Saturday, 30 August 2014

Development & History of Irish Flags Pt1 Early flags

1st in a new series of posts I hope to regularly post here. This one is about the flags and emblems possibly used in early Ireland.
References to flags (in the widest possible use of the term) in Ancient Ireland are scarce, and the few references that do exist are often so vague in detail, that what these flags looked like is mostly left to the imagination.  Often simply describing banners as "having over them, of red, and of yellow, and of green, and of all kinds of colours." or being "gold spangled" with very little if any more detail.
Many if not all references of the flags of Ancient Ireland are from the ancient poetic chronicles and sagas, which existed as much as to tell fantastically imaginative stories as record historical events, so the small amount of detail these have should be looked at slightly sceptically, but none the less cannot be overlooked.
The earliest Irish texts use the word "onchu" which modern linguists and scholars have translated to meaning both a banner or standard, and also meaning a beast. This could mean that the early "flags" were not made of cloth or fabric as we know today, but rather three dimensional objects on a pole or staff called Vexilloids.
Such objects were common throughout the ancient world, notably in the armies of Egypt, Greece and Rome. The famous Roman Eagle is perhaps the best example of this type of emblem.
Although like Scotland, Ireland (or Hibernia as the Romans called it) was never annexed into the Roman Empire, they certainly had influence, particularly in trade and or military, from their colony in Britain.  Roman historian Tacitus mentions that Agricola, while governor of Roman Britain (AD 78 - 84), considered conquering Ireland, believing it could be held with one legion plus auxiliaries and entertained an exiled Irish prince, thinking to use him as a pretext for a possible invasion of Ireland. Apparently this Chieften returned to conquer his homeland, perhaps bring this style of flag with him?Or perhaps the Romans themselves might have come to Ireland? The same historian mentions Agricola sailing across the Irish Sea and defeating "peoples unknown to Rome until then." He left fortifying the coast. Some historians believe this was the first of many military expeditions to the island. Perhaps this is how this type of standard was introduces to Ireland, an Iron Age fort at Drumaanagh about 20 km north of Dublin has yielded Roman artefacts in archaeological digs supporting this theory. Of course all this is little more than speculation.
There is evidence of this type of emblem still in use in the early medieval period in England.The Bayeux Tapestry which tells the story of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, depict King Harold's Anglo-Saxon troops fighting under a dragon standard, that resembles a child's balloon animal. Although it is hard to say for certain, it is almost certainly a 3D object, rather than a cloth flag like what the Normans are using in this period.  It is thought that the flag of Wessex may have its origins from this 3D standard.This suggests it may have been in use in other parts of the British Isles, including Gaelic Ireland.
This could also explain why the ancient Irish word for standard seems to be interchangeable with beast. 
At least some of these 'banners' or 'standards' may have been the more conventional cloth flags. Accounts of the Battle of Magh Rath describe's "streaming, floating consecrated, satin banner,"  Around which were "banners of all the chieftains of Erin." which were "satin on war poles." Of course these may simply have been streamers or tassels, from the 3D standards, which was normal.
 Accounts say that the flag of Congal was a gold lion on green Satin, suggesting it may have been made of cloth, in which case might have looked like this:
.  Could this be the first flag of Ireland? Probably not but one can only imagine
Whether the three dimensional figures were used, or cloth standards or both, one thing is for sure. This was the start of the long and sometimes controversial heritage of Vexillology, that is so rich in all the traditions of this island.

For more in this series see the links below or click the label History of Irish flags:

Also in the Series

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Irish County Flags

There has been an effort in recent years to recognise the county flags of Great Britain. Which has me thinking why no such idea seems to exist for Ireland. Of course the counties of the emerald isle do have their own flags that are used by the Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA):
There are various problems with these:
  1. Not everyone follows GAA sports (especially in Northern Ireland where for various reasons its seen as primarily Nationalist activity) 
  2. Common theames with colours, overlapping eg: Clare, Longford, Roscommon, Tipperary and Wicklow all have the same blue and gold colour scheme.
  3. The overwhelmingly unimaginative way coats of arms are simply used in the centre.
  4. Many of the coat of arms are either outdated, made up or simply wrong. eg Down is outdated and Dublin uses the city of Dublin coat of arms rather than the county arms, and Tyrone and Derry are made up team arms rather than county arms.

All these points and more make these flags inappropriate at least for use outside of GAA sport. So here are my proposals for county flags, some are original ideas(some better than others), others mealy heraldic banners of arms. So here are the county flags by province:


The coat of arms of County Galway feature a boat on a night time backdrop.
The flag design is based on this but I added more stars and arranged them into the big dipper formation that can be seen from the northern hemisphere.


The arms of county Leitrim feature a passaent lion and three "fountains" :

The flag is based on the coat of arms, with the chief of the arms making up the hoist end of the flag in an arrow shape. The blue and white waved stripes were inspired by the 'fountains'.


The arms of county Mayo feature four crosses and a ship, with a boarder of yew trees.

the flag feature three god and red bars with the county's yew tree in the centre.


The arms of county Roscommon feature a gold cross and other symbols such as a crown, rams head and  oak leaves:
The flag is clearly based on the arms keeping the dominant symbol of the cross.


