Style-guide for Terms Referring to Ireland, Britain and the Islands Around Them

As a writer, it is difficult to decide upon the best term to use when referring to ‘these islands’. Picking the wrong term or using a term that causes offense can result in people ignoring your site. Below is a start at a quick and simplistic reference to guide those unaware of which term to use.

Ireland – the name of the sovereign country Ireland as defined by the Irish Constitution. It is also the geographical name of the whole island of Ireland. Due to the term being ambiguous, the Irish government introduced the term the Republic of Ireland as a descriptor of the state. Using Ireland has been opposed by some, due to the confusion between the state and the island. The UK government uses the Republic of Ireland or sometimes erroneously the Irish Republic to refer to the country. The Irish Government use the term Republic of Ireland so as to not cause offence in many cases. The EU only uses Ireland to refer to the state. Do not use “Irish Republic” or “Southern Ireland” to refer to the Ireland.

Irish Republic – an all-Ireland republic declared in 1916 during the Easter rising in Ireland.  It was recognised by the USSR. It was not recognised by the UK government and was superseded by the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland.

Republic of Ireland – the descriptor of the sovereign country of Ireland. This term is recognised by the Irish Government and the UK Government. In EU documentation, the term Ireland is used exclusively as the name of the country. Sometimes shortened to the “the Republic”.

Southern Ireland – the UK proposed partitioning Ireland into two devolved regions of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland to be known as Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. This was not acceptable to the Irish people. The region of Southern Ireland never came into existence. It was superseded by the Irish Free State. It is used as a derogatory term for the Republic of Ireland by Unionist and British Nationalists.

Northern Ireland – a devolved region of the UK occupying the north-eastern corner of the island of Ireland. Often referred to as the ‘North’ in the Republic

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – shortened to UK. A political designation for the countries England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Great Britain – Usually shortened to Britain. Refers to England, Scotland and Wales.

British Islands – a legal and political term for the islands linked to the UK, it is defined as England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

The British Isles – a geopolitical term with multiple definitions making it ambiguous. Often erroneously used as shorthand term for the islands of Britain and Ireland. The most common definition is the UK, Ireland, Isle of Man and Channel Islands. It is often stated to be a purely geographical term. However, this is erroneous because of the inclusion of the Channel Islands and its historical and current use by the UK government to refer to the islands politically linked to the UK. The current usage by the UK government does not include the Republic Ireland. It is not recognised by the Irish Government and is not used by them. The term causes offense to Irish people when used, especially when Ireland is being referred to. More accurate less ambiguous and less offensive terms can be used e.g. Ireland and the British Islands, British Islands depending upon the groupings of islands that is to be referred to. The term is used extensively by Unionists and British Nationalists, such as the BNP.

Feedback most welcome on errors, omissions and mistakes.