The British Isles and all that ...
The term British Isles defines a purely geographic area - not, as is
sometimes thought, a political area.
However, every now and then the inhabitants of these islands still just about
manage to unite behind a single badge.
The rugby union touring team,
The British and Irish Lions,
draws its players from all over the British Isles.
This page is intended to provide some basic geo-political facts about the British Isles and a chronology of significant unions and separations amongst the political entities constructed upon them. Further geographic informaton can be found at the UK Ordnance Survey and the Ordance Survey Ireland sites.
|British Isles||121,674||67.5m||The archipelago off the West coast of continental Europe|
|Great Britain||88,745||61.3m||The largest island of the archipelago|
|Ireland||32,589||6.6m||The second largest island of the archipelago|
|Isle of Man||221||84,497||Situated in the Irish Sea almost equidistant from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales|
|Channel Islands||75||163,483||That part of the archipelago nearest France [Geologically not part of the archipelago but generally - albeit erroneously - included in the British Isles]|
|United Kingdom||94,247||63.1m||Sovereign State (Parliamentary Monarchy)|
|Ireland||27,137||4.8m||Sovereign State (Parliamentary Republic)|
|Jersey||45||97,857||British Crown Dependency (Parliamentary Bailiwick)|
|Isle of Man||221||84,497||British Crown Dependency ("Oldest Parliament in the World")|
|Guernsey||24||62,915||British Crown Dependency (Parliamentary Bailiwick)|
|Alderney||3||2,111||British Crown Dependency (part of Bailiwick of Guernsey)|
|Sark||2||600||British Crown Dependency (part of Bailiwick of Guernsey)|
NB The term British Islands has been used by the UK government since the Interpretation Act 1978 to collectively denote those lands within the British Isles which are inhabited by British citizens, i.e. the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. It is not synonymous with the term British Isles.
The population of the United Kingdom at the 2011 census was 63.1m. This population is distributed amongst four* "home nations":
|50,362||53.0m||Kingdom||The Department for Communities and Local Government oversees both two-tier and, since April 1996, unitary Counties, Districts and Boroughs along with unitary Metropolitan Districts, the Greater London Authority & London Boroughs|
|30,414||5.3m||Kingdom||Scottish Parliament, Scottish Government and unitary council areas, most of which were either Regions, Islands or Districts prior to April 1996|
|8,019||3.1m||Principality||National Assembly for Wales, Welsh Government and unitary council areas, most of which were either Counties or Boroughs prior to April 1996|
|5,452||1.8m||Province||Northern Ireland Assembly, Northern Ireland Executive and unitary City, Borough and District council areas [Formerly Counties and Districts]|
|* Historically the Cornish are distinct from the English. I therefore include a fifth entry for Cornwall below even though its official status is no different to that of any other county in England. The Case for Cornwall resulted in the first ever Devolution Deal for a rural local authority in the UK and a persuasive case for according a special status to Cornwall was compiled by the late Jim Pengelly on the Tyr-Gwyr-Gweryn (formerly www.kernowtgg.co.uk) website. The Cornish people also have official minority status within the European Union. Note that Cornwall is included in the statistics quoted above for England.|
Each of England, Scotland and Wales includes various smaller islands as well as parts of mainland Great Britain but common usage has led to the term Great Britain being used to describe these three countries (and even the whole of the UK plus the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man in the Olympics). The word Britain has also come to be an alias for the UK and the terms British, Briton and Brit have been derived to denote its citizens.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have specific government departments whose function is to represent their particular interests and ensure that they do not get swamped by the English majority in government. The Secretaries of State for these departments are members of the cabinet. The relationships between the devolved administrations and central government take the form of a series of concordats.
There are three legal jurisdictions within the UK: England & Wales; Scotland; Northern Ireland. The Supreme Court ("the highest court in the land"), alone, is common to them all - but only for civil cases in Scotland.
Anglesey is a Welsh unitary council
Orkney is a unitary Scottish island council
The Isles of Scilly form a unitary council within England
Shetland is a unitary Scottish island council
The Western Isles (Comhairle nan Eilean Siar), also known as the Outer Hebrides, is a unitary Scottish island council
The Isle of Wight is an English unitary council
Arran is part of the Scottish council of North Ayrshire
Fair Isle is part of the Scottish island council of Shetland
The Inner Hebrides are split between the Scottish councils of Highland (Muck, Eigg, Rhum and northwards) and Argyll and Bute (Coll, Tiree, Mull and southwards)
Lindisfarne (or Holy Island) and the Farne Islands are part of the English county of Northumberland
Lundy is part of the English county of Devon
The Isle of Sheppey is part of the English county of Kent
Ireland is both a geographic and a political unit with different boundaries. Historically, the island of Ireland is comprised of thirty-two counties grouped into four provinces:
|6,838||0.6m||Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo|
|7,645||2.6m||Carlow, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Longford, Louth, Meath, Offaly,
Westmeath, Wexford, Wicklow
|9,527||1.3m||Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary, Waterford|
|8,575||2.1m||Antrim, Armagh, Cavan, Derry, Donegal, Down, Fermanagh, Monaghan, Tyrone|
Six of the nine counties of Ulster (Antrim, Armagh, Derry, Down, Fermanagh and Tyrone) form Northern Ireland and are part of the United Kingdom. They account for approximately one-sixth of the area of the island and one-third of its population. The other three counties of Ulster (Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan) are part of the republic.
