Ok, I was just finishing a hefty writeup on this topic when my computer crashed, so please accept instead these edited highlights, upon which I will expand when time allows:
- Ireland and Britain have separate, but interlinked histories.
- The name Britain derives from Britannia, the Roman name for the island of Great Britain. The Romans called Ireland Hibernia, and never bothered to invade.
- Even during the 800 year period from the 12th to early 20th centuries when Ireland was largely ruled from England, it was still treated as a separate country.
- The idea that Ireland was part of the same nation as England, Scotland and Wales really only dates back as far as the Act of Union of 1801, which was resisted by the majority of ordinary Irish people.
- Although many in Ireland consider themselves British, notably Unionists in Northern Ireland, this does not mean that they consider all Irish people to be British. The Irish Constitution now guarantees the right of anybody born on the island of Ireland to be considered Irish, British or both.
- While the misconception that Ireland is a constituent part of some entity called Britain is understandable (given the islands' histories and the fact that both are part of the British Isles) and even convenient, it is nonetheless wrong.
- Watching British television, you can come across numerous examples of commentators labouring under this misapprehension. For example, it is common to hear Irish athletes being labelled British.
- People do this not because they are living in the past, or wish to deny the independence of the Republic of Ireland, but only because they misguidedly believe that it is acceptable usage.
- And no, I'm not talking about Northern Ireland athletes such as Darren Clarke, who are claimed by both Ireland and Britain, but the likes of Roy Keane, who couldn't pretend to be British if he tried.
iain's writeup below, while entirely accurate and apt, unwittingly (I presume) provides us with a cogent example of the phenomenon I was attempting to describe:
"if the Republic are still in the tournament after the other British nations have been knocked out"