The British Isles is made up of two separate nations: The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the UK) and the Republic of Ireland. These islands have a rugged coastline and a varied landscape of mountains, moorlands, marshes, and fertile, rolling farmland. In past centuries, Britain controlled a vast empire, and so English is now spoken around the world.
The city of London is home to the country’s banking and financial services. London is conveniently located halfway between the important financial centers of Tokyo and New York, and more currency changes hands in London each day than in any other city.
Ireland was named the “Emerald Isle” because of its lush, green hills. Pastures thrive in the mild, wet climate and provide grazing for breeding cattle and racehorses. Since joining the European Union in 1973, Ireland’s largely agricultural society has become a modern, technologically advanced economy based on industries such as finance, electronics, and tourism.
The UK is home to a multicultural population, where one in 20 people are from ethnic minorities. Since the 1950s, many people from the country’s former colonies in Africa, India, and the Caribbean have settled in the UK. Recent refugees from the world’s trouble spots have also brought with them their culture and traditions. This multiracial population is largely integrated into British life.
The countries of England, Scotland, and Wales make up the island known as Great Britain. Wales was united with England in 1536 and Scotland in 1707. All three nations have separate identities, customs, and traditions. English remains the main language, but Welsh is widely spoken in Wales, and Gaelic is spoken by some people in Scotland.
Over 23 million tourists visit the British Isles each year, attracted by their history and heritage. Visitors flock to the medieval cities of Oxford and Cambridge, the Roman city of Bath, Shakespeare’s home town of Stratford-upon-Avon, and the beautiful scenery of Ireland, Wales, and the Scottish Highlands. Royal palaces and traditions are also a major attraction.
After rich reserves of oil and natural gas were found under the North Sea in the 1960s, the energy industry boosted the Scottish economy by creating work on oil rigs and in refineries. With reserves now running low, employment is in decline. However, developing industries such as petrochemicals, electronics, and textiles are creating new jobs.
Welsh people celebrate their ancient culture in annual arts festivals called eisteddfods, where poets, dramatists, performers, and choirs compete with each other. The Welsh are renowned for their singing, and male-voice choirs can be found in factories, villages, and towns. The country’s national sport is rugby, and the Welsh team now plays in the Millennium Stadium, which opened in Cardiff in 1999.
Capital city: Dublin
Area: 27,135 sq miles (70,282 sq km)
Population: 3.9 million
Official languages: Irish, English
Major religion: Roman Catholic