Éire () is the Irish name for the island of Ireland and of the state of the same name.
Éire is the nominative
form in modern Irish
of the name for the goddess called Ériu
in Old Irish
, a mythical
figure who helped the Gaels
conquer Ireland as described in the Book of Invasions
. Comparison with ancient transcriptions of the name of the island of Ireland, and forms known from other Celtic languages, yields the Common Celtic reconstruction *φīwerjō, stem *φīwerjon-. The Celtic form implies Proto-Indo-European
*piHwerjon-, likely related to the adjectival stem *piHwer- "fat" (cf. Sanskrit
pīvan, f. pīvarī and by-form pīvara, "fat, full, abounding") hence meaning "fat land" or "land of abundance".
From the later Q-Celtic form *īwerjon-, in which the original p of the stem had been dropped (cf. *pater > athair "father"), was borrowed the Welsh Iwerddon "Ireland". From a similar or somewhat later form were also borrowed Greek Ἰέρνη I[w]ernē and Ἰουερνία Iouernia; the latter form was converted into Latin Hibernia. Old Irish Ériu is directly descended from *φīwerjō > Q-Celtic *īweriū. From it was borrowed Old English Íras "men of Ireland", whence Íraland "land of the Íras, Ireland".
Older explanations for the etymology of Éire, no longer considered linguistically plausible, are:
- Derived from a root word Ara (also spelt Arya, Aire or Aera) meaning noble, as in 'Aryan'. Among the very many poetic names for the island of Ireland was Mág Ealga meaning plain of the nobles.
- Ar or Ir in the Irish language also meant land, and according to old manuscripts was the name given to the lands of the mythological Celtic tribe of Gael Glas who travelled from Scythia across Greece and eventually to Ireland.
The dative form Éirinn is anglicised as Erin, which is occasionally used as a poetic name for Ireland in English, and has also become a common feminine name in English.
Difference between Éire and Erin
While Éire is simply the name for Ireland in the Irish language, and sometimes used in the English, Erin is a common poetic name for Ireland in English. The distinction between the two is one of the difference between cases of nouns in Irish. Éire is the nominative case, the case that is used for nouns that are the subject of a sentence i.e. the noun that is doing something. Erin is a Hiberno-English derivative of Éirinn, the Irish dative case of Éire i.e. a noun to which something is given, as in the phrase Éirinn Go Brách ((To) Ireland for Ever). It is very common to also see Éireann used in the titles of companies and institutions in Ireland e.g. Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail), Dáil Éireann (Irish Parliament) or Poblacht na hÉireann (The Republic of Ireland). This is Éire in its genitive case, when it marks possession of another noun or being the most important noun in a multi-noun combination.
Éire as a state name
Article 4 of the Irish constitution adopted in 1937 provides that: "The name of the state is Éire, or, in the English language, Ireland. The Constitution's English-language preamble also described the population as "We, the people of Éire". The Republic of Ireland Act enacted in 1948 makes clear that the "Republic of Ireland" is a description and not a name of the state. Ireland (in English) and Éire (in Irish) remain its two official names. Article 8 states that both Irish and English are the official languages of the state with Irish designated as the "national" and "first official" language. From the 1948 Act it passed out of everyday conversation and literature; a late example being "The Government of Eire" in the 1951 Dublin Historical Record.
The name "Éire" has been used on Irish postage stamps since 1922; on all Irish coinage (including Irish euro coins); and together with "Ireland" on passports and other official state documents issued since 1937. "Éire" is used on the Official Seal of the President of Ireland. Before the 1937 Constitution, "Saorstát Éireann" (the Irish translation of Irish Free State), was generally used.
From 1938 to 1962 the international plate on Irish cars was marked "EIR", short for Éire. In 1922-1938 it was "SE", and from 1962 "IRL" has been adopted. Irish politician, Bernard Commons TD suggested to the Dáil in 1950 that the government examine "the tourist identification plate bearing the letters EIR" "with a view to the adoption of identification letters more readily associated with this country by foreigners". The amendment was effected under the Road Traffic Act 1961.
Under the 1947 Convention Irish-registered aircraft have carried a registration mark starting "EI" for Éire.
From January 2007, the Irish government nameplates at meetings of the European Union have borne both Éire and Ireland, following the adoption of Irish as a working language of the European Union.
Confusion for non-Irish speakers
The name Éire
should normally be used only when speaking the Irish language, as it is simply the translation of Ireland
- It is rarely used by the state's citizens and other residents when speaking or writing in English.
- Conversely, the flexibility of colloquial English is such that "Éire" can be misused by English-speakers who are intending to be polite and exact. They see it on signs and public documents and assume that, in a country where Irish is a compulsory subject in school, and where Irish is described as the "first official language" in the Irish constitution, "Éire" must be the preferred version.
- In some European countries, however, for example Italy, it is also common to refer to the Republic of Ireland as «EIRE», to distinguish it from Northern Ireland. It can be found as Eire on Italian atlases.
Éire has also been incorporated into the names of Irish commercial and social entities, such as "eircom plc
" (formerly "Telecom Éireann") and the pop group ScaryÉire. In 2006 the Irish electricity network was devolved to EirGrid
. The company "BetEire Flow" (eFlow
), named as a pun
on "better", is a French
consortium running the electronic tolling system at the West-Link
bridge west of Dublin. According to the Dublin Companies Registration Office
in 2008, over 500 company names incorporate the word Éire in some form.
Bibliography and sources
- Noel Browne, Against the Tide
- Bunreacht na hÉireann (1937 Irish Constitution)
- Stephen Collins, The Cosgrave Legacy
- Tim Pat Coogan, De Valera (Hutchinson, 1993)
- Brian Farrell, De Valera's Constitution and Ours
- F.S.L. Lyons, Ireland since the Famine
- David Gwynn Morgan, Constitutional Law of Ireland
- Tim Murphy and Patrick Twomey (eds.) Ireland's Evolving Constitution: 1937–1997 Collected Essays (Hart, 1998) ISBN 1901362175
- Alan J. Ward, The Irish Constitutional Tradition: Responsible Government and Modern Ireland 1782–1992 (Irish Academic Press, 1994) ISBN 07165252283