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Ireland OKs Use of 'Eire' as Nation's Name

Ireland is entering a new Eire.

The Cabinet of Prime Minister Bertie Ahern agreed Tuesday to use the Republic of Ireland's Gaelic name (pronounced AIR-uh) during European Union summits.

Starting next year, the country's name plate during conferences will be "Eire Ireland." Currently it says simply "Ireland."

Last year the EU recognized Gaelic as the 21st official working language in the 25-nation bloc. Ireland had lobbied for the change, which requires EU documents to be translated into Gaelic and translators to be on standby at key EU events.

That holds even though most members of the Irish government don't speak Gaelic with ease, English being their first language.

While about 40 percent of Ireland's 4.1 million residents identify themselves as fluent in Gaelic on census forms, only about 55,000 identify themselves as native Gaelic speakers.

But "Eire" has been widely recognized for decades. The name is used on Irish passports, coins and stamps and on the presidential seal.

The 1937 constitution declares bluntly: "The name of the state is Eire, or, in the English language, Ireland."

Eire remained the preferred name for the country until 1949, when the parliament passed a law declaring the country a republic, breaking Ireland's final symbolic ties to Britain. Thereafter the country, though still constitutionally Eire, became universally known as the Republic of Ireland.