Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Why Is Ireland Called 'The Emerald Isle'?

A lustrous emerald
Although they're found all over the world, no emeralds (so far) have been discovered in Ireland
Photo by Michael Summers


Noun & adjective. Also emeraude obsolete. Middle English.
[Old French e(s)meraud, ultimately via Latin from Greek (s)maragdos, via Prakrit from Semitic
(compare with Hebrew bāreqeṯ, from bāraq 'flash, sparkle'). ]

The connection between Ireland and emeralds is quite obvious to anyone who has ever visited - Ireland is exceptionally beautiful and green, as are the gemstones. That Ireland is known as the Emerald Isle, however, as opposed to some other viridescent adjective, is thanks to a rather remarkable Irishman named William Drennan, who referred to it as such in his 1794 poem When Erin First Rose:

Alas! for poor Erin that some are still seen,
Who would dye the grass red from their hatred to green;
Yet, oh! when you're up, and they're down, let them live,
Then yield them that mercy which they would not give.
Arm of Erin, be strong! but be gentle as brave;
And uplifted to strike, be still ready to save;
Let no feeling of vengeance presume to defile
The cause of, or men of, the Emerald Isle.

Born in Belfast in 1754, Drennan was a physician, poet and political activist, being one of the founding members of the Society of United Irishmen, an organisation that sought parliamentary reform and greater independence from Britain. What's particularly interesting about Drennan, however, is that although he was vociferously pro-independence, he was an advocate of separation through peaceful means, a conviction that can be seen clearly in his poem (you can read the full text of it by clicking here). As time went on, however, the Society of United Irishmen began to embrace more violent methods of revolution, causing Drennan to distance himself from it. On Drennan's death in 1820, his coffin was carried as per his wishes by three Catholics and three Protestants, a final symbolic gesture to demonstrate his desire for peace and reconciliation.

Green fields and blue sea in Ireland
Dingle, Ireland
(photo by Ollierb)

Do please leave your greenest comments in the box below.


  1. Ireland is a giant ruby. Err, emerald.

    1. That was possibly the most confusing cartoon I've ever read. And I don't know why. But it was. It really was.

  2. Emerald is one of the Beryl family of minerals, Beryllium Aluminium silicate to be precise. My mineral book says "transparent gem quality beryl exhibits bright green (emerald), yellow (heliodor), blue (aquamarine) and pink (morganite) colouring". The really green emeralds have additional chromium atoms in their structure to enhance that colouration.
    Apparently there are places in Northern Ireland that are famous for good quality Beryl and there is no reason that Southern Ireland doesn't have any. As you say, they just haven't been discovered yet.

    Places they have been found are on the sunken Spanish Armada galleons down the west coast of Southern Ireland. The Spaniards were very fond of emeralds in their jewellery in the 16th and 17th centuries. Mostly they were shipped over from South America. One galleon wrecked off the coast of Florida seemed to be carrying mainly emeralds and they are now scattered all over the sea floor in that area.

    1. I looked up a list of countries where emeralds have been discovered, and Ireland wasn't one of them. I had no idea that they had been found in N.Ireland. Perhaps they are here after all.