Why are Brits ignorant of Ireland?

I’m English, and I live in Ireland. Every time I go ‘home’ I am amazed by the ignorance of my fellow countrypeople about their near neighbour. Stuff like “[Southern] Ireland’s part of the UK, isn’t it?”, not knowing the difference between the Republic and the North, not realising that there are Loyalist terrorists, etc.

I could understand general ignorance about any other neighbouring country, e.g. France, but Ireland is a special case: the British electorate have a direct hand in the future of Northern Ireland, and by extension the entire island, at the ballot box.

Is there a deliberate obfuscation in Britain of the facts and history of Ireland?

Wouldn’t a deliberate obfuscation require that the misinformation you refer to be deliberately spread? Unless you know of some agency that is passing these fallacies around?

As an aside, I’d be very surprised if most mainland British could not tell you that Ireland is a separate country, and that there are indeed loyalist terrorists. It’s not as if there isn’t serious amount of media time spent discussing these issues, is it?

I’m no longer amazed at the ignorance of my compatriots.
Is anybody?

To me though, Ireland is simply another separate country, just like our other close neighbours, like Scotland, Wales, France, Germany, Holland etc etc etc. Why would anyone expect me to have greater knowledge of any one of these countries at the expense of any other? Aren’t we all Europeans now…?


Well as I inferred, this is purely anecdotal.

However, Gary Kumquat himself (I presume he’s a Brit) has backed up my observation by demonstrating one of the faux pas to which I was referring: “mainland Britain”.

Since no part of Ireland is part of Britain, then how can the island of Britain be the ‘mainland’? Most Irish people find this term at least irritating, and at worst downright offensive.


Your vote directly affects Scotland and Wales, but not France. Surely there is some difference in your need to know about these countries? Would you admit to knowing more about Scotland and Wales (which isn’t a country BTW, it’s a principality) than France? Similarly, your vote affects Northern Ireland and therefore (indirectly) the Republic.

In school in England, I learned all about the French Revolution, but nothing whatsoever about the Easter Rising or the Irish Civil War, both of which are more relevant to the history of Britain, and much more recent.

I think there’s a big difference between English people making essentially geographical faux pas (Mainland Britain) and not knowing that loyalist terrorists exist.

I can see how the Irish would be irritated by the first. I would imagine them to be horrified (as I would be) if they thought the second was true. One is a slip of the tongue, combined perhaps with not really understanding the difference between Britain/United Kingdom/Whatever, the other would require truly mind-boggling ignorance. I know of no-one in my circle who doesn’t understand the concept of loyalist terrorists. Google lists 3,840 hits for ‘UVA UDF’, most (of the first few pages anyway, I lost interest after that) seem to be newpaper links.

Being honest here (and no slur on your friends/acquaintances) but I can only conclude that they never watch, read or listen to the news.

I would be worried by it, but I can’t really talk. I was completely ignorant about the constitutional makeup of the UK until I was quite staggeringly old. The only reason I had to work it out was that at the age of 14 I moved to Scotland, where such things are in general a more sensitive issue than they are in England.

I think it’s a combination of a lack of education about the constitution in schools (throughout the UK) and the fact that England is more insulated from the issue of constutional change than the other “home nations” by virtue of there being nothing in the way of an English nationalist movement (I mean this in the manner of the SNP, rather than of the BNP…).

That said, I’m really only talking about the relationship of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (heh, and the neat trick of remembering when to say UK and when to say Britain). There’s not really much excuse for thinking that the Republic of Ireland is part of the UK.

Mind you, regarding Gary’s calling Britain “mainland”, what do people in Ireland think of being part of the “British Isles”? And If the whole island of Ireland is called “Ireland”, geographically speaking, how much does that get up the noses of Unionists in Northern Ireland?

Scottish, actually. Out of interest, which phrase does encompass the inhabitants of Scotland, England and Wales but not Northern Ireland, as you’ll notice I referred to the “mainland British”, not (as you misquote) “mainland Britain”.

Sorry that I misquoted you.

Since the United Kingdom is “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”, I would take “British” to refer to people on the island of Great Britain.

Loyalists do indeed refer to themselves as British, but this doesn’t seem to have any logic to it (then again nor does the term ‘Loyalist’ ;)).

I guess the Unionists in N. Ireland, should they object to being called ‘Irish’, would be left with “UK subject” or “Northern Irish”.

The term British Isles seems to be very grudgingly accepted by more educated Irish people (after all, it was coined by the ancient Greeks) and ranted about by those who are more ‘emotionally’ nationalist. I’ve never been given a decent alternative name, though my politically correct suggestion “the North Western European Archipelago” has never gone down well…

As for the Unionists, I don’t really know. It seems practical to acknowledge that Northern Ireland is a part of the island of Ireland. Indeed Ian Paisley reportedly voted for St. Patrick’s Day to be a public holiday in NI because “it’s an Irish holiday”.

