The British Isles are a group of islands in the North
off the north-western coast of
continental Europe Mainland or continental Europe is the contiguous continent of Europe, excluding its surrounding islands. It can also be referred to ambiguously as the European continent, – which can conversely mean the whole of Europe – and, by some, s ...
, consisting of the islands of
Great Britain Great Britain is an island in the North Atlantic Ocean off the northwest coast of continental Europe. With an area of , it is the largest of the British Isles, the List of European islands by area, largest European island, and the List of i ...

Great Britain
Ireland Ireland (; ga, Éire ; Ulster Scots dialect, Ulster-Scots: ) is an island in the North Atlantic Ocean, North Atlantic. It is separated from Great Britain to its east by the North Channel (Great Britain and Ireland), North Channel, the Irish ...

, the Isle of Man, the
Hebrides The Hebrides (; gd, Innse Gall, ; non, Suðreyjar) are an archipelago off the west coast of mainland Scotland Scotland ( sco, Scotland, gd, Alba ) is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. Coveri ...
and over six thousand smaller islands."British Isles", ''
Encyclopædia Britannica The (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Repu ...
They have a total area of and a combined population of almost 72 million, and include two
sovereign state A sovereign state is a political entity that is represented by one centralized government that has sovereignty over a geographic area. International law defines sovereign states as having a permanent population, defined territory, one government ...
s, the
Republic of Ireland Ireland ( ga, Éire ), also known as the Republic of Ireland ('), is a country in north-western Europe occupying 26 of 32 Counties of Ireland, counties of the island of Ireland. The capital and largest city is Dublin, which is located on the ...

Republic of Ireland
(which covers roughly five-sixths of Ireland), and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The
Channel Islands The Channel Islands ( nrf, Îles d'la Manche; french: îles Anglo-Normandes or ''îles de la Manche'') are an archipelago in the English Channel, off the French coast of Normandy. They include two Crown dependencies: the Jersey, Bailiwick of Je ...

Channel Islands
, off the north coast of
France France (), officially the French Republic (french: link=no, République française), is a country primarily located in Western Europe, consisting of metropolitan France and Overseas France, several overseas regions and territories. The metro ...
, are sometimes taken to be part of the British Isles, even though they do not form part of the archipelago. The oldest rocks are 2.7 billion years old and are found in Ireland, Wales and the northwest of Scotland. During the
Silurian The Silurian ( ) is a Period (geology), geologic period and system spanning 24.6 million years from the end of the Ordovician Period, at million years ago (annum, Mya), to the beginning of the Devonian Period, Mya. The Silurian is the shortest ...
period, the north-western regions collided with the south-east, which had been part of a separate continental landmass. The topography of the islands is modest in scale by global standards. , the highest mountain, rises to only , and
Lough Neagh Lough Neagh ( ) is a large freshwater lake in Northern Ireland Northern Ireland ( ga, Tuaisceart Éireann ; Ulster Scots dialects, Ulster-Scots: ') is #Descriptions, variously described as a country, province, or region which is Countrie ...
, which is notably larger than other lakes in the island group, covers . The climate is temperate marine, with cool winters and warm summers. The North Atlantic drift brings significant moisture and raises temperatures above the global average for the latitude. This led to a landscape that was long dominated by temperate rainforest, although human activity has since cleared the vast majority of forest cover. The region was re-inhabited after the last glacial period of Quaternary glaciation, by 12,000 BC, when Great Britain was still part of a . Ireland, which became an island by 12,000 BC, was not inhabited until after 8000 BC. Great Britain became an island by 5600 BC. Gaels, Hiberni (Ireland), Picts, Pictish (northern Britain) and Britons (historical), Britons (southern Britain) tribes, all speaking Insular Celtic languages, Insular Celtic, inhabited the islands at the beginning of the 1st millennium BC. Much of Brittonic-occupied Britain was Roman conquest of Britain, conquered by the Roman Empire from AD 43. The first Anglo-Saxons arrived as Roman power waned in the 5th century, and eventually they dominated the bulk of what is now England. Viking invasions began in the 9th century, followed by more permanent settlements and political change, particularly in England. The Normans, Norman conquest of England in 1066 and the later Angevin Empire, Angevin partial conquest of Ireland from 1169 led to the imposition of a new Norman ruling elite across much of Britain and parts of Ireland. By the Late Middle Ages, Great Britain was separated into the Kingdom of England and Kingdom of Scotland, while control in Ireland fluxed between Gaelic Ireland, Gaelic kingdoms, Hiberno-Norman, Hiberno-Norman lords and the English-dominated Lordship of Ireland, soon restricted only to The Pale. The 1603 Union of the Crowns, Acts of Union 1707 and Acts of Union 1800 aimed to consolidate Britain and Ireland into a single political unit, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, with the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands remaining as Crown Dependencies. The expansion of the British Empire and migrations following the Great Famine (Ireland), Irish Famine and Highland Clearances resulted in the dispersal of some of the islands' population and culture throughout the world, and a rapid depopulation of Ireland in the second half of the 19th century. Most of Ireland seceded from the United Kingdom after the Irish War of Independence and the subsequent Anglo-Irish Treaty (1919–1922), with six counties remaining in the UK as Northern Ireland. In Ireland, the term "British Isles" is British Isles naming dispute, controversial, and there are objections to its usage. The Government of Ireland does not officially recognise the term,Written Answers – Official Terms"
, Dáil Éireann, Volume 606, 28 September 2005. In his response, the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs stated that "The British Isles is not an officially recognised term in any legal or inter-governmental sense. It is without any official status. The Government, including the Department of Foreign Affairs, does not use this term. Our officials in the Embassy of Ireland, London, continue to monitor the media in Britain for any abuse of the official terms as set out in the Constitution of Ireland and in legislation. These include the name of the State, the President, Taoiseach and others."
and its embassy in London discourages its use. Britain and Ireland is used as an alternative description, and Atlantic Archipelago has also seen limited use in academia.


