QUOTE(Paul @ Jun 9 2008, 06:51 AM)
I am no expert on this subject and should probably stay out of it - but my thinking would have been the term British Isles is a more geographical one than political and so would include Ireland.
You are correct. The British Isles is the geographical term for the whole archipelago, (although many Irish do object to use of the term, often preferring "Britain and Ireland" or "These Islands" due to political history) and including the islands of Great Britain, Ireland, Orkney, Shetland, the Hebrides (both Inner and Outer), Man, Anglesey, the Scilly Isles, and many other much smaller islands (of which there many be several thousand). Strictly speaking, the Channel Islands are geographically not part of the archipelago of the British Isles, but are usually counted as such.
The British Isles contain two sovereign states; the Republic of Ireland (often shortened to Ireland) and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (often shortened to UK). There are also the crown dependencies of Man (in the Irish sea), Jersey and Guernsey (in the Channel Islands) which are not in the UK*, but are taken to be part of the British Isles.
The island of Great Britain is the largest in the group, and divided between the countries of England, Wales and Scotland. This is often the confusing bit for many people, as the UK is described as a country comprised of four countries (the three listed above, plus NI).
Orkney and Shetland (never referred to as the Orkneys and the Shetlands, despite being archipelagos themselves) are jointly known as the Northern Isles and are part of Scotland. Similarly, the Outer Hebrides (Na h-Eileanan Siar
, also known as the Western Isles) and the Inner Hebrides (Na h-Eileanan a-staigh
) are also part of Scotland.
*If you want to get in even more of a muddle, the UK also includes overseas territories like Gibraltar, Akrotiri and Dhekelia, the Falkland Islands and a number of others.