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True-colour satellite image of Ireland, known in Irish as Éire.

Éire (; Irish:  ( )) is Irish for "Ireland", the name of an island and a sovereign state.


The modern Irish Éire evolved from the Old Irish word Ériu, which was the name of a Gaelic goddess. Ériu is generally believed to have been the matron goddess of Ireland, a goddess of sovereignty, or simply a goddess of the land. The origin of Ériu has been traced to the Proto-Celtic reconstruction *Φīwerjon- (nominative singular Φīwerjū < Pre-Proto-Celtic -jō).[1] This suggests a descent from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction *piHwerjon-, likely related to the adjectival stem *piHwer- (cf. Sanskrit pīvan, pīvarī and pīvara meaning "fat, full, abounding"). This would suggest a meaning of "abundant land".

This Proto-Celtic form became Īweriū or Īveriū in Proto-Goidelic.[2] It is highly likely that explorers borrowed and modified this term. During his exploration of northwest Europe (circa 320 BC), Pytheas of Massilia called the island Ierne (written Ἰέρνη). In his book Geographia (circa 150 AD), Claudius Ptolemaeus called the island Iouernia (written Ἰουερνία). Based on these historical accounts, the Roman Empire called the island Hibernia.

Thus, the evolution of the word would follow as such:

A 19th century proposal, which does not follow modern standards of etymology, derives the name from Scottish Gaelic:

  • ì (island) + thairr (west) + fónn (land), which together give ì-iar-fhónn, or "westland isle"[3]

This is similar in meaning to the Norse name for Irish people, "west men", which subsequently gave its name to the Icelandic island of Vestmannaeyjar.

Difference between Éire and Erin

While Éire is simply the name for the island of Ireland in the Irish language, and sometimes used in English, Erin is a common poetic name for Ireland, as in Erin go bragh. The distinction between the two is one of the difference between cases of nouns in Irish. Éire is the nominative case, the case that (in the modern Gaelic languages) is used for nouns that are the subject of a sentence, i.e., the noun that is doing something as well as the direct object of a sentence. Erin derives from Éirinn (pronounced  ( )), the Irish dative case of Éire, which has replaced the nominative case in Déise Irish and some non-standard sub-dialects elsewhere, in Scottish Gaelic (where the usual word for Ireland is Èirinn) and Manx (a form of Gaelic), where the word is spelled "Nerin," with the initial n- probably representing a fossilisation of the preposition in/an "in" (cf. Irish in Éirinn, Scottish an Èirinn/ann an Èirinn "in Ireland"). The genitive case, Éireann, is used in the Gaelic forms of the titles of companies and institutions in Ireland e.g. Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail), Dáil Éireann (Irish Parliament) or Poblacht na hÉireann (The Republic of Ireland).

Éire as a state name

Éire as seen on the country name on current Irish postage stamps.
Obverse side of the Irish €1 coin.
Ireland uses Éire as the country name on both its postage stamps and coinage.

Article 4 of the Irish constitution adopted in 1937 states that Éire is the name of the state, or in the English language, Ireland.[4] The Constitution's English-language preamble also described the population as "We, the people of Éire". Despite the fact that Article 8 designated Irish as the "national" and "first official" language, Éire has to some extent passed out of everyday conversation and literature, and the state is referred to as Ireland or its equivalent in all other languages. The name "Éire" has been used on Irish postage stamps since 1922;[5] on all Irish coinage (including Irish euro coins); and together with "Ireland" on passports and other official state documents issued since 1937. "Éire" is used on the Seal of the President of Ireland.

The United Kingdom insisted on using only the name "Eire" and refused to accept the name "Ireland". It adopted the [6] The UK Government used what some Irish politicians stated were "sneering titles such as Eirish".[7] The UK Government would refer to "Eire Ministers" and the "Eireann Army" and generally avoid all reference to "Ireland" in connection with the state.

Before the 1937 Constitution, "Saorstát Éireann" (the Irish name of the Irish Free State) was generally used.

During the Emergency (as World War II was known), Irish ships had "EIRE" (and the Irish tricolour) painted large on their sides and deck, to identify them as neutrals.

Irish Oak torpedoed mid-Atlantic, oil by Kenneth King, showing "EIRE" prominently

In 1922–1938 the international plate on Irish cars was "SE". From 1938 to 1962 it was marked "EIR", short for Éire. In 1961 statutory instrument no. 269 allowed "IRL",[8] and by 1962 "IRL" had been adopted. Irish politician Bernard Commons TD suggested to the Dáil in 1950 that the government examine "the tourist identification plate bearing the letters EIR ... with a view to the adoption of identification letters more readily associated with this country by foreigners".[9] "EIR" is also shown in other legislation such as the car insurance statutory instrument no. 383 of 1952 and no. 82 of 1958.[10][11]

Under the 1947 Convention Irish-registered aircraft have carried a registration mark starting "EI" for Éire.

From January 2007, the Irish government nameplates at meetings of the European Union have borne both Éire and Ireland, following the adoption of Irish as a working language of the European Union.

