes of tectonic mountain building. These orogenic belts form a complex geology which records a huge and varied span of earth history. Of particular note was the Caledonian Orogeny during the Ordovician Period, ca. 488–444 Ma and early Silurian period, when the craton Baltica collided with the terrane Avalonia to form the mountains and hills in northern Britain and Ireland. Baltica formed roughly the north western half of Ireland and Scotland. Further collisions caused the Variscan orogeny in the Devonian and Carboniferous periods, forming the hills of Munster, south-west England, and south Wales. Over the last 500 million years the land which forms the islands has drifted northwest from around 30°S, crossing the equator around 370 million years ago to reach its present northern latitude.
The islands have been shaped by numerous glaciations during the Quaternary Period, the most recent being the Devensian. As this ended, the central Irish Sea was de-glaciated (whether or not there was a land bridge between Great Britain and Ireland at this time is somewhat disputed, though there was certainly a single ice sheet covering the entire sea) and the English Channel flooded, with sea levels rising to current levels some 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, leaving the British Isles in their current form.
The islands' geology is highly complex, though there are large numbers of limestone and chalk rocks that formed in the Permian and Triassic periods. The west coasts of Ireland and northern Great Britain that directly face the Atlantic Ocean are generally characterized by long peninsulas, and headlands and bays; the internal and eastern coasts are "smoother".
The demographics of the British Isles shows a generally high density of population in England, which accounts for almost 80% of the total population of the islands. In Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales high density of population is limited to areas around, or close to, their respective capitals. Major population centres (greater than one million people) exist in the following areas:
The population of England has risen steadily throughout its history, while the populations of Scotland and Wales have shown little increase during the twentieth century - the population of Scotland remaining unchanged since 1951. Ireland, which for most of its history comprised a population proportionate to its land area, one third of the total population, has since the Great Famine fallen to less than one tenth of the population of the British Isles. The famine, which caused a century-long population decline, drastically reduced the Irish population and permanently altered the demographic make-up of the British Isles. On a global scale this disaster led to the creation of an Irish diaspora that number fifteen times the current population of the island
Political co-operation within the islandsEdit
Between 1801 and 1922, Great Britain and Ireland together formed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1922, twenty-six counties of Ireland seceded from the United Kingdom following the Irish War of Independence and the Anglo-Irish Treaty; the remaining six counties, mainly in the northeast of the island, became known as Northern Ireland under the Government of Ireland Act, 1920. Both states, but not the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands, are members of the European Union.
However, despite independence of most of Ireland, political cooperation exists across the islands on some levels:
The British Isles have a long and complex shared history. While this tends to be presented in terms of national narratives, many events transcended modern political boundaries. In particular these borders have little relevance to early times and in that context can be misleading, though useful as an indication of location to the modern reader. Also, cultural shifts which historians have previously interpreted as evidence of invaders eliminating or displacing the previous populations are now, in the light of genetic evidence, perceived by a number of archaeologists and historians as being to a considerable extent changes in the culture of the existing population brought by groups of immigrants or invaders who at times became a new ruling elite.
The ethno-linguistic heritage of the British Isles is very rich in comparison to other areas of similar size, with twelve languages from six groups across four branches of the Indo-European family. The Insular Celtic languages of the Goidelic sub-group (Irish, Manx, Scottish Gaelic) and the Brythonic sub-group (Cornish, Welsh and Breton, spoken in north-western France) are the only remaining Celtic languages - their continental relations becoming extinct during the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries. The Norman languages of Guernésiais, Jèrriais and Sarkese are spoken in the Channel Islands, as is French. A cant, called Shelta, is a language spoken by Irish Travellers, often as a means to conceal meaning from those outside the group. However, English, sometimes in the form of Scots, is the dominant language, with few monoglots remaining in the other languages of the region. The Norn language appears to have become extinct in the 18th/19th century.
Until perhaps 1950 the use of languages other than English roughly coincided with the major ethno-cultural regions in the British Isles. As such, many of them, especially the Celtic languages, became intertwined with national movements in these areas, seeking either greater independence from the parliament of the United Kingdom, seated in England, or complete secession. The common history of these languages was one of sharp decline in the mid-19th century, prompted by centuries of economic deprivation and official policy to discourage their use in favour of English. However, since the mid-twentieth century there has been somewhat of a revival of interest in maintaining and using them. Celtic-language medium schools are available throughout Ireland, Scotland and Wales to such an extent that it is now possible to receive all formal education, up to and including third-level education, through a Celtic language. Instruction in Irish and Welsh is compulsory in all schools in the Republic of Ireland and Wales respectively. In the Isle of Man, Manx in taught in all schools, although it is not compulsory, and there is one Manx-medium school. The respective languages are official languages of state in Ireland, the Isle of Man, Scotland and Wales, with equal status with respect to English. In the Channel Islands French is a legislative and administrative language (see Jersey Legal French). Since 2007, Irish is a working language of the European Union.
