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 Φīwerjō). 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. It is highly likely that explorers borrowed and modified this term. During his exploration of northwest Europe (circa 320 BCE), Pytheas of Massilia called the island Ierne (written Ἰέρνη). In his book Geographia (circa 150 CE), 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:
- Proto-Celtic *Φīwerjon (nominative singular Φīwerjō)
- Proto-Goidelic *Īweriū or *Īveriū
- Old Irish Ériu
- Modern Irish Éire
- Old Irish Ériu
- Proto-Goidelic *Īweriū or *Īveriū
Another etymology is from the Gaelic:
- ì (island) + thairr (west) + fónn (land), which together give ì-iar-fhónn, or "westland isle"
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 Ireland in the Irish language, and sometimes used in English, Erin is a common poetic name for Ireland in English, 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 [ˈeːɾʲɪɲ]), 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 Gaelic, where the word is spelled Nerin, with the initial n- is probably in origin 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
Article 4 of the Irish constitution adopted in 1937 provides that: "The name of the state is Éire, or, in the English language, Ireland." The Constitution's English-language preamble also described the population as "We, the people of Éire". The Republic of Ireland Act enacted in 1948 makes clear that the "Republic of Ireland" is a description and not a name of the state. Ireland (in English) and Éire (in Irish) remain its two official names. Article 8 states that both Irish and English are the official languages of the state with Irish designated as the "national" and "first official" language. "Éire" has to some extent passed out of everyday conversation and literature.
The name "Éire" has been used on Irish postage stamps since 1922; 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 Official Seal of the President of Ireland. 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.
From 1938 to 1962 the international plate on Irish cars was marked "EIR", short for Éire, until statutory instrument no. 269 of 1961 allowed "IRL". In 1922-1938 it was "SE", and from 1962 "IRL" has 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". "EIR" is also shown in other legislation such as the car insurance statutory instrument no. 383 of 1952 and no. 82 of 1958.
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.
Use of Eire in Britain
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 "Éire"). The 1938 Act was repealed in 1981, and in the meantime Eire became a rare but accepted spelling in British English, but has now passed out of general use.
Éire has also been incorporated into the names of Irish commercial and social entities, such as " eircom plc" (formerly "Telecom Éireann") and its former mobile phone network, and Eircell 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. According to the Dublin Companies Registration Office in 2008, over 500 company names incorporate the word Éire in some form.
Sometimes the incorporation is humorous or ironic, such as the pop group named "ScaryÉire", or Cormac Ó Gráda's "Éirvana" paper in 2007 on the Celtic Tiger economy.