Scotland - Population: 5,222,100, Land mass (sq miles) 30,414. Northern Ireland - Population: 1,789,000, Land mass (sq miles) 5,345. Wales - Population: 3,006,400, Land mass (sq miles) 8,022. England - Population: 51,809,700, Land mass (sq miles) 50,346.

Who, what, where?

The British Isles is made up of all the places you see on the map above: England, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Wales and Scotland. However, this is not a single country, but rather a geographic reference. Although it is a geographical term, it is often mistakenly used in place of the United Kingdom or Great Britain.

The United Kingdom is all of the countries in the map above except the Republic of Ireland. The United Kingdom is the official name of the state we live in and which the Queen is the head of and the Prime Minister runs.

Great Britain is the name given to just the mainland, not including any parts of Ireland. Great Britain is therefore made up of England, Scotland and Wales.

Events and competitions

It is the United Kingdom that enters the Eurovision Song Contest. This means that all of the nations which make up the United Kingdom join together and enter as one. In the Olympics, Team GB represents Great Britain and also Northern Ireland.

However, in football, each country represents itself. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have their own football team and there is no such thing as a United Kingdom or Great Britain team. Some people would, however, like to see one in the future.


If you talked to people in the United Kingdom, many would tell you that – although it says 'British' on their passport – they regard themselves as 'English', or 'Scottish' or 'Welsh', yet others would prefer to refer to themselves as ‘British’.

The Good Friday Agreement allows people in Northern Ireland to be British, Irish or both.

How it all looked in the past

Before 1066, England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland were all separate states ruled by different kings. England conquered Wales in 1277 and the two countries legally joined together in 1536. In 1603, Scotland and England were united under one ruler ‒ James VI of Scotland became James I of England. The two countries kept their own parliaments. They were joined politically in 1707.

Ireland was added in 1800 to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The 26 counties of the Irish Republic broke free in 1921. In 1997, Scotland and Wales gained a degree of self-government - called devolution. Even Northern Ireland – where some unionists were so determined to stay within the United Kingdom that they fought to do so – began a rolling process towards devolution after 1998.