Have you ever heard of the British Isles? When I heard that I was going to do a report on these isles, I cringed because I thought it was a waste of my time to write an essay about something someone has already written about. But to help me understand the assignment, my mom explained that because I was taking the time to research all these things, other people would not have to. This advice helped to set a more clear goal and to trust my heart would lead me to something worthwhile to research. So, without further ado, the history and geography of the British Isles.
First of all, where are the British Isles? The British Isles are a group of islands off the west coast of Europe. The islands consist of England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and over six thousand other small isles. Combined, these islands are the home to almost 72 million people. At first, the British monarchy ruled as head of state over all of the countries. But in 1949, the enactment of the Republic of Ireland Act made it so that Ireland was officially ruled by its own government. All the other islands are still under British rule.
The climate of the British Isles is mild, moist, and has a ton of rainfall. The weather does not have many extremes, but it can get cold. The temperature is oceanic, which brings significant amounts of moisture. Most of the islands have beautiful, majestic cliffs that tower over the sea.
The Isles do have all four seasons, but the weather is a bit different from what you might be used to in the United States. In the spring, the countryside is blooming with vibrant colors and the breeze blows the sweetest fragrance. In the summer, it can get as hot as 90 degrees. The sun shines down on the green land and no matter how hot it gets, people love to visit the beautiful landscapes. It is also a great time to visit the sea cliffs and beaches. In the fall, the leaves on the trees change beautifully into an array of colors like red, yellow, orange, and brown. It is beautiful to drive through the country, even if it is rainy or cold. In the wintertime, the temperature can drop below freezing, but it does not very often. The weather is cold, wet, and windy. It sometimes snows, but most of the time it just rains.
Scotland is one of the countries of the British Isles. It shares the same landmass or island, as England and Wales. Did you know that Scotland itself has more than 900 offshore islands? Not every island is inhabited and some aren’t even visit-able. The islands are separated into different “groups”. The names of them are: the Inner and Outer Hebrides, the Orkney Islands, and the Shetland Islands. The most visited city in Scotland is Glasgow, which is not on an island, but is on Scotland’s mainland. The people who live in the city of Glasgow are referred to as Glaswegians (gla-SWEE-jnz)or Weegies. (WEE-geez)
Did you know that Shetland ponies actually come from the Shetland Islands in Scotland? The people believe that the Shetland ponies come from northern regions of Europe when the landmasses and the ice field were one. They are the smallest breed of horse and are known to be about 102 cm tall (about 3ft). In 1850 the ponies were taken to England to be used as workhorses in the coal mines. At about the same time, they were introduced to the United States where they were found to be a more refined pony, suitable for children to mount. Shetlands can live for a long time and they don’t need a lot of maintenance and care. They are very gentle and they behave very well if they have been properly trained.
People always think that redheads are from Ireland, but did you know that not all redheads are Irish? Scotland has one of the highest amounts of redheads in the world! It has been scientifically proven that people with red hair are able to produce more Vitamin D, which helps them thrive in places with fewer amounts of sunlight, like the countries of the British Isles. That is why you find so many redheads in the Northern European countries. But one thing red-heads need to consider is that the temperature in Ireland is on average 64 degrees in the summer months. That’s cold!
Ireland, also known as The Emerald Isles, is a beautiful green country separated from Great Britain by the English Channel, the Irish Sea, and St. George’s Channel. Ireland is the British Isles’s second-largest island and it is Europe’s 3 largest country. One of the many legends and myths of the Irish is the legend of the leprechauns. Leprechauns are believed to be a diminutive supernatural being, classed by some as a type of fairy. They are usually told to look like tiny men with beards and a green hat. The stories of the leprechauns always talk about the mischief they create and the jokes they play. Irish believe that if they are lucky enough to find and capture a leprechaun, they can barter his freedom for his treasure or grant them three wishes! The name “leprechaun” came from the Irish term “leath bhrogan” which means “shoemaker.”
