The term ‘Great Britain’ is geographical expression and refers to the island off the coast of Western Europe. When many people say ‘Britain’, they usually mean the political unit, the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’. The United Kingdom consists of England, Scotland, the principality of Wales and the province of Northern Ireland. Some people mistakenly call this political unit ‘England’ and in so doing displease the Scots, the Welsh and the Northern Irish who do not want to be mistaken for being English. In fact, the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish have very strong national feelings themselves and some of them object to being ruled from London.
The head of the United Kingdom is Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second. However, her role is mainly ceremonial and she does not take part in the day-to-day running of the country. The real power lies in the hands of the Prime Minister, the government and parliament. The parliament consists of the democratically elected House of Commons, and the House of Lords. Anybody over the age of 21, who is not a lord (an aristocrat), can be elected to the House of Commons (the commoen people are called commoners). The House of Lords is not elected, but draws its members from the aristocracy; if you are the eldest son of a lord, you will inherit the title and membership of the House of Lords. The parliament sits in the House of Parliament in London.
England. England has the largest area and the English are the largest nationality within the United Kingdom. They are so numerous that many people often forget that there are other nationalities as well.
Wales. Wales is situated to the west of England. It is a principally, which means it a country ruled by a prince. The Welsh language is a Celtic language and it is quite different from English. Because the English are so powerful within the United Kingdom. English has become the main language used in Wales. Welsh, however, is taught in the school and continues to be used by some people as their mother tongue. The following are the names of two places in Wales that are written in the Welsh language: Troedyrhiw and Cwmrhydyceirw. The United Kingdom law was reformed in recent years to allow Welsh to become one of the official language in use in Wales. The other official language is English. This reform came after protests from Welsh-speaking people that they were being denied their rights regarding the Welsh language.
Scotland. Scotland is situated to the north of England. Some Scots in the mountainous western coast still speak Scots Gaelic, a Celtic language that used to be widely spoken in Scotland before Scotland came under English rule. Since it became part of the United Kingdom, some of the Scottish people have objected to and protested against the Union with England and Wales. A Nationalist Party and its demonstrations are proof that Scottish nationalism is still alive.
Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland shares the same island as the Republic of Ireland, but is politically a part of the United Kingdom. The people in Northern Ireland are divided between two nationalities – the one a Protestant people with British loyalties (called ‘Loyalists’), the other a Catholic people with republican Irish loyalties. The problem has been that the British Loyalties have tried to deny any power to the republicans and, as a result, the republicans have waged a war against the United Kingdom. The main republican force calls itself the Irish Republican Army (the IRA) and has organized a terrorist war against the British since the foundation of the Northern Irish state in 1921.
Ireland. The republic of Ireland was part of the British Empire until 1921. It gained its independence after fighting a guerrilla war against the British. Since that time relations between the two countries have been quite good. Indeed, many Irish people have, and still do, migrate to the United Kingdom to find work. As a result many people in the United Kingdom have family connections with Ireland. While English is the dominant language in Ireland, Irish Gaelic is still spoken in certain parts of the country.