The earliest known references to the islands as a group appeared in the writings of seafarers from the ancient Greek colony of Marseille, Massalia.#refFoster2001, Foster, p. 1. The original records have been lost; however, later writings, e.g. Avienius's ''Ora maritima'', that quoted from the Massaliote Periplus (6th century BC) and from Pytheas's ''On the Ocean'' (around 325–320 BC) have survived. In the 1st century BC, Diodorus Siculus has ''Prettanikē nēsos'',Diodorus Siculus' ''Bibliotheca Historica'' Book V. Chapter XXI. Section
Greek text
at the Perseus Project.
"the British Island", and ''Prettanoi'',Diodorus Siculus' ''Bibliotheca Historica'' Book V. Chapter XXI. Section
Greek text
at the Perseus Project.
"the Britons".#refAllen2007, Allen, p. 172–174. Strabo used Βρεττανική (''Brettanike''),Strabo's ''Geography'' Book I. Chapter IV. Section
Greek text
English translation
at the Perseus Project.
Strabo's ''Geography'' Book IV. Chapter II. Section
Greek text
English translation
at the Perseus Project.
Strabo's ''Geography'' Book IV. Chapter IV. Section
Greek text
English translation
at the Perseus Project.
and Marcian of Heraclea, in his ''Periplus maris exteri'', used αἱ Πρεττανικαί νῆσοι (''the Prettanic Isles'') to refer to the islands. Greek text and Latin Translation thereof archived at the Open Library Project. Historians today, though not in absolute agreement, largely agree that these Greek and Latin names were probably drawn from native Celtic languages, Celtic-language names for the archipelago. Along these lines, the inhabitants of the islands were called the Πρεττανοί (''Priteni'' or ''Pretani''). The shift from the "P" of ''Pretannia'' to the "B" of ''Britannia'' by the Romans occurred during the time of Julius Caesar.#refSnyder2003, Snyder, p. 12. Greeks in Egypt, Greco-Egyptian Claudius Ptolemy referred to the larger island as ''great Britain'' (μεγάλη Βρεττανία ''megale Brettania'') and to Ireland as ''little Britain'' (μικρὰ Βρεττανία ''mikra Brettania'') in his work ''Almagest'' (147–148 AD). In his later work, ''Geography (Ptolemy), Geography'' (c. 150 AD), he gave these islands the names ''Albion, Alwion'', ''Hibernia, Iwernia'', and ''Mona'' (the Isle of Man), suggesting these may have been names of the individual islands not known to him at the time of writing ''Almagest''. The name ''Albion'' appears to have fallen out of use sometime after the Roman conquest of Great Britain, after which ''Britain'' became the more commonplace name for the island called Great Britain in the English language. However, the cognate 'alba' has given its name to Scotland in most Celtic languages : Alba in Scottish Gaelic, Albey in Manx, Albain in Irish and Alban in Cornish and Welsh. The earliest known use of the phrase ''Brytish Iles'' in the English language is dated 1577 in a work by John Dee.John Dee, 1577. 1577 J. ''Arte Navigation'', p. 65 "The syncere Intent, and faythfull Aduise, of Georgius Gemistus Pletho, was, I could..frame and shape very much of Gemistus those his two Greek Orations..for our Brytish Iles, and in better and more allowable manner." From the OED, s.v. "British Isles" Today, this name is seen by some as carrying imperialist overtones although it is still commonly used. Other names used to describe the islands include the ''Anglo-Celtic Isles'', ''Atlantic archipelago'' (a term coined by the historian J. G. A. Pocock in 1975), ''British-Irish Isles'', ''Britain and Ireland'', ''UK 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 in documents drawn up jointly between the British and Irish governments, the archipelago is referred to simply as "these islands". Nonetheless, British Isles is still the most widely accepted term for the archipelago.