Have you ever seen the symbol of the shamrock? These little leaves are actually one of Ireland’s symbols. Why? The shamrock is a symbol of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. St. Patrick was not born in Ireland. He was kidnapped at the age of 16 and taken from his home in Britain by Irish pirates. After 6 years of slavery, St. Patrick went to France where he learned about Christianity. That is where he studied the gospel and then was made a priest. Later, he was told by the Lord to go back to Ireland and teach the gospel of Christ to the Irish. Why does the shamrock symbolize St. Patrick? Legends tell us that St. Patrick used the 3 leafed shamrocks to teach the Irish about the Holy Trinity.
You have probably heard of England’s beautiful city London. London is the capital of England as well as England’s the most populated city . The temperatures vary in the city from as low as 40 degrees to as high as 74 degrees. London has mild winters and temperate summers. In the winter time it doesn’t snow as much as it rains. It only snows 10 days out of the year. Fascinatingly enough, the average amount of rain fall in London is 22.976 inches a year. It rains for about 106 days out of the 365 days in a year.
In England, there is a beautiful prehistoric monument called Stonehenge. Stonehenge is a ring of roughly 100 standing stones each around 13 feet high, 7 feet wide, and weigh about 25 tons. They stand in Wiltshire England, just two miles west of Amesbury, which is know for the historic monument. Archaeologists believe that it took Neolithic builders over 1,500 years to build. They also believe that Stonehenge was constructed from 3000 BC to 2000 BC. Stonehenge is regarded as one of Englands most famous landmarks and it is used as a British cultural icon. Because of this, over a million people visit Stonehenge each year and they are fascinated by the way the stones stand without much support.
Did you know that England’s flag represents the cross of St. George? St George is a “Patron Saint” of England, even though he was actually born in Turkey. A “Patron Saint” is someone who, in times of hardship, is called to save the country from their enemies. Sadly, most of the stories about St. George are fictitious. Some believe that St. George hadn’t even stepped foot onto English soil. Even if the stories are not true, they are still very entertaining. For example, one of the stories tells about when St. George killed a dragon on the flat-topped Dragon Hill in Uffington, Berkshire. It is said that no grass grows where the dragon’s blood trickled down! His life is now celebrated on April 23 every year by millions of English men and women.
England is known for its authors. One of them was a man named William Shakespeare. Shakespeare was an English playwright, poet, and actor. He is regarded as one of the greatest writers in all the world. He is often called “England’s national poet” and “Bard of Avon” which means a poet. Shakespeare was the one who wrote the famous story of “Romeo and Juliet”, the forbidden lovers. He also wrote many other plays, poems, and comedies.
Wales is the small country connected to the big island of England. Wales is called “Cymru” in Welsh. The flag of Wales consists of a red dragon on a green and white background. The dragon is the national animal of Wales. The people believe that the dragon symbolizes power and authority. They believe in the prophecy of Myrddin (or Merlin). The prophecy tells of a long fight between the red and white dragons. The fight symbolized the history of the struggles that the Welsh (red dragon) and the English (white dragon) had with one another.
Wales is known for rugby. In the dictionary the definition of Rugby is: a team game played with an oval ball that may be kicked, carried, and passed from hand to hand. Points are scored by grounding the ball behind the opponents’ goal line (thereby scoring a try) or by kicking it between the two posts and over the crossbar of the opponents’ goal. Actually, the first international game of rugby was played between Wales and England. Those two countries have had a rivalry ever since.
Because Wales is a wetter country than England, the best time to visit Wales would be in the hot, drier summer months of July and August. The scenery of Wales includes: rich farming lands, the sandy Cardigan Bay and the beautiful rugged coastline. The coastline is a pretty place to stop at, but it is a little dangerous, considering the cliffs that the country is know for.
One of the things you can see is the, Castell Dinas Brân, which is a medieval castle on a hilltop site above the town of Llangollen in Denbighshire, Wales. It was probably built in the 1260’s by Gruffydd Maelor II who was a prince of Powys Fadog. Dinas Brân has been translated as the Crow’s Fortress or Fortress of Brân. The rugged hilltop was the ideal spot to build the castle.
Now let’s take a couple of minutes to talk about the earliest history of the British Isles.
