Wednesday, March 14, 2018


The name of the State is Éire, or, in the English language, Ireland.
And so it was with great pleasure that I learned of the outcome of our persistence in joining the Common Market under our proper name IRELAND. We had been called many things in our day and Ireland was only one of them.

I was very conscious of this little victory, particularly in my dealings with the EEC, and it always gave me a lift to see Ireland, tout court, on our country nameplate at meetings.

I eventually got the opportunity to make my own contribution during the negotiations setting up the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in 1990.

We had been specified among the signatories in the draft agreement as Republic of Ireland. I explained that that was the soccer team and the entry was quickly changed. The hard lifting had already been done by those before me.

However, something came up in conversation recently that pulled me up short. The 1948 Republic of Ireland Act seemed to have a different story:

It is hereby declared that the description of the State shall be the Republic of Ireland.
So was Republic of Ireland kosher all along and did I not have a leg to stand on, other than precedent and a bit of brass neck.

And what is the difference between Ireland being the name of the State and Republic of Ireland being its legally mandated description. The 1948 act says shall and not may.

This was really very confusing so I threw the problem at some of my learned friends. No, not lawyers, just learned.

Felix Larkin, drawing on his nuanced understanding of our nation's modern history and his intimate involvement with the postal service, came up with an explanation which at least exposed the underlying motivation for the "change".
Can I add another layer of confusion? Commemorative stamps issued in 1949 and 1950 carried the legend "Poblacht na hÉireann" and, with one exception, they also carried the legend "Republic of Ireland". Before 1949 it was "Éire", as it has been since 1952 (no commemorative stamp was issued in 1951). I assume this was simply the First Inter-party Government trying to rub Dev's nose in it - in other words, that they had secured the Republic in the 1948 Act, and he hadn't.

That all made perfect sense, up to a point. They couldn't change the name without a constitutional referendum so they tried a bit of sleight of hand with a piece of legislation.

The idea of description was introduced, so our name was still Ireland but you now had to refer to, or call?, us Republic of Ireland.

As Felix said, we were briefly described on our stamps as Republic of Ireland, but we soon returned to Ireland in English, though the stamps only use the Irish language version Éire.

However, we are apparently still operating under confusing and opposing legal/constitutional instructions. I wonder will we have to wait till 2048 for it to be sorted out.

When I say we I'm using it as a sort of royal plural denoting the nation. I won't be around then but some of yous might.

Just in case I've inadvertently added to your confusion, you might like to recap with this extract from Wikipedia which I subsequently came across.

On stamps, the name of the state has always been written in Irish and rarely also written in English. The overprints were stamped first Rialtas Sealadach na hÉireann ("Provisional Government of Ireland") and later Saorstát Éireann ("Irish Free State"). Subsequent stamps nearly all used the name Éire ("Ireland"), even though this was not the name of the state until the 1937 Constitution took effect. The exceptions were issued in 1949 and 1950, and used POBLAĊT NA hÉIREANN or Poblacht na h-Éireann ("Republic of Ireland"). This phrase is the official description of the state specified in the Republic of Ireland Act, which came into force in April 1949; the state's name was not changed by the Act. Fianna Fáil defeated the outgoing government in the 1951 election and abandoned the use of the description, reverting to the name on stamps and elsewhere. Originally, Éire was written in Gaelic type; from 1952 to 1979, many stamps had the name of the state in Roman type, usually in all caps, and often written EIRE rather than ÉIRE, omitting the síneadh fada accent over the initial 'E'. In 1981 the Department of Posts and Telegraphs recommended the inclusion of the word "Ireland" along with "Éire" on stamps but the Department of the Taoiseach vetoed the idea on the basis it could cause "constitutional and political repercussions" and that "the change could be unwelcome."

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