The British Isles lie at the juncture of several regions with past episodes of tectonic mountain building. These Orogeny, orogenic belts form a complex geology that records a huge and varied span of Earth's history. Of particular note was the Caledonian Orogeny during the Ordovician Period, c. 488–444 year, Ma and Llandovery epoch, 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 northwestern half of Ireland and Scotland. Further collisions caused the Variscan orogeny in the Devonian and Carboniferous periods, forming the hills of Munster, southwest England, and southern Wales. Over the last 500 million years the land that 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 deglaciated 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. 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. There are about List of the British Isles by area, 136 permanently inhabited islands in the group, the largest two being Great Britain and Ireland. Great Britain is to the east and covers . Ireland is to the west and covers . The largest of the other islands are to be found in the
Hebrides The Hebrides (; gd, Innse Gall, ; non, Suðreyjar) are an archipelago off the west coast of mainland Scotland Scotland ( sco, Scotland, gd, Alba ) is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. Coveri ...
, Orkney and Shetland to the north, Anglesey and the Isle of Man between Great Britain and Ireland, and the
Channel Islands The Channel Islands ( nrf, Îles d'la Manche; french: îles Anglo-Normandes or ''îles de la Manche'') are an archipelago in the English Channel, off the French coast of Normandy. They include two Crown dependencies: the Jersey, Bailiwick of Je ...

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 North Slob in County Wexford, Ireland, with an elevation of . The Scottish Highlands in the northern part of Great Britain are mountainous, with being the highest point on the islands at . Other mountainous areas include Wales and parts of Ireland, although only seven peaks in these areas reach above . Lakes on the islands are generally not large, although
Lough Neagh Lough Neagh ( ) is a large freshwater lake in Northern Ireland Northern Ireland ( ga, Tuaisceart Éireann ; Ulster Scots dialects, Ulster-Scots: ') is #Descriptions, variously described as a country, province, or region which is Countrie ...
in Northern Ireland is an exception, covering . The largest freshwater body in Great Britain (by area) is Loch Lomond at , and Loch Ness (by volume) whilst Loch Morar is the deepest freshwater body in the British Isles, with a maximum depth of .Gazetteer for Scotland
Morar, Loch
There are a number of major rivers within the British Isles. The longest is the River Shannon, Shannon in Ireland at . The river Severn at is the longest in Great Britain.