Well as they do indeed call themselves British, perhaps you’ll see why I referred in my post to “mainland British”, as I do hope your OP isn’t to be applied to the people of Northern Ireland, or do you believe that they don’t know about Ireland as a separate country or loyalist terrorists.

They do, but I don’t.

I’m not i have friends from Dublin and Belfast , but I guess i would be because there is no peace there and its been fighting and violence for decades and people just don’t care anymore as in vietnam. Its nothing out the ordinary like Israeli state sponsored terrorism on the palestines.

Another is maybe because we’re bitter about the cost of petrol in Ireland its alot cheaper there and the economy is doing quite well there as well.

Good for you. I’d suggest though that they might have more right to decide what label to call themselves by than you.

Um, I’m not reknowned for my peacemaking skills, but…

Might I suggest that maybe jjimm meant that they refer to themselves as British, however he does not refer to himself as British.



There are plenty of Irish people who, I’m sure, will attest to the annoyance they feel when they hear the terms ‘mainland Britain’ or ‘the mainland’ when used in the context of Ireland. On reading the quoted text my first reaction was :rolleyes:, however Mr. Kumquat has more than adequately explained that this was misquoted, and taken in the wrong context.
So can you two bury the hatchet? The reason I ask is I’d really like to hear whether anybody (apart from jjimm) believes that there is either a systemic/‘cultural’ lack of information or actual misinformation about Ireland and Irish history in the British media and/or educational system.

Let’s point out that “British” has four specialized meanings: (a) inhabitant of “Britain” (i.e., the British Isles and Brittany, (b) inhabitant of the island of Great Britain, © subject of the monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and (d) ethnic member of the Brythonic branch of the Celtic peoples, i.e., Welshman, Cornishman, or Breton. (a) includes all Irish, (b) includes Irish living in England, Scotland, or Wales, © includes Irish living in Northern Ireland, and (d) not only excludes all Irish but most English (descendents of the Jutes, Angles, and Saxons) and virtually all Scots (except those in old Strathclyde and Lothian).

As for why most “Brits” are ignorant of Ireland, it’s a blindness with long historical roots, and is equalled by most Americans’ ignorance of Canada, most Russians’ ignorance of all their neighbor republics (and former SSRs), etc. In short, most people don’t care enough to be aware of what matters greatly to their distant neighbors.

As an Irish person what mainly irritates me is the usage of the word ‘Eire’ to describe the Irish Republic.
Eire is an Irish language word and thus it is on our coins, stamps etc.
If the British were to be consistent they would refer to spain as Espana, Germany as Deutchland etc.
So please, please refer to us as Ireland or the Republic of Ireland in future

Corky, what is the one-word name of the country in Irish? Eire, yes? And the actual name of the republic is Republic Eirainn?

Many of us straight-English speakers prefer to use the national language term to describe the nation when there is not a time-honored (e.g., over 100-years) English name for the nation as well. And “Eire” provides a one-word distinction between the island containing the Republic and a piece of the U.K., and the Republic itself.

For me, at least, it’s never been supercilious but my impression of “correct” usage.

Actually, it does have logic: the people of Northern Ireland hold British passports - that is to say they have British Nationality. Thus they are, of course, British.

May I ask how long ago you went to school? The reason I ask is that I left secondary school in '93 (when I was 16, for non-UK people), and our history lessons covered the Troubles.

Corky, does it really irritate you that some people use the Irish name for the Republic of Ireland? If that’s the case, then kindly please stop referring to my country as the “United Kingdom”, as that’s an English term, you know.

Polycarp you are right in saying that the one word name for the Irish Republic when speaking Irish is ‘Eire’
However the reality is that it is whilst speaking English that the British tend to use the word Eire.
I honestly do not accept that the length of time the state exists is relevant. Firstly neither you nor I were around 100 years ago and I suspect that the Irish Republic has existed for all your life (and mine!). Considering that Britain has accepted name changes in other former colonies such as Rhodesia (where?)it comes across as patronising to hear British people describe our country as Eire.
Having lived in Ireland for over 50 years I have never, ever, heard an Irish person describe our country as Eire when speaking English and if we can manage I’m sure the British can.
When I hear an English person refer to England as ‘Sasana’ which is the Irish word for England, perhaps I will accept that the conversation is bilingual. Until such a time I know that along with most other Irish people I find the use of the word Eire as patronising, irritating and simply wrong.