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The Four Countries Of The United Kingdom

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The term United Kingdom describes the four countries of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, a sovereign state, is formed by all four of these nations. Rather than use the word countries, they are also referred to as constituent countries. When referring to sports, the four countries are also called home nations.

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Interestingly, while they are commonly called countries, they actually have no official titles at all. They are not formal subdivisions of the United Kingdom. However, they do have their own separate national governing bodies. The United Kingdom is the term used to describe international law and intergovernmental organizations that apply to all four countries. However, they are all ruled by Her Majesty’s Government in Westminster, England when other laws are concerned.

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The way the countries joined to become the United Kingdom is most interesting. The Act of Union joined Wales and England into one country in 1536. In 1707, Scotland and England were joined with Wales to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. In 1801, The Irish Parliament voted to join the union. Thus, the name was changed to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1922, most of the southern counties in Ireland chose independence and therefore, the name was changed to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

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Another term that often enters into this discussion is the British Isles. This is actually the name of the island where England, Scotland and Wales are located. Both the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom are located on the British Isles. There are several islands in the Isles and Britain and Ireland are separated by the Irish Sea.

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Great Britain, on the other hand, is an island lying off the western coast of Europe, comprising the main territory of the United Kingdom. Great Britain is the official name given to the two kingdoms of England and Scotland, and the principality of Wales. Therefore, the terms Great Britain and United Kingdom cannot be used interchangeably, because Great Britain does not include Northern Ireland.

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England is the largest of the four countries of the United Kingdom with a 2010 population of 51.6 million. This accounts for nearly 84% of the UK population. The land area of England is 130,395 square kilometers, occupying most of the southern two-thirds of Great Britain. London is not only the capital of England, but also serves as the government seat and capital of the United Kingdom. England’s legal system consists entirely of English law.

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Scotland is the second largest of the four with an area of 78,772 square kilometers and a population of 5.2 million. Edinburg is the capital of Scotland and Scots Law is the ruling legal system. Scotland has roughly 790 islands, but only 130 of them are inhabited. Scotland is known for many unique things. The fresh water lochs – or lakes – make up over 600 square miles of the country. Of course, it is in one of these lochs where the famous Loch Ness Monster is said to live. Scotland is known for the poetry and songs of Robert Burns, along with its medieval castles and clans.

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Wales is the third largest of the United Kingdom, with a population of 3.0 million people and an area of 13,843 square kilometers. The capital of Wales is Cardiff and Wales has not been politically independent since 1282, when it was conquered by King Edward I of England. Until 1999, Wales was ruled directly from London, when the first elections to the National Assembly of Wales were allowed. The Assembly, however, has limited domestic powers and cannot make law.

Very sparsely populated, Northern Ireland is the smallest of the four countries that make up the UK. With a total area of 13,843 square kilometers, the country has 1.8 million people. The capital is Belfast and the Northern Ireland Assembly was established as part of the Belfast Agreement.

All parts of the United Kingdom share a flag that shows the unity between them. The Union Flag, popularly known as the Union Jack, is the national flag of the United Kingdom. It is the British flag and is called the Union Flag because of the administrative union between all countries of the UK. It is comprised of the three individual flags of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Wales is not included on the flag because at the time, it was a principality, not a kingdom.

While those from other countries may not completely understand the history behind the United Kingdom or why there are four countries in one, it is helpful to at least understand that the names are not interchangeable. While the four parts are very closely related, their history and culture separates them as well. Understanding both the similarities and differences of the four countries helps one to have a better appreciation for them.

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