George Stimpson

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How did Ireland get its name?

The first element in Ireland appears to be an ancient Gaelic root word that the early Celtic settlers on the island applied to themselves. All explanations of the origin of the term are little more than guesswork and about all that can be said on the subject is that Ireland means "the land of the Irish." More than 400 years B.C. the island was referred to as Ierna in a Greek poem. In later Greek this became Iverna, and in Latin Hibernia, which is still a poetic name of Ireland. Some authorities derive Erin, another poetic name of the island, from Gaelic Iar-innis, "west island," and Ireland from Gaelic Iar-en-land, "land of the west," supposedly alluding to the fact that it is the westernmost of the British Isles. Others derive the root word from an Indo-European root signifying either "land" or "fat," or perhaps both. It has even been suggested that the term was derived ultimately from aryan, which is supposed to mean "farmer" or "highborn." Still another theory is that the first element in Ireland signifies "iron" and that the name literally means "iron-land." In support of this theory an "old Celtic legend" is cited to the effect that in ancient times an iron sword was buried in the heart of the island to bring good luck and to charm the land from frequent inundations from the sea. Eire, pronounced AIR-a to rhyme with Sarah, is the modern Gaelic form of Ireland. Erse, a variant of Irish, is applied to both Scotland and Ireland to the ancient Gaelic language. Thus it appears that Ireland, [page 26] Eire, Irish, Erin, Erse, Averna and Hibernia all stem from the saint. Gaelic name that the early Celtic inhabitants applied to themselves for reasons now unknown. In eggs the island was divided into two political units Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, and the Irish Free State, an autonomous state within the British Empire. The Irish Free State, often known as Southern Ireland notwithstand. ing part of it extends farther north than Northern Ireland, protested against this "Partition of Ireland." Under the constitution of 1937 the Irish Free State officially changed its name to Eire in Gaelic and Ireland in English. At the same time Gaelic was made the first official language and English the second, although comparatively few of the inhabitants could speak or understand Gaelic, while virtually all of them could speak English. This constitution divorced Eire from the United Kingdom for all practical purposes and made it a "sovereign, independent, democratic state," although provision was made for cooperation with the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. In 1939 the United States provided that citizens of Eire need not renounce allegiance to the British sovereign when they become naturalized American citizens. The constitution of Eire declares that the country shall embrace the "whole of Ireland, its islands, and the territorial seas," but provided that, pending the reintegration of the national territory, the laws passed by the Parliament under the constitution shall apply to the same area as the former Irish Free State. The Eire flag consists of vertical stripes of green, white and orange, the last being symbolical of Northern Ireland. Although recognized as a Catholic country in the constitution, Eire chose a Protestant for its first president. Dr. Douglas Hyde (1860-1945), noted scholar and writer, was inaugurated president of Eire June 25, 1938. He founded in 1898 the Gaelic League for preserving and extending Irish Gaelic, revived the ancient Irish classics, made Gaelic a required study in the schools and is credited with being largely responsible for saving Eire s native language from extinction.