The climate of the British Isles is mild, moist and changeable with abundant rainfall and a lack of temperature extremes. It is defined as a temperate oceanic climate, or ''Cfb'' on the Köppen climate classification system, a classification it shares with most of northwest Europe. The North Atlantic Current, North Atlantic Drift ("Gulf Stream"), which flows from the Gulf of Mexico, brings with it significant moisture and raises temperatures above the global average for the islands' latitudes. Most Atlantic Low-pressure area, depressions pass to the north of the islands; combined with the general Westerlies, westerly circulation and interactions with the landmass, this imposes a general east–west variation in climate. There are four distinct climate patterns: south-east, with cold winters, warm and dry summers; south-west, having mild and very wet winters, warm and wet summers; north-west, generally wet with mild winters and cool summers; and north-east with cold winters, cool summers.

Flora and fauna

The islands enjoy a mild climate and varied soils, giving rise to a diverse pattern of vegetation. Animal and plant life is similar to that of the northwestern European mainland. There are however, fewer numbers of species, with Ireland having even less. All native flora and fauna in Ireland is made up of species that migrated from elsewhere in Europe, and Great Britain in particular. The only window when this could have occurred was between the end of Pleistocene, the last Ice Age (about 12,000 years ago) and when the land bridge connecting the two islands was flooded by sea (about 8,000 years ago). As with most of Europe, prehistoric Britain and Ireland were covered with forest and swamp. Clearing began around 6000 BC and accelerated in medieval times. Despite this, Britain retained its primeval forests longer than most of Europe due to a small population and later development of trade and industry, and wood shortages were not a problem until the 17th century. By the 18th century, most of Britain's forests were consumed for shipbuilding or manufacturing charcoal and the nation was forced to import lumber from Scandinavia, North America, and the Baltic. Most forest land in Ireland is maintained by state forestation programmes. Almost all land outside urban areas is farmland. However, relatively large areas of forest remain in east and north Scotland and in southeast England. Oak, elm, ash and beech are amongst the most common trees in England. In Scotland, pine and birch are most common. Natural forests in Ireland are mainly oak, ash, wych elm, birch and pine. Beech and Tilia, lime, though not native to Ireland, are also common there. Farmland hosts a variety of semi-natural vegetation of grasses and flowering plants. Woods, hedgerows, mountain slopes and marshes host Calluna vulgaris, heather, wild grasses, common gorse, gorse and Pteridium aquilinum, bracken. Many larger animals, such as wolf, bear and the European elk are today extinct. However, some species such as red deer are protected. Other small mammals, such as European rabbit, rabbits, red fox, foxes, Eurasian badger, badgers, European hare, hares, European hedgehog, hedgehogs, and stoats, are very common and the European beaver has been reintroduced in parts of Scotland. Wild boar have also been reintroduced to parts of southern England, following escapes from boar farms and illegal releases. Many rivers contain European otter, otters and grey seal, grey and common seals are numerous on coasts. There are about 250 bird species regularly recorded in Great Britain, and another 350 that occur with varying degrees of rarity. The most numerous species are Eurasian wren, wren, European robin, robin, house sparrow, woodpigeon, common chaffinch, chaffinch and common blackbird, blackbird. Farmland birds are declining in number, except for those kept for game such as common pheasant, pheasant, red-legged partridge, and red grouse. Fish are abundant in the rivers and lakes, in particular salmon, trout, perch and Esox, pike. Sea fish include Squalidae, dogfish, cod, sole (fish), sole, pollock and bass, as well as mussels, crab and oysters along the coast. There are more than 21,000 species of insects. Few species of reptiles or amphibians are found in Great Britain or Ireland. Only three snakes are native to Great Britain: the Vipera berus, adder, the barred grass snake and the Coronella austriaca, smooth snake; none are native to Ireland. In general, Great Britain has slightly more variation and native wild life, with weasels, European polecat, polecats, wildcats, most shrews, European mole, moles, European water vole, water voles, roe deer and common toads also being absent from Ireland. This pattern is also true for birds and insects. Notable exceptions include the Kerry slug and certain species of woodlouse native to Ireland but not Great Britain. Domestic animals include the Connemara pony, Shetland pony, English Mastiff, Irish wolfhound and many varieties of cattle and sheep.