During the last 60 years there has been a great deal of immigration into Great Britain (less into Ireland). As a result a number of languages not formerly found in the British Isles are in regular use. Polish, Punjabi, and Hindustani (inc Urdu & Hindi), are each probably the first language of over 1 million residents, and a number of other languages are regularly spoken by substantial numbers of persons. Even in provincial areas it has become common for local government to publish information to residents in ten or so languages, and in the largest city, London, the first language of about 20% of the population is neither English nor an indigenous Celtic language. Cornish and the Norman languages of Guernésiais, Jèrriais and Sarkese are far less supported. In Jersey, a language office (L'Office du Jèrriais) is funded to provide education services for Jèrriais in schools and other language services, while in Guernsey there is a language officer and Guernésiais is taught in some schools on a volunteer basis. Of the four, only Cornish is recognised officially under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, and it is taught in some schools as an optional modern language. Guernésiais and Jèrriais are recognised as regional languages by the British and Irish governments within the framework of the British-Irish Council. Scots, as either a dialect of or a closely related language to English, is similarly recognised by the European Charter, the British-Irish Council, and as "part of the cultural wealth of the island of Ireland" under the Good Friday Agreement. However, it is without official status as a language of state in Scotland, where English is used in its place.
Shelta, spoken by the ethnic minority Irish Travellers, is thought to be spoken by 6,000–25,000 people, according to varying sources. Although evidence suggests that it existed as far back as the 13th century, as a secret language, it was only discovered at the end of the 19th century. It is without any official status, despite being thought to have 86,000 speakers worldwide, mostly in the USA.
A number of sports are popular throughout the British Isles, the most prominent of which is association football. While this is organised separately in different national associations, leagues and national teams, even within the UK, it is a common passion in all parts of the islands.
There are several sports popular in Ireland but not in Great Britain, and vice versa. Cricket, hurling and Gaelic football are probably the best examples of this. Cricket, while being very popular in England and Wales, is rare in Scotland and Ireland. Similarly, hurling and Gaelic football, although hugely popular across the island of Ireland and capable of regularly filling the 82,500-capacity Croke Park, the 4th largest stadium in Europe, are almost unknown in Great Britain.
Some sporting events do operate across Great Britain and Ireland as a whole.
The British and Irish Lions is a rugby union team made up of players from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales that undertakes tours of the southern hemisphere rugby playing nations every few years. This team was formerly known as The British Isles or colloquially as "The British Lions", but was renamed as "The British and Irish Lions" in 2001. In rugby one united team represents both Northern Ireland and the Republic. The four national rugby teams from Great Britain and Ireland play each other each year for the Triple Crown.
Between 1927 and 1971 the Ryder Cup in golf was played between a United States team and a Great Britain team, although, in practice, a team representing Great Britain and Ireland. In 1973, the team was renamed so that United States faced an official Great Britain and Ireland team. From 1979 onwards this was expanded to include the whole of Europe. Bowls is also an example of a sport that continues to have a British Isles championship.
The United Kingdom and Ireland have separate television and radio networks, although UK television is widely available and watched in Ireland, giving people in Ireland a high level of familiarity with cultural matters in Great Britain. People in Ireland can also vote on many British shows, and telephone numbers for the Republic of Ireland are also available to enter competitions and contribute to comment lines. Irish television is not widely watched in Great Britain. A previous venture, Tara TV by a consortium that included RTÉ, the Republic of Ireland's national broadcaster, to broadcast Irish television in the UK was wound up in 2002 after broadcasting since 1996. RTÉ are now expected to relaunch a new service, RTÉ International beginning in 2009.
British newspapers and magazines are widely available in Ireland and in recent decades have started to produce specific Ireland-orientated editorial copy. Again, as with television, the reverse is not true and Irish newspapers are not widely available in Great Britain. For example, the Irish Times is distributed only in London and the South East of England - although available in two thousand retail outlets, and with plans to extend distribution to Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Cardiff on a trial basis with a possibility to extend to Scotland.
A few cultural events are organised for the island group as a whole. For example, the Costa Book Awards are awarded to authors resident in the UK or Ireland. The Man Booker Prize is awarded to authors from the Commonwealth of Nations or the Republic of Ireland. The Mercury Music Prize is handed out every year to the best album from a British or Irish musician or group, though other musical awards are considered on a national basis. It is not unusual for British organisations to include Irish people in lists of "Great Britons" or to include Irish authors in collections of "British" literature. Seamus Heaney made an objection to his inclusion in a 1982 anthology of British poetry by remarking: '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)".
Many other bodies are organised throughout the islands as a whole; for example the Samaritans which is deliberately organised without regard to national boundaries on the basis that a service which is not political or religious should not recognise sectarian or political divisions. The RNLI is also organised throughout the islands as a whole, and describes itself as covering the UK and Republic of Ireland.
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