Some of the first rulers of Britain were tribes of people called the Celts. Across Europe, the Roman army, then lead by Aulus Plautius, was taking control of many countries. The next place they hit was Britain. In AD43, the Roman army landed on the beaches of Kent and immediately started to invade the land. The Celt tribes had a decision to make. Were they going to fight for their land or lose it to the Romans and live under their control? They chose to fight.
One of the leaders of the Celts was Queen Boudica of the Iceni tribe. She built up an army and started to burn down and destroy Roman towns. That made the Romans angry. They decided to face Boudica’s army of 200,000 warriors. Even though the Romans were outnumbered, they were better trained and were skilled in the art of war. Sadly, the Romans won.
In AD410 the last of the Roman soldiers left the British Isles. The next people to come were the Anglo-Saxons. The Anglo-Saxon people were a mix of multiple different tribes from Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands. The biggest tribes names were: the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes. They named the land they settled in “Angle-land” which came to be known as England.
At first, the Anglo-Saxons shared all the land. But after wars and arguments, they split up into 5 different tribes. Their names were: the Northumbria, the Mercia, the Wessex, the Kent, and the East Anglia. By splitting into their different tribes, they helped create the border of what we now call England today.
The Angelo-Saxons believed in spirits, ghosts, fairies, multiple gods, and other magical creators. They also believed in curses and many legends. Because of those legends, the Angelo-Saxons created the words ghost and werewolf.
Around AD787, came tribes from Scandinavia. You might have heard of them. They were the Vikings. These people would raid kingdoms and would overthrow them. They took control of many Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. Over time, the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons made a peace agreement, but notwithstanding the agreement, wars and fighting continued for many years. To help with the fighting, the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons divided up Britain. The Anglo-Saxons lived in the west and the Vikings lived in the east, which is now known as Danelaw.
There were many kings in the Anglo-Saxon /Viking time, but one of the most known was, “Alfred the Great” or “The King of the English”. Alfred was made king in AD871 when his older brother died. Education was important to Alfred. He had books translated from Latin into English, so the people could read them. He also did his best to protect his kingdom against the Vikings attacks. Alfred died in AD899 and was buried in his capital city of Winchester.
Now let’s jump a couple of centuries, after the Middle Ages, the Tutors and Stuarts, and the Gregorian reign, into the time of Queen Victoria. We call this time “The Victorian Era.” This era lasted for a period of 63 years, from 1837 to 1901. Did you know that Queen Victoria was just 18 years old when she was made the queen of England? Queen Victoria got married at the age of 21, to her first cousin, Prince Albert of Sade-Coburg and Gotha. Because she was the Queen, she had to propose to him, not the other way around. They lived and reigned 17 years together, until Prince Albert’s death in 1861. They had nine children together.
During Victoria’s time as Queen, many amazing things happened. For example, the first electric telegraph was sent and the first modern railroad line was opened and had started running. Charles Dickens wrote and published his book “The Christmas Carol.” In Ireland, their potato crops began to rot which caused the four-year Irish Potato Famine, also know as The Great Hunger. In 1876, India, which had been under British Rule since 1858, declared Queen Victoria as empress under direction of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.
In 1901, the Victorian Era came to an end with Queen Victoria’s death on January 22nd. Her eldest son, Edward VII was then made the king of England.
To this day, there are still kings and queens ruling the people in the British Isles. Even if they are not all ruled by the same person, and they sometimes have conflict, the British Isles stand together and try to be one. We can learn from them, that no matter what, if we stand together, we can get through even the hardest time.
So, writing this 2,500 word, or 4 pages, informative essay wasn’t as bad as (the temper tantrum I threw before doing it) I thought. I actually had fun studying about the British Isles. I loved learning that red-heads come from the northern European countries because if you didn’t know, I’m a red-head. Don’t mess with me, because I’m defiantly Scottish. I also really enjoyed learning more about my favorite era, the Victorian Era. Queen Victoria is defiantly one of my favorite history “heroes.” I’m excited for the day when I get to visit the British Isles because now that I know more, I can see things from a different perspective. I hope that you learned at least one new thing about the British Isles that has inspired you. Thanks for reading my essay!