Names of the Irish state
The state known today as the 'Republic of Ireland' is, and has been, known by a number of names, some of which have been controversial. The state's official title under the Irish constitution is simply Ireland (Éire in Irish). The Republic of Ireland (Irish: Poblacht na hÉireann) is rather the official 'description' of the state, as defined by law.
The Republic of Ireland is generally used in any context in which it is necessary to distinguish between the state and the island of Ireland as a whole. Short-hand terms such as the South, the Republic and the State, are also used for the same purpose.
Historically the state has had a number of official titles. The revolutionary state established by nationalists in 1919 was known as the 'Irish Republic'. When the southern state achieved de facto independence in 1922 its title was the Irish Free State (Irish: Saorstát Éireann). The state was renamed to simply Ireland in 1937 but was also referred to for many years, in English speech, as 'Éire'. The Republic of Ireland came into general use after the state became a republic in 1949.
1 Contemporary names
1.1 In the United Kingdom
2 Historical names
2.1 Irish Republic (1919-1922)
3 See also
The Constitution of Ireland, adopted in 1937, provides that "the name of the state is Éire, or, in the English language, Ireland". The Republic of Ireland Act, adopted in 1949, provided that, henceforth, the Republic of Ireland would be the official 'description' of the state, but not its name. This distinction between 'description' and 'name' was important because the Act was not a constitutional amendment, and so had it attempted to change the name of the state it would have been struck down as unconstitutional.
As a name of the state, Ireland is used for almost all official purposes. Thus, for example, there is the "President of Ireland" and the "Constitution of Ireland". It is also used in the state's diplomatic relations with foreign nations, so the state is known as 'Ireland' at meetings of the United Nations and the European Union.
However the term Republic of Ireland is commonly used in ordinary speech, especially in any context in which it is necessary to distinguish between the state and the island as a whole. So, for example, one always speaks of there being a border "between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland" rather than between Northern Ireland and "Ireland". Also, the state's national football team plays as the 'Republic of Ireland' because Northern Ireland also fields a team in international competitions.
The state is also referred to colloquially as the 'South' or the 'Republic' in order to make the same distinction. Radical republicans often refer to it as the 'Twenty-Six Counties' or the 'Free State' (in reference to the state's official name prior to 1937). These last two terms are pejorative and intended to call into question the legitimacy of the southern state.
The sensitivity of the issue meant that no name was used in the 1998 Belfast Agreement to describe the state as opposed to its government or citizens.
In the United Kingdom
In the United Kingdom (UK) the state is often referred to as the Irish Republic or Éire, both names not commonly heard in English speech in the Republic. Some British politicians and journalists consciously refer to the state as the 'Irish Republic' in order to avoid the possible suggestion, contained in Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, that the state comprises the whole island of Ireland. The term Irish Republic, although it was the historical name of the state from 1919 to 1922, currently has no official status. The term Southern Ireland is also sometimes used in the UK. This name is derived from the Government of Ireland Act, 1920 but has been obsolete as an official term since 1921. The use of the title the Irish Republic is discouraged by the Irish Government. When accepting the credentials of foreign diplomats the Irish Government accepts letters addressed to 'Ireland', the 'Republic of Ireland', or to the Irish president in person, but it does not accept credentials addressed to the 'Irish Republic'.
The Ireland Act 1949 provides for the use of the term Republic of Ireland as a substitute for Éire in modern UK domestic law.
Irish Republic (1919-1922)
In English, the revolutionary state founded in 1919 was known as the 'Irish Republic' or, occasionally, the 'Republic of Ireland'. Two different Irish language titles were used: Poblacht na hÉireann and Saorstát Éireann, based on two competing Irish translations of the word republic: Poblacht and Saorstát. Poblacht was a foreign loan word, a simple Gaelicisation of its English equivalent. Saorstát, on the other hand, was a compound word based on two already existing Irish words: saor (meaning "free") and stát ("state"). Its direct, literal translation was "free state".
The term Poblacht na hÉireann is the one used in the Easter Proclamation of 1916. However the Declaration of Independence and other documents adopted in 1919 eschew this title in favour of Saorstát Éireann. A slight variant of this title, Saorstát na hÉireann, was also sometimes used in later days as was the Latin Respublica Hibernica.
Irish Free State (1922-1937)
When the first de facto independent state was created in 1922 Irish politicians wanted the state to be republic, and its name to be Ireland, the Republic of Ireland or the Irish Republic. However the British government refused to allow a republic because this would have entailed the Irish state severing the link with the British crown and ceasing to be a part of the British Empire. Instead it was agreed that the state would be a self-governing dominion under a form of constitutional monarchy. The British also disliked the name Ireland because it implied sovereignty over Northern Ireland, which remained within the United Kingdom. In the United Kingdom the state continued sometimes to be referred to as Southern Ireland in its early days.
Because the Irish Republic had been known in Irish as Saorstát Éireann it was from this name that the name of the new state was derived. Saorstát Éireann was made the official Irish title of the new state, but its English title was not Irish Republic but the most direct, literal translation of its Irish name: Irish Free State. After the establishment of the Free State the Irish government often used the name Saorstát Éireann in English as well as Irish.
Because the Irish Free State was not a republic, since 1922 the word saorstát has fallen out of use in Irish as a translation of republic. When the official description of the state was declared to be the Republic of Ireland in 1949 its official Irish description became not Saorstát Éireann but Poblacht na hÉireann.
In 1937 the Irish state adopted a new constitution, the Constitution of Ireland. This was intended to nativise the Irish political system by removing all aspects of the state that had been imposed by the British, against Irish opposition, in 1922. As part of this process it was decided that the name Irish Free State would be done away with. Eamon de Valera, the leader who drafted the new document, wished to reserve the names Republic of Ireland and Irish Republic for the day when a united Ireland might be achieved, and so he decided to name the state simply 'Ireland'.
The use of this title coincided with a new constitutional provision, in Article 2, that claimed the whole island of Ireland as part of a single "national territory". This territorial claim was abolished by a amendment adopted in 1998, but the state's official title remained unchanged; some have proposed that the official name of the state be changed to reflect this change in legal stance.
The wording of the 1937 constitution is ambiguous in that, while merely stating that Éire is the state's name in Irish, it also suggests that it is an alternative official title that may be used in the English language. Thus, for example, the preamble to the constitution refers to "We the people of Éire". Because of the constitution's provisions, prior to 1949 the name Éire was often used in the way Republic of Ireland is today, as an alternative name that would refer to the southern state unambiguously. Today this usage only continues in Great Britain.
- History of the Republic of Ireland
- Politics of the Republic of Ireland
- Southern Ireland