British Isles: History, Culture & Economy

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The British Isles are a group of islands off the northwest coast of continental Europe that include the islands of Great Britain and Ireland and over six thousand smaller islands. There are two sovereign states located on the islands: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (commonly known as the United Kingdom) and Ireland (also described as the Republic of Ireland). The British Isles also include three dependencies of the United Kingdom: the Isle of Man and, by tradition, the Bailiwick of Jersey and the Bailiwick of Guernsey in the Channel Islands, although the latter are not physically a part of the island group.

The British monarch was head of state of all of the countries of the British Isles from the Union of the Crowns in 1603 until the enactment of the Republic of Ireland Act in 1949, although the term “British Isles” was not used in 1603. Additionally, since the independence of Ireland, historians of the region often avoid the term British Isles due to the complexity of relations between the peoples of the archipelago.

At the end of the last ice age, what are now the British Isles were joined to the European mainland as an mass of land extending north west from the modern-day northern coastline of France, Belgium and the Netherlands. By the time of the Roman Empire, about two thousand years ago, Celts were inhabiting the islands. The Romans expanded their civilisation to control southern Great Britain but were impeded in advancing any further, building Hadrian’s Wall to mark the northern frontier of their empire in 122 AD. Viking invasions began in the 9th century, followed by more permanent settlements, particularly along the east coast of Ireland, the west coast of modern-day Scotland and the Isle of Man. Though the Vikings were eventually neutralised in Ireland, their influence remained in the cities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick,Waterford and Wexford. England however was slowly conquered around the turn of the first millennium AD, eventually become feudal possession of the Kingdom of Denmark.

By the Late Middle Ages, Great Britain was separated into the Kingdoms of England and Scotland. Power in Ireland fluxed between Gaelic kingdoms, Hiberno-Norman lords and the English-dominated Lordship of Ireland. Scotland, meanwhile had remained an independent Kingdom. In 1603, that changed when the King of Scotland inherited the Crown of England, and consequently the Crown of Ireland also. The subsequent 17th century was one of political upheaval, religious division and war. The Kingdoms of England and Scotland were unified in 1707 creating the Kingdom of Great Britain. Following an attempted republican revolution in Ireland in 1798, the Kingdoms of Ireland and Great Britain were unified in 1801, creating the United Kingdom. The Isle of Man and the Channel Islands remaining outside of the United Kingdom but with their ultimate good governance being the responsibility of the British Crown (effectively the British government).

The United Kingdom and Ireland have separate media, although British television, newspapers and magazines are widely available in Ireland, giving people in Ireland a high level of familiarity with cultural matters in Great Britain. 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 and Ireland. The Mercury Music Prize is handed out every year to the best album from a British or Irish musician or group.

Several names are currently used to describe the islands aside from British Isles, such as British-Irish Isles, Britain and IrelandUK and Ireland, and British Isles and Ireland. Owing to political and national associations with the word British, the Government of Ireland does not use the term British Isles and its embassy in London discourages its use. Some publishers’ style guides, such as the Economic History Society’s and the Guardian newspaper’s, suggest that use of the term British Isles should be avoided and, in early 2008, it was reported that National Geographic said it would use the wording British and Irish Isles instead. In 2006, Folens, an Irish publisher of school text books, decided to stop using the term in Ireland and in 2001 the rugby union team the British Isles (or British Lions) was renamed the British and Irish Lions.

Notes from Wikipedia

A'Keiba Burrell
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