England has a generally high population density, with almost 80% of the total population of the islands. Elsewhere in Great Britain and Ireland, high density of population is limited to areas around a few large cities. The largest urban area by far is the Greater London Built-up Area with 9 million inhabitants. Other major population centres include the Greater Manchester Built-up Area (2.4 million), West Midlands conurbation (2.4 million) and West Yorkshire Urban Area (1.6 million) in England, Greater Glasgow (1.2 million) in Scotland and Greater Dublin Area (1.9 million) in Ireland. The population of England rose rapidly during the 19th and 20th centuries, whereas the populations of Scotland and Wales showed little increase during the 20th century; the population of Scotland has remained unchanged since 1951. Ireland for most of its history had much the same population density as Great Britain (about one-third of the total population). However, since the Great Famine (Ireland), Great Irish Famine, the population of Ireland has fallen to less than one-tenth of the population of the British Isles. The famine 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 numbers fifteen times the current population of the island. The linguistic heritage of the British Isles is rich, with twelve languages from six groups across four branches of the Indo-European languages, Indo-European Language family, family. The Insular Celtic languages of the Goidelic sub-group (Irish language, Irish, Manx language, Manx and Scottish Gaelic) and the Brittonic languages, Brittonic sub-group (Cornish language, Cornish, Welsh and Breton language, Breton, spoken in Brittany, north-western France) are the only remaining Celtic languages—the last of their continental relations were extinct before the 7th century. The Norman languages of Guernésiais, Jèrriais and Sercquiais spoken in the Channel Islands are similar to French. A Cant (language), cant, called Shelta, is spoken by Irish Travellers, often to conceal meaning from those outside the group. However, English, including Scots language, Scots, is the dominant language, with few monoglots remaining in the other languages of the region. The Norn language of Orkney and Shetland became extinct around 1880.