The republic of Ireland consists of twenty-six counties. The population of the republic at the 2016 census was 4.8m. Within the republic, the administrative units are Counties, County Boroughs, Metropolitan Boroughs and Urban Districts.
Applying the term British, or any of its variants, to citizens of the republic is both incorrect politically and politically incorrect. Evidence of the offence taken at this usage can sporadically be found in the soc.culture.irish newsgroup.
|The Channel Islands consist of four British Crown Dependencies - Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark. The Bailiwick of Guernsey includes Alderney and Sark along with the islands of Herm, Brechou, Jethou and Lihou. The legislatures are the States in Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney and the Court of Chief Pleas in Sark.|
|The Isle of Man is a British Crown Dependency. Its parliament, the Tynwald, has two branches - the Legislative Council and the House of Keys. The latter, with a history stretching back into the first millennium AD, has a continuity which surpasses any other parliamentary assembly in the world.|
|400mya||Avalonia (including England, Wales and southern Ireland) and Laurentia (including Scotland and northern Ireland) merge forming Pangaea and the archipelago we know today|
|750tya||Earliest evidence of hominids (not homo sapiens) in the archipelago|
|225tya||Weald-Artois anticline linking England and France severed by megaflood creating English Channel (French: la Manche; Dutch: Het Kanaal; Cornish: Mor Bretannek; Breton: Mor Breizh)|
|30tya||Probable arrival of homo sapiens|
|3tya||Late Bronze Age - Celtic influences evident|
|C2nd||Romans unite "all" of England and Wales as one province - Britannia|
|410||Romans withdraw and Britannia fragments|
|844||Accession of Rhodri Mawr, first Prince of all Wales - divided again amongst his sons on his death|
|925||Accession of Aethelstan, first King of all England|
|936||Cornish expelled to West side of River Tamar by English (Cornwall effectively becomes a separate but subjugated nation)|
|1002||Brian Boru recognised as King of Ireland by the O'Neills|
|1005||Accession of Malcolm II, first King of practically all mainland Scotland|
|1018||Accession of Prince Llewelyn ap Seisyll who re-unites Wales|
|1022||Death of Brian Boru, last effective High King of Ireland|
|1066||William, Duke of Normandy, seizes English Crown and becomes William I of England - Channel Islands thus brought under suzerainty of England|
|1171||Henry II proclaims himself Lord of Ireland|
|1266||Norwegian Kingdom of the Hebrides (which included the Isle of Man) ceded to Scotland|
|1282||England annexes Wales - last independent Prince of Wales recognised by English Crown is killed|
|1301||Tradition of heir to English throne being invested as Prince of Wales begins|
Declaration of Arbroath confirming Scotland's status as an independent sovereign state submitted to Pope John XXII;
Notably stated that the independence of Scotland was the prerogative of the Scottish people
|1337||Cornwall becomes a Duchy - to be held by heir to English throne|
|1400||Owain Glyndwr proclaimed Prince of an independent Welsh state - Wales cleared of all English forces by 1406|
|1410||Glyndwr defeated - Wales re-annexed by England|
|1472||Orkney and Shetland annexed by James III of Scotland from Danish-Norwegian Union|
|1485||Henry VII of the Welsh House of Tudor becomes King of England|
|1536||First Act of Union officially annexes Wales to England|
|1541||Henry VIII takes the title King of Ireland|
|1542||Second Act of Union "between" England and Wales|
James VI of Scotland becomes James I of England (and Ireland and Wales);
English law enforced throughout Ireland (Ireland effectively annexed)
|1707||Union of English and Scottish parliaments as Parliament of Great Britain sitting at the Palace of Westminster in London|
|1801||Union of Great Britain and Ireland as United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland|
|1828||Isle of Man becomes a British Crown Dependency|
|1919||Irish parliament, the Dail Eireann, created in Dublin|
Government of Ireland Act creates Irish Free State and Northern Ireland;
UK becomes the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
|1921||Anglo-Irish Treaty recognises the Dail parliament|
Northern Ireland parliament, Stormont, completed in Belfast;
Statute of Westminster formalises relationship between UK and Dominions, including Irish Free State, as the Commonwealth of Nations
|1938||Ireland adopts a new consitution and becomes a republic in all but name|
|1949||Ireland formally becomes a republic and leaves the Commonwealth|
Stormont parliament dissolved and direct rule by UK parliament follows;
