Friday, 26 February 2010

'Northern Ireland' or 'Northern Irish'

In recent years there has been a trend towards introducing the term 'Northern Irish' in a variety of situations to replace the traditional 'Northern Ireland'.  For example, some people refer to the Northern Irish economy, whereas traditionally we spoke about the Northern Ireland economy.

It seems to me that the traditional form is better because it is clear that it is referring to the country of Northern Ireland whereas Northern Irish is somewhat ambiguous.  Moreover, from what I can recall of English grammar, the use of Northern Ireland in this way is in fact as an 'attributive noun' ie a noun that modifies another noun and is optional - meaning that it can be removed without changing the grammar of the sentence.  Although I wait to be corrected by some 'experts' in grammar!

Since it is grammatically correct and avoids any possible ambiguity, I will therefore continue to listen to the Northern Ireland news, enjoy Northern Ireland culture, work as a Northern Ireland politican and hope that both the Northern Ireland weather and the Northern Ireland economy improve.


  1. I NEVER describe anything as "Northern Irish"! I prefer the terms Northern Ireland, Ulster or NI.

    I am aware of this trend and, though it's a matter of personal choice, I personally deplore it and cannot endorse it.

    The term alluded to shan't be found anywhere on my blog; by me, at least!

  2. If Northern Ireland is also Ulster..?

    Why not state that County Donegal is also in Ulster and Northern Ireland?

    As the County is the most Northernly part of Ireland and is part of Ulster.

  3. Down through the centuries the name Ulster has been applied in different ways. (1) The old northern province was originally one of five provinces in Ireland and was inhabited by the Ulaidh. (2) The old Earldom of Ulster was created in 1205 and covered what is now the modern counties of Antrim and Down. The first earl was the Anglo-Norman Hugh de Lacy and the current Earl of Ulster is Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester. (3) It was only in the 16th century, under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, that the province of Ulster was recognised as nine counties and so those who are so attached to the 'historic' nine county Ulster should know that it was indeed a creation of the English Crown. (4) There are also examples of the name being applied to a ten county area, including Louth. The extent of Ulster has therefore changed over time.
    The use of the name Ulster to apply to the six counties of Northern Ireland is not very different from using the name Ireland to apply to twenty-six counties of the Irish Republic.

  4. Nelson, thanks for your interesting response it is much appreciated.

    As Ulster is one of the ancient Irish provinces. Its name derives from the Irish language Cúige Uladh meaning "'fifth' of the Ulaidh", named for the ancient inhabitants of the region.

    The province's early story extends further back than written records and survives mainly in legends such as the Ulster Cycle. Which contradicts your assertion above that Ulster only came into being after the 16th century.

    In early medieval Ireland, An Uí Néill (The O'Neill) dynasty dominated Ulster from their base in Tír Eóghain (Eoghan's Country) — most of which forms modern County Tyrone. The Ó Domhnaill (O'Donnell) dynasty were Ulster's second most powerful clan from the early thirteenth-century through to the beginning of the seventeenth-century. The O'Donnells ruled over Tír Chonaill (most of modern County Donegal) in West Ulster.

    After the Norman invasion of Ireland in the twelfth century, the east of the province fell by conquest to Norman invaders. By the end of the 15th century Ulster remained the only Irish province completely outside of English control.

    In the 1600s Ulster was also the last redoubt of the traditional Gaelic way of life. However, following the defeat of the Irish Armies in the Nine Years War (1594-1603) and the Battle of Kinsale (1601), Elizabethian forces succeeded in subjugating Ulster and all of Ireland.

    The Gaelic leaders of Ulster, the O'Neills and O'Donnells, finding their power under English suzerainty limited, decamped en masse in 1607 (the Flight of the Earls) to Europe. Which allowed the English Crown to plant Ulster with more loyal English and Scottish planters, a process which began in earnest in 1610.

    Ever since the province and its citizens have suffered endless conflict.

  5. "The use of the name Ulster to apply to the six counties of Northern Ireland is not very different from using the name Ireland to apply to twenty-six counties of the Irish Republic"

    I can't believe an educated person could make such a statement! According to the Irish Constitution the name of the country is Ireland, not the Irish Republic. Would you call France the French Republic or Italy the Italian Republic?

    Please let me know where I can find an official designation of the name "Ulster" to be synonomous with Northern Ireland.

  6. Sheila - My point was that the name Ireland sometimes refers to the island of Ireland, which has 32 counties and sometimes to the 26 counties that comprise a country which, according to its constitution is known as Ireland or Eire. The word is therefore used with two different meanings.