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So what’s the difference between the United Kingdom and Great Britain?

Well, it’s the little nation of Northern Ireland. It’s part of the U.K. but not part of Great Britain, which refers only to England, Scotland and Wales.

Confused yet? Don’t worry, said Dr. Rod Thornton, a professor of politics at Nottingham University.

"Most people in Britain could not distinguish the difference either," Thornton said.

The official name of the political union between the four nations — the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland — helps clear things up a bit.

Still, the differences between the nations is a little tricky, Thornton said.

Take for example, the Olympics. The teams representing England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland fall under the moniker Great Britain. But because residents of Northern Ireland have the right to both Irish and British citizenship, an Olympic boxer from Northern Ireland could fight for either the U.K. or the Republic of Ireland, Thornton said.

Most members of the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland consider themselves British while members of the Catholic minority tend to think of themselves as Irish, he said.

"They (Northern Ireland’s Protestant majority) consider themselves British, even though they are not technically part of Britain, because there’s no such thing as United Kingdomish," he said. "They stress their Britishness to say what they’re not, i.e., they are not Irish."

In recent years, though, a sense of nationalism has swept the U.K. and has made more residents apt to distinguish themselves as English, Welsh or Scottish.

The sentiment is strongest in Scotland, Thornton said, "where there’s far more of a push for independence."


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