Spelling Eire rather than Éire

When Irish-language texts were printed in Gaelic type, diacritics were retained on upper-case letters as for lower-case letters. From the later 1940s, in conjunction with other reforms, printing switched to the same "Roman type" used for most other Latin alphabet languages. There was some uncertainty about whether the síneadh fada (acute accent) should be written on upper-case letters. While it was preserved in all-Irish texts, it was often omitted when short fragments of Irish appeared alone or in English texts. Noel Davern asked in the Dáil in 1974 why Irish stamps had EIRE rather than ÉIRE. The reply from the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs was:[12]

The accent has been omitted on most Irish stamps issued over the past ten years in the interests of artistic balance and in accordance with a common practice in the printing of Irish in Roman script for display purposes. This is a prevailing typographical convention and is common to several European languages, including French.

The spelling Eire is generally deplored by Irish-speakers as worse than a misspelling, because eire is a separate word, meaning "a burden, load or encumbrance".[12][13] The minister in 1974 stated, "The word on the stamp ... does not mean 'eire' and it is not understood to mean 'eire' by anybody except Davern."[12] Stamps later reverted to a Gaelic type with the accent preserved.

In 1938 the British government provided in the Eire (Confirmation of Agreements) Act 1938 that British legislation could henceforth refer to the Irish Free State as "Eire" (but not as "Ireland"). The 1938 Act was repealed in 1981, and in 1996 a British journalist described Eire as "now an oddity rarely used, an out-of-date reference".[14]

Founded in 1937, the Eire Society of Boston is an influential Irish-American group.[15]

Other uses

Éire has also been incorporated into the names of Irish commercial and social entities, such as Eircom Group plc (formerly "Telecom Éireann") and its former mobile phone network, Eircell.[16] In 2006 the Irish electricity network was devolved to EirGrid. The company "BetEire Flow" (eFlow), named as a pun on "better", is a French consortium running the electronic tolling system at the West-Link bridge west of Dublin.[17] According to the Dublin Companies Registration Office in 2008, over 500 company names incorporate the word Éire in some form.[18]

Sometimes the incorporation is humorous or ironic, such as the Hip Hop group named "ScaryÉire",[19] or Cormac Ó Gráda's "Éirvana" paper in 2007 on the Celtic Tiger economy.[20]


  1. ^ Proto-Celtic—English lexicon
  2. ^ Mallory, J.P. and D.Q. Adams, ed. Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture. London: Fitzroy Dearborn Pub., 1997, p. 194
  3. ^ Forbes, John (1848), The Principles of Gaelic Grammar (2nd ed.), Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, p. 160, The Celtic words ì, inns, an island, will forma key to the etymology of the names of many insular and peninsular places in the world; as, Ile, Islay. Jura or Iura, Jura. Uist, Uist, Inchkeith, isle of Keith. Eireinn, or Eirionn, ì-iar-fhónn, wetland isle; Ireland. 
  4. ^ "Constitution of Ireland". Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Retrieved on 14 March 2007
  5. ^ Hamilton-Bowen, Roy (2009). Roy Hamilton-Bowen, ed. Hibernian Handbook and Catalogue of the Postage Stamps of Ireland. Rodgau, Germany: Rodgau Philatelic Service GmbH. 
  6. ^ 1948 Olympic team members honoured at Dublin ceremony
  7. ^ Dáil Éireann - Volume 96 - 11 April 1945 -Ceisteanna—Questions
  8. ^ SI 269 of 1961:"...the letters EIR are used to indicate the name of the State but the letters IRL may be substituted therefor."
  9. ^ "Dáil Éireann – Volume 119 - 22 March, 1950 – Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. – Motor Identification Letters". 22 March 1950. Retrieved 26 March 2010. 
  10. ^ "SI 82 of 1958 text". 31 December 1959. Retrieved 26 March 2010. 
  11. ^ "SI 383 of 1952". Retrieved 26 March 2010. 
  12. ^ a b c "Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Irish Postage Stamps.". Dáil debates 271 (8): 38 cc.1140–1. 28 March 1974. 
  13. ^ ; Clark Constable, Edinburgh (1982) ISBN 0-901771-68-6; seen online 20 Aug 2011An Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic LanguageMcBain A.,
  14. ^ Wilson, John (1996). Understanding journalism: a guide to issues. Routledge. p. 269.  
  15. ^ The Eire Society of Boston's history page on-line (seen on 25 August 2011)
  16. ^ "eircom homepage". 29 November 2006. Retrieved 26 March 2010. 
  17. ^ "National Roads Authority statement 2007". Retrieved 26 March 2010. 
  18. ^ "CRO search page". Retrieved 26 March 2010. 
  19. ^ Comment on ScaryÉire
  20. ^ "Some recent social changes are not easily linked with the Tiger per se" (PDF). Retrieved 26 March 2010. 


  • Noel Browne, Against the Tide
  • Constitution of Ireland (1937)
  • Stephen Collins, The Cosgrave Legacy
  • Tim Pat Coogan, De Valera (Hutchinson, 1993)
  • Brian Farrell, De Valera's Constitution and Ours
  • F.S.L. Lyons, Ireland since the Famine
  • David Gwynn Morgan, Constitutional Law of Ireland
  • Tim Murphy and Patrick Twomey (eds.) Ireland's Evolving Constitution: 1937–1997 Collected Essays (Hart, 1998) ISBN 1-901362-17-5
  • Alan J. Ward, The Irish Constitutional Tradition: Responsible Government and Modern Ireland 1782–1992 (Irish Academic Press, 1994) ISBN 0-7165-2528-3
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