The current arms used by Sligo County Council feature an open book with a Celtic cross and rose. A boars head and sea shells.
The flag is in the colours of the arms, with the sea shell being used as the emblem of the county, primarily because it was also used on the old county arms.


The coat of arms of county Carlow feature an ermine shield with a lion rampant and two peasant lions in the centre. 

the flag feature the two arms in the centre of the shield quartered, with an ermine boarder.


The arms of County Dublin feature a raven, possible reference to the area's Viking past;
I have two designs, first is like the flag of the city of Dublin, a green harp flag with the arms in the canton, the other a simple banner of arms:


The arms of county Kildare feature a cross of St Patrick (although probably a reference to the Fitzgerald Clan) with various symbols on and around the saltire. 

 The flag is simply a banner of arms.


Like that of Carlow the arms of Kilkenny feature an ermine shield, but with different arms in the centre:
The flag features the arms quartered with an ermine boarder. (see the pattern).


The arms of County Laois feature a red chevron black lion rampant and two 'fountains'.
Initially I made the flag with the two fountains in the fly, but decided to change it to the current design which i think is more aesthetically pleasing. 


The arms of county Longford feature  a castle of two towers counter changed.
The flag is a banner of arms.


The arms of County Louth feature two white ships on a black field and a white hand on a tan disk:
The flag features a Cross of St Patrick on a green and black field (representative of the arms) with the hand a disk in the centre and flanked by the two ships. 


The prime feature arms of County Meath is an "antique Crown" symbolising the ancient hill of Tara, where in Irish mythology many of the mythological "High Kings of Ireland" were crowned:

 The flag is a green, gold, blue tricolour design reflective of the colours in the coat of arms, (but darkened) with a crown in the centre. 


The arms of County Offaly are green, white and gold, with a lion rampant holding a cross and sprig bog rosemary:
based on the arms, the bog rosemary is in the canton while the lion's cross is in the centre.


The arms of County Westmeath feature the shield counter changed in red and blue saltire shape, with a gold ring in the centre. The wring is flanked by two lions, above and below it are a swan and a horned helmet. 
The flag features the ring from the arms with a cross of St Patrick going through it, attempting to make an elongated Celtic cross effect. 


The arms of County Wexford feature a lighthouse and a lion rampant armed with a pike, between two spear heads:
The two designs for Wexford are a simple banner of arms, or thanks to the design of the coat of arms a simple banner with the elements removed also works:


The arms of County Wicklow feature a church and a lion passant:
The first flag proposal is a simple banner of arms, the second is a St Patrick's Cross with the lion and church:


The coat of arms of County Clare is quite interesting, divided up into seven equal parts:
The flag is based on the coat of arms


County Cork has no arms but the seal features the Arms of Cork City as its central emblem.
The flag features a cross of St Patrick (the flag on the towers of the Cork City arms) with the towers on each side and a ship in the centre.


The arms of Kerry feature a green, white and gold shield, with a ship, crown and cross. 
The flag is a simple banner of arms.


The arms of County Limerick feature a cross patee on a green and white wavy field.
the flag is based on the arms but turned 90 degrees. 


The arms of County Tipperary is Ermine a fesse quarterly 1 and 4 Or a chief indented azure 2 and 3 gules three covered cups gold.
The flag follow the pattern for this type of flag.


The arms of County Waterford feature three Galleys on weaves.

The flag is based on the coat of arms.


The coat of arms of County Antrim feature two towers, the red hand of Ulster and a red lion rampant:
The flag proposals of my favourite county feature a banner of arms, or as Antrim is the Ulster-Scots heartland, as well as a prominent Irish speaking population, a combination of St Andrew's and Patrick's Crosses:


Historically County Armagh has never received a grant of Arms, but the Arms of Armagh City (a gold harp) were used, the design here appears on Northern Ireland bank notes:

 The flag is based on both coats of arms used to represent the county.


The arms of county Cavan feature two gold disks, a tower and a green lion rampant.
the flag is based on the coat of arms.


The coat of arms for the largest county feature a red cross on an ermine inner shield on green and gold waves:
The flag is also based on the coat of arms, and similar to one already in use.


The arms of County Down feature a variety of symbols:
The flag is based on that of Down District Council who administer about a third of the county including the county capital Downpatrick. 


I don't know about the rest of the island but every Ulster county has its own county tartan. I used this as inspiration for some of the flags.

The flag is a cross in the colours of the county tartan, I call it a tartan cross (perhaps something that might catch on, in Irish or Scottish vexillology) defaced with the county arms:


The coat of arms of County Londonderry feature a red hand of Ulster, and two wheat sheaves.
 The flag is a cross between the cross of the Burkes on the Province arms and the flag of the city of London as appears on the city of Derry arms. The bottom right has an oak leaf, symbolising the county's name.


The arms of County Monaghan feature a horse head, sword and shield and a bucket.

The flag is a banner of arms.


The coat of arms of County Tyrone feature a red hand of Ulster and a fleur-de-lys:
The flag is a 'tartan cross' defaced with the fleur-de-lys.