Urban areas


At the end of the last ice age, what are now the British Isles were joined to the European mainland as a mass of land extending north west from the modern-day northern coastline of France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Ice covered almost all of what is now Scotland, most of Ireland and Wales, and the hills of northern England. From 14,000 to 10,000 years ago, as the ice melted, sea levels rose separating Ireland from Great Britain and also creating the Isle of Man. About two to four millennia later, Great Britain became separated from the mainland. Britain probably became repopulated with people before the ice age ended and certainly before it became separated from the mainland. It is likely that Ireland became settled by sea after it had already become an island. At the time of the Roman Empire, about two thousand years ago, various tribes, which spoke Celtic languages, Celtic dialects of the Insular Celtic languages, Insular Celtic group, 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. At that time, Ireland was populated by a people known as Hiberni, the northern third or so of Great Britain by a people known as Picts and the southern two thirds by Britons. Anglo-Saxons arrived as Fall of Rome, Roman power waned in the 5th century AD. Initially, their arrival seems to have been at the invitation of the Britons as mercenaries to repulse incursions by the Hiberni and Picts. In time, Anglo-Saxon demands on the British became so great that they came to culturally dominate the bulk of southern Great Britain, though recent genetic evidence suggests Britons still formed the bulk of the population. This dominance creating what is now England and leaving culturally British enclaves only in Hen Ogledd, the north of what is now England, in Cornwall and what is now known as Wales. Ireland had been unaffected by the Romans except, significantly, for being Christianisation of Ireland, Christianised—traditionally by the Romano-Briton, Saint Patrick. As Europe, including Britain, descended into turmoil following the collapse of Roman civilisation, an era known as Dark Ages (historiography), the Dark Ages, Ireland entered a golden age and Hiberno-Scottish mission, responded with missions (first to Great Britain and then to the continent), the founding of monasteries and universities. These were later joined by Anglo-Saxon missions of a similar nature. 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 (city), Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Wexford. England, however, was slowly conquered around the turn of the first millennium AD, and eventually became a feudal possession of Denmark. The relations between the descendants of Vikings in England and counterparts in Normandy, in northern France, lay at the heart of a series of events that led to the Normans, Norman Norman conquest of England, conquest of England in 1066. The remnants of the Duchy of Normandy, which conquered England, remain associated to the English Crown as the Channel Islands to this day. A century later, the marriage of the future Henry II of England to Eleanor of Aquitaine created the Angevin Empire, partially under the List of French monarchs, French Crown. At the invitation of Diarmait Mac Murchada, a provincial king, and under Laudabiliter, the authority of Pope Adrian IV (the only Englishman to be elected pope), the Norman invasion of Ireland, Angevins invaded Ireland in 1169. Though initially intended to be kept as an independent kingdom, the failure of Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair, the Irish High King to ensure the terms of the Treaty of Windsor (1175), Treaty of Windsor led Henry II, as King of England, to rule as effective monarch under the title of Lord of Ireland. This title was granted to his younger son, but when Henry's heir unexpectedly died, the title of King of England and Lord of Ireland became entwined in one person. By the Late Middle Ages, Great Britain was separated into the Kingdoms of Kingdom of England, England and Kingdom of Scotland, Scotland. Power in Ireland fluxed between Gaelic Ireland, Gaelic kingdoms, Hiberno-Norman, Hiberno-Norman lords and the English-dominated Lordship of Ireland. A similar situation existed in the Principality of Wales, which was slowly being annexed into the Kingdom of England by a series of laws. During the course of the 15th century, the Crown of England would assert a claim to the Crown of France, thereby also releasing the King of England from being vassal of the King of France. In 1534, King Henry VIII, at first having been a strong defender of Roman Catholicism in the face of the Reformation, separated from the Roman Church after failing to secure a divorce from the Pope. His response was to place the King of England as "the only Supreme Head in Earth of the Church of England", thereby removing the authority of the Pope from the affairs of the English Church. Ireland, which had been held by the King of England as Lord of Ireland, but which strictly speaking had been a feudal possession of the Pope since the Norman invasion was declared Kingdom of Ireland, a separate kingdom in personal union with England. Scotland, meanwhile had remained an independent Kingdom. In 1603, that changed when the King of Scotland Union of the Crowns, 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. English colonialism in Ireland of the 16th century was extended by large-scale Scottish and English colonies in Ulster. Religious division heightened and the king in England came into conflict with parliament over his tolerance towards Catholicism. The resulting English Civil War or War of the Three Kingdoms led to a revolutionary republic in England. Ireland, largely Catholic was mainly loyal to the king, but by military conquest was subsumed into the new republic. Following defeat to the parliaments army, large scale land distributions from loyalist Irish nobility to English commoners in the service of the parliamentary army created a new Protestant Ascendancy, Ascendancy class which obliterated the remnants of Old English (Hiberno-Norman) and Gaelic Irish nobility in Ireland. The new ruling class was Protestant and English, whilst the populace was largely Catholic and Irish. This theme would influence Irish politics for centuries to come. When the monarchy was restored in England, the king found it politically impossible to restore the lands of former land-owners in Ireland. The "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 repeated similar themes: a Catholic king pushing for religious tolerance in opposition to a Protestant parliament in England. The king's army was defeated at the Battle of the Boyne and at the militarily crucial Battle of Aughrim in Ireland. Resistance held out, eventually forcing the guarantee of religious tolerance in the Treaty of Limerick. However, the terms were never honoured and a new monarchy was installed. The Kingdoms of England and Scotland were Acts of Union 1707, unified in 1707 creating the Kingdom of Great Britain. Following an attempted republican 1798 Rebellion, revolution in Ireland in 1798, the Kingdoms of Ireland and Great Britain were Acts of Union 1800, unified in 1801, creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, 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). Although, the colonies of North America that would become the United States of America were lost by the start of the 19th century, the British Empire expanded rapidly elsewhere. A century later it would cover one third of the globe. Poverty in the United Kingdom remained desperate, however, and industrialisation in England led to terrible condition for the working classes. Mass migrations following the Great Famine (Ireland), Irish Famine and Highland Clearances resulted in the distribution of the islands' population and culture throughout the world and a rapid de-population of Ireland in the second half of the 19th century. Most of Ireland seceded from the United Kingdom after the Irish War of Independence and the subsequent Anglo-Irish Treaty (1919–1922), with the six counties that formed Northern Ireland remaining as an autonomous region of the UK.