Referendum amending the Constitution of Ireland to permit membership of the European Community - Yes:83.1% No:16.9% Turnout:70.9%
Northern Ireland Assembly set up to govern Northern Ireland locally;
United Kingdom and Ireland become members of the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community (later to become the European Union)
|1974||Northern Ireland Constitution Act re-introduces direct rule|
|1975||Referendum on the UK remaining a part of the European Community (the Common Market) - Yes:67.2% No:32.8% Turnout:64.5%|
|1979||First elections to European Parliament by direct universal adult suffrage|
|1993||European Union formally founded|
Referendums in Scotland and Wales approve devolution of power to locally elected bodies -
Scotland: Yes:74.3% No:25.7% Turnout:60.4%; Question: "I agree that there should be a Scottish Parliament" versus "I do not agree that there should be a Scottish Parliament"
Wales: Yes:50.3% No:49.7% Turnout:50.2%; Question: "Do you agree that there should be a Welsh Assembly as proposed by the Government?"
Scotland also approved a Scottish Parliament having tax-varying powers -
Yes:63.5% No:36.5% Turnout:60.4%; Question: "I agree that a Scottish Parliament should have tax-varying powers" versus "I do not agree that a Scottish Parliament should have tax-varying powers"
The "Good Friday" or
Belfast Agreement provides for amendment to the Constitution of Ireland,
repeal of the Government of Ireland Act, creation of a
Northern Ireland Executive
answerable to a
Northern Ireland Assembly
with executive and legislative powers,
North South Ministerial Council,
British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference
Simultaneous referendums in Ireland and Northern Ireland approve the "Good Friday Agreement" -
Ireland - Yes:94.4% No:5.5% Turnout:56.6%; Question: "Do you approve of the proposal to amend the Constitution contained in the undermentioned Bill? Nineteenth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1998"
Northern Ireland - Yes:71.1% No:28.9% Turnout:81.1%; Question: "Do you support the Agreement reached at the multi-party talks on Northern Ireland and set out in Command Paper 3883?"
Ireland adopts the
as official currency;
Creation of a Scottish Executive answerable to a Scottish Parliament with executive, legislative and some fiscal powers;
Creation of a National Assembly for Wales with executive powers
St Andrews Agreement identifies a plan for restoration of devolution in Northern Ireland,
mandating that the largest party in the largest community designation in the Assembly shall make a nomination for the
post of First Minister and the largest party in the second largest community designation in the Assembly shall
similarly nominate for the post of deputy First Minister,
with the First Minister and deputy First Minister being joint heads of the Northern Ireland Executive
and the deputy First Minister not being subordinate to the First Minister;
Government of Wales Act enhances the legislative powers of the National Assembly for Wales and charges it with scrutinising and monitoring a Welsh Assembly Government with executive powers
Northern Ireland Assembly election leads to power sharing between the
Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein;
Scottish Executive officially referred to as the Scottish Government
|2010||Welsh Assembly Government officially referred to as the Welsh Government|
Referendum results in full devolution of certain legislative powers to the
National Assembly for Wales -
Yes:63.5% No:36.5% Turnout:35.6%; Question: "Do you want the Assembly now to be able to make laws on all matters in the 20 subject areas it has powers for?"
|2012||Scotland Act devolves further powers to the Scottish Parliament including tax raising powers|
under European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights;
Referendum on Scotland becoming an independent country - Yes:44.7% No:55.3% Turnout:84.6%
|2015||Devolution Deal devolves powers to Cornwall Council and accords it Limited Intermediate Body status to deliver European Structural Investment Funds|
|2016||Referendum on UK remaining in the EU or leaving the EU - Leave:51.9% Remain:48.1% Turnout:72.2%|
|2017||Northern Ireland Assembly suspended following failure to agree a power sharing executive|
Northern Ireland Assembly resumes;
United Kingdom formally leaves the European Union with a Withdrawal Agreement that aims to retain an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland
|Compiled by Nick Taylor with assistance from soc.culture.british newsgroup participants. Comments on errors of fact or omission are welcomed but please bear in mind that the minutiae have occasionally been sacrificed for the sake of brevity.|