|Enniskillen Castle, Co Fermanagh still flies the flag of St George|
In 1537 a Portuguese ship carrying a cargo of wine fir Wexford took shelter from a storm in Co Cork. she was captured by the local chieftain who stole most of the wine. Following a rescue mission the government garrison in Waterford returned, destroyed a village and "put up St George's Standard" on the castle.
In 1557 each of the baronies of County Dublin were ordered to provide themselves "a convenient and warlike ensign with a red cross of St George therein against the day of musters." These flags were of course to be provided at the baron's own expense.
|Example of Tudor ensign (not an original)|
similar flags may have been used by armies.
The flags of this period were rather large with relatively short poles, compared to todays standards. Not much more than a handgrip or two below the flag. Accounts tell that when a company or battalion were in action, the flag bearer would hold his flag at arms length from himself and twirl it over his head! Sounds like something you might see at an American high school sporting event, rather than an Irish battle field! Exactly how this was done, or the significance or meaning behind it is not clear. Standard and guidon bearers were well paid soldiers many getting around a shilling a day, and some up to three shillings.
|Depiction of an Irish battle, note the flag bearer appearing to twirl St George's Cross.|
The cross of St George also appears on many of the artistic maps of Ireland, particularly those from the late sixteenth/early seventeenth centuries. In many of these the cross is accompanied by the harp. however it is interesting to note that on these maps the cross of St George occupies the position of honor. In fact it may appear that the harp only compliments the cross like a regional sub-national symbol, while the cross is the national emblem. Sometimes both symbols are impaled on the same shield, like the arms of a married woman.
By the seventeenth Century the Cross of St George could be found flying over government garrisons, forts, towns and cities in all the four provinces of the island. Although Irish infantry colours in the 1600s grew into something distinctly different from English colours, the flag flown from garrisons was still St Georges Cross. It could be found on castles up and down the kingdom. It is even depicted on an artistic map flying over the ruins of the castle of Hugh O'Neill the former Earl of Tyrone, who led a nine year rebellion against Elizabeth I. Also depicted on this map is the stone chair which the chief of O'Neills were crowned. The symbolism clearly saying who was now in charge.
St George's Cross was probably used as a garrison flag until the Union Flag replaced it in 1707. One castle is known to still use it today though. The castle at Enniskillen in County Fermanagh flies the 'flag of St George almost daily'
|the founding of the Inniskings|
|Information board about the flag at Enniskillen Castle|
|Cap badge of Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers|
depicting Enniskillen castle
Another place that annually flys St Georges Cross is the garrison city of Londonderry. Here it is flown with other flags on the city walls on the anniversary of the beginning and end of the Siege of Derry 1688-89. All three flag are those used at the time of the siege:
|Colour of the Foot Guards Regiment of Ireland|
|Colour of Bulkeley's Irish Regiment in the French Army|
|Flag of the Commissioners of Irish Lights until 1970|
|former NI flag still in unofficial use|
Likewise the Orange Banner a historic flag popular with the Orange Order and loyalist marching bands all over Ireland and Scotland feature a St George Cross in the canton. Although said to have been carried before William III at the battle of the Boyne, there is no reference to it being used by an Irish or Ulster-Scots unit. Its not just Northern flags as already seen by the Irish Lights flags the cross of St George in Ireland also has a nautical history, and a red cross still features in the flag flown from Lifeboat stations not only in the United Kingdom but also in the Republic of Ireland.
Although it may not have been a symbol unique to the island, St George's Cross could arguably be said to be the first national flag of Ireland, in the sense it was the first flag to be used by an authority for good or ill over the whole island. It is certainly a flag that has influenced other flags in Ireland directly and indirectly, and if one is to fully understand the development of flags in Ireland cannot overlook it.