] There are two sovereign states in the British Isles: Republic of Ireland, Ireland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Ireland, sometimes called the Republic of Ireland, governs five sixths of the island of Ireland, with the remainder of the island forming Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, usually shortened to simply "the United Kingdom", which governs the remainder of the archipelago with the exception of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. The Isle of Man and the two Bailiwicks of the Channel Islands, Jersey and Bailiwick of Guernsey, Guernsey, are known as the Crown dependencies. They exercise constitutional rights of self-government and judicial independence; responsibility for international representation rests largely with the UK (in consultation with the respective governments); and responsibility for defence is reserved by the UK. The United Kingdom is made up of four Countries of the United Kingdom, constituent parts: England, Scotland and Wales, forming Great Britain, and Northern Ireland in the north-east of the island of Ireland. Of these, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have Devolution, devolved governments, meaning that each has its own parliament or assembly and is self-governing with respect to certain matters set down by law. For judicial purposes, Scotland, Northern Ireland and English law, England and Wales (the latter being one entity) form separate legal jurisdictions, with there being no single law for the UK as a whole. Ireland, the United Kingdom and the three Crown dependencies are all parliamentary democracies, with their own separate parliaments. All parts of the United Kingdom return member of parliament, members to Parliament of the United Kingdom, parliament in London. In addition to this, voters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland return members to a Scottish Parliament, parliament in Edinburgh and Senedd Cymru, Cardiff and an assembly in Northern Ireland Assembly, Belfast. Governance in the norm is by majority rule; however, Northern Ireland uses a system of Consociationalism, power sharing whereby Unionism in Ireland, unionists and Irish nationalist, nationalists share executive posts proportionately and where the assent of both groups is required for the Northern Ireland Assembly to make certain decisions. (In the context of Northern Ireland, unionists are those who want Northern Ireland to remain a part of the United Kingdom and nationalists are those who want Northern Ireland to join with the rest of Ireland.) The British monarch is the head of state of the United Kingdom, while in the Republic of Ireland the head of state is the President of Ireland. Ireland is part of the European Union (EU) and the UK was part until 31 January 2020. Neither the United Kingdom or Ireland are part of the Schengen Area, which allows passport-free travel between certain EU member states. However, since the partition of Ireland, an informal free-travel area has existed across the island of Ireland. This area required formal recognition in 1997 during the course of negotiations for the Amsterdam Treaty of the European Union, and (together with the Crown dependencies) is now known as the Common Travel Area. Reciprocal arrangements allow British and Irish citizens full voting rights in the two states. Exceptions to this are presidential elections and Amendments to the Constitution of Ireland, constitutional referendums in the Republic of Ireland, for which there is no comparable franchise in the United Kingdom. In the United Kingdom, these pre-date European Union law, and in both jurisdictions go further than what was required by European Union law. Other EU nationals may only vote in local and European Parliament elections while resident in either the UK or Ireland. In 2008, a Ministry of Justice (United Kingdom), UK Ministry of Justice report investigating how to strengthen the British sense of citizenship proposed to end this arrangement, arguing that "the right to vote is one of the hallmarks of the political status of citizens; it is not a means of expressing closeness between countries". In addition, some civil bodies are organised throughout the islands as a whole—for example the Samaritans (charity), 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 Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), a charity that operates a lifeboat service, is also organised throughout the islands as a whole, covering the waters of the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands. The Northern Ireland peace process has led to a number of unusual arrangements between the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. For example, citizens of Northern Ireland are entitled to the choice of Irish or British citizenship or both, and the Governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom consult on matters not devolved to the Northern Ireland Executive. The Northern Ireland Executive and the Government of Ireland also meet as the North/South Ministerial Council to develop policies common across the island of Ireland. These arrangements were made following the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

