The Irish flag is probably the most internationally recognized emblem of Ireland, the harp being the official emblem. Today I thought I might continue my series of posts on the symbols of Ireland with a brief exploration of the history and symbolism of our flag.
The Irish Flag is a tricolor boasting vertical stripes of green and orange, separated by white that symbolizes the hope for lasting peace on the island of Ireland.
But how many of us know how Ireland’s flag was chosen, where it was designed, why the colors were chosen and the history of when it was first flown?
Well, don’t worry. Today we are going to delve into a little bit of Irish flag history, and try to answer these flag inspired questions.
A French Design:
Believe it or not the Irish flag wasn’t designed by any Irish man, woman nor child. No! It was a group of French ladies who first came up with the idea. And of course, their own tricolor of red, white, and blue provided inspiration.
And how did all of this come about? Well, in 1848 Thomas Francis Meagher and William Smith O’Brien of the Young Ireland movement headed off to France at a time when Paris was in the throes of a mini revolution. While there, a group of French women presented them with a newly designed Irish flag, inspired by the revolutionary flag of France.
The tricolor of France was designed to represent the people of France . White is the traditional color of the House of Bourbon, the rulers of France before the French Revolution. The color white on the flag represents the King. The red and blue represents the city of Paris and the revolutionaries who wore blue and red ribbons on their hats.
The Irish tricolor presented to Smith O’Brien and friends was designed to represent Ireland’s green nationalist and orange unionist traditions, separated, yet joined by a white zone of peace.
I just think this symbolism is beautiful. Here’s hoping, that for centuries to come, the central white stripe will signify a lasting truce between the ‘orange’ and the ‘green’.
An Orange Not A Gold Stripe:
When I was a little girl in school in Dublin in the 1970’s we learned that our flag was “green, white, and gold.” I never learned about the true meaning of our flag, like children learn about the stars and stripes in America.
As a child of about 8, I remember thinking to myself, “it’s orange, not gold.” I asked one teacher why we said ‘gold’ not ‘orange’, to which she replied, “it’s a golden shade of orange.” So much for enlightenment.
And talk about undermining the beautiful egalitarian purpose of the flag with our ‘golden’ stripes. Back in those days Ireland was only a free nation for about 50 years, but now that 100 years have past since 1916 I’m so happy we are embracing the true symbolism of our flag.
The Irish Government now actively discourages the flying of flags with a lighter “golden shade of orange” as my teacher called it.
The Irish flag is an emblem of inclusion and reconciliation and represents the entitlement of every Irish person to be part of the Irish nation, regardless of ethnic origin, religion, or political conviction.
The First Flying Of The Flag:
Thomas Francis Meagher returned to Ireland from France with a beautiful, silk, Irish tricolor, which he raised publicly for the first time in his native city of Waterford on March 7th 1848.
On the 15th of April he presented the flag to the citizens of Ireland, saying …
“The white in the centre signifies a lasting truce
between the “orange” and the “green”
and I trust that beneath its folds,
the hands of the Irish Protestant and the Irish Catholic
may be clasped in generous and heroic brotherhood…”
~ Thomas Francis Meagher
Raised Once Again In 1916:
Meagher’s flag was carefully folded and put away, and stored with mothballs I presume, because it didn’t see the light of day for 68 years, until it was raised again over the GPO during the Easter Rising of 1916.
In 1922 it was adopted as the flag of the Irish Free State, and in 1937 it was ratified as our National flag in the Constitution of Ireland.
Rules For Flying The National Flag:
There are some special rules associated with the use of the Irish national flag, just like there are rules for how the American flag should be handled.
The main rule is that no other flag should be flown above the Irish flag. It’s also important that it does not touch the ground or become entangled with trees.
Slogans and logos should not be placed on the flag. Don’t tell our soccer supporters, they’re breaking all the flag rules with their funny slogans on our flag.
I don’t know if this rule about slogans applies to the American flag, especially because it is used so widely for clothing and other patriotic items.
I suppose the big Irish flag balloon in the picture above may not adhere exactly to the rules.
The Flag As Part Of the 1916 Commemoration:
As part of the 1916 commemorations, a program has been established to present a national flag to every school in Ireland together with a copy of the 1916 Proclamation, and a booklet detailing the protocols for respecting the flag.
On Proclamation Day, March 15th, 2016 schools all around Ireland will display their Irish flags.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Irish Flag check out the Irish government’s paper about the National Flag of Ireland.
And so, when you see an Irish flag billowing in the wind wherever it may be raised across the globe, I hope your heart stirs with a little bit of Irish pride, knowing that it is a beautiful and inclusive symbol, designed to represent all the people of Ireland.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)