British–Irish Council

Another body established under the Good Friday Agreement, the British–Irish Council, is made up of all of the states and territories of the British Isles. The British–Irish Parliamentary Assembly ( ga, Tionól Pharlaiminteach na Breataine agus na hÉireann) predates the British–Irish Council and was established in 1990. Originally it comprised 25 members of the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament, and 25 members of the parliament of the United Kingdom, with the purpose of building mutual understanding between members of both legislatures. Since then the role and scope of the body has been expanded to include representatives from the Scottish Parliament, Senedd Cymru (the Welsh Parliament), the Northern Ireland Assembly, the States of Jersey, the States of Guernsey and the High Court of Tynwald (Isle of Man). The Council does not have executive powers, but meets biannually to discuss issues of mutual importance. Similarly, the Parliamentary Assembly has no legislative powers but investigates and collects witness evidence from the public on matters of mutual concern to its members. Reports on its findings are presented to the Governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom. During the February 2008 meeting of the British–Irish Council, it was agreed to set up a standing secretariat that would serve as a permanent 'civil service' for the Council. Leading on from developments in the British–Irish Council, the chair of the British–Irish Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, Niall Blaney, has suggested that the body should shadow the British–Irish Council's work.


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 the culture of the United Kingdom. Irish newspapers are also available in the UK, and Irish state and private television is widely available in Northern Ireland. Certain reality TV shows have embraced the whole of the islands, for example ''The X Factor (UK TV series), The X Factor'', seasons 3, 4 and 7 of which featured auditions in Dublin and were open to Irish voters, whilst the show previously known as ''Britain's Next Top Model'' became ''Britain and Ireland's Next Top Model'' in 2011. 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 Mercury Music Prize is handed out every year to the best album from a British or Irish musician or group. Many globally popular sports had their modern rules codified in the British Isles, including golf, association football, Cricket in the British Isles, cricket, Rugby football, rugby, History of snooker, snooker and darts, as well as many minor sports such as croquet, bowls, pitch and putt, History of water polo, water polo and Gaelic handball, handball. 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. Rugby union is also widely enjoyed across the islands with four national teams from England national rugby union team, England, Ireland national rugby union team, Ireland, Scotland national rugby union team, Scotland and Wales national rugby union team, Wales. The British and Irish Lions is a team chosen from each national team and undertakes tours of the Southern Hemisphere rugby-playing nations every four years. Ireland play as a united team, represented by players from both Northern Ireland and the Republic. These national rugby teams play each other each year for the Triple Crown (rugby union), Triple Crown as part of the Six Nations Championship. Also, since 2001, the professional club teams of Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy compete against each other in the Pro14. The Ryder Cup in golf was originally played between a United States team and a team representing Great Britain and Ireland. From 1979 onwards this was expanded to include the whole of Europe.


London Heathrow Airport is Europe's busiest airport in terms of passenger traffic, and the Dublin-London route is the busiest air route in Europe collectively, the busiest route out of Heathrow and the second-busiest international air route in the world. The English Channel and the southern North Sea are the busiest seaways in the world. The Channel Tunnel, opened in 1994, links Great Britain to France and is the second-longest rail tunnel in the world. The idea of building a Irish Sea tunnel, tunnel under the Irish Sea has been raised since 1895, when it was first investigated. Several potential Irish Sea tunnel projects have been proposed, most recently the ''Tusker Tunnel'' between the ports of Rosslare Europort, Rosslare and Fishguard proposed by The Institute of Engineers of Ireland in 2004. A rail tunnel was proposed in 1997 on a different route, between Dublin and Holyhead, by British engineering firm Symonds. Either tunnel, at , would be by far the longest in the world, and would cost an estimated £15 billion or €20 billion. A proposal in 2007,BBC News
From Twinbrook to the Trevi Fountain
21 August 2007
estimated the cost of building a bridge from County Antrim in Northern Ireland to Galloway in Scotland at £3.5bn (€5bn).

See also

* British Islands * British Isles fixed sea link connections * Extreme points of the British Isles * List of islands of the British Isles


Further reading

* * * * * * * * * * A History of Britain (book), A History of Britain: At the Edge of the World, 3500 B.C. – 1603 A.D. by Simon Schama, BBC/Miramax, 2000 * A History of Britain—The Complete Collection on DVD by Simon Schama, BBC 2002 * Shortened History of England by George Macaulay Trevelyan, G. M. Trevelyan Penguin Books

External links

* A
interactive geological map
of the British Isles. {{Authority control British Isles, Geography of Northern Europe Geography of Western Europe Regions of Europe Archipelagoes of Europe