Monday, 6 October 2014

Development & History of Irish Flags Pt5 Rebels, Invaders & Civil Wars

The late 1500s and 1600s was a turbulent time in Ireland, which saw huge political, cultural and religious upheaval throughout the island. It is a fascinating period of history, which produced some fascinating flags.

16th Century rebellions

During the 16th century the crown broke from Rome and the Roman Catholic Faith, to found the Anglican Church. However many of the people in Ireland including the Anglo-Irish-Normans (sometimes called the old English in Ireland) maintained the religion of their forefathers. The spirit of the age and many local struggles, feuds and squabbles were quickly dropped as people tried "stand up for the papacy." This saw a new type of flag in Ireland, the counter reformation flag, the first time (and sadly not the last) in Ireland when religion and sectarianism became a call to arms. 
My interpretation of Fitzmaurice's flag
In 1579 the cousin of the Earl of Desmond, James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald landed in Co Kerry, to begin a war of religion. He brought with him a flag that was supposedly blessed by the Pope. This flag bore a crucifix and the Latin motto:In omni tribulatione et angustia spes nostra Jesu et Maria (In all tribulation and difficulty our hope is Jesus and Mary) It was also said to have a red dragon on it, which was from Fitzmaurice's coat of arms, although this is disputed, as is the colours of the flag. 
It is not known what happened to the flag when the rebellion was put down, as it was carried off before it could be captured by the authorities, and has disappeared forever. 
When Hugh O'Neill the Earl of Tyrone started the Nine Years War in 1593, he organised and trained his forces into a militia, using more modern (for the time) European, equipment (like artillery & muskets) tactics and organisation. His militia was organised into companies each with its own flag or colour where possible. The flags of O'Neill's gaelic militia are mentioned in historic sources but are not depicted or described, but they may look like this:
This flag is depicted as being carried by rebel forces at the Battle of Ballyshannon Co Donegal in 1593. These forces were allies of O'Neill and commanded by the chieftain Maguire. There are few references to the rebel flags of this time, and the few that are often simply state something like the "Banner was displayed on the battlements" or that a certain individual was "wounded in the head by the Irish colour bearer" so we know flags were used but not really much else in what they might have looked like. 

Foreign Invaders

Many of the rebellions and uprisings in the 1500 and early 1600s were supported and encouraged, both directly and indirectly by foreign powers, who by fueling trouble in Ireland hoped to distract the English from their own interests. Spain in particular did this, sometimes with small military expeditions to assist the rebels. Various groups have done this since the Spanish including the French and Americans, and climaxing with the Germans in WW1.  But back to the flags brought by the military expeditions to Ireland in the 16th and 17 Centuries.
Arms of Gregory XIII
In 1580 a small force of Spaniards and Italians landed in Co Kerry to assist the rebels in the second Desmond rebellion. They brought with them a papal banner and at least four other flags. It appears to have been a square flag, with a streamer like object in the fly. The field appears to show the arms of Pope Gregory XIII, English accounts of the events that took place say "they took down their four ensigns and the Pope's banner, and put up two flags, one white and one black, as a prearranged signal for help to the Earl and John of Desmond."
The other flags of the invaders appear to have born the coats of arms of the expeditions senior officers. One was identified as arms of the Italian House of Sforza. Along with arms and funding the Spanish crown provided at least one flag to the O'Neill rebels. In 1601 the Spanish landed in Kinsale with the objective of joining forces with the Earl of Tyrone (O'Neill). An advanced force of an estimated two hundred men met up with O'Neill days before the main battle. They were thought to have five or six colours. One source puts this combined force with twenty flags, of which nine both Irish and Spanish are thought to have been captured. English writer Fynes Moryson tells us that the captured flags particularly the Spanish ones were displayed to the Spaniards in Kinsale.
Spanish Cross of Burgundy
One type of flag that probably was at Kinsale is of particular interest. One depiction of the battle shows the Spanish-rebel force under a red saltire on white field. What this flag actually is, is a source of huge debate. Some say it is the St Patrick's Saltire, others say it is the Cross of Burgundy, but that the barbs are too small to make out. St Patrick's Saltire is a different topic for another time, but it is almost certain the Spaniards would have brought the Burgundy flag with them.

War of the Three Kingdoms

Confederation of Kilkenny 

The Confederation of Kilkenny also known as the Irish Catholic Confederation emerged during the Irish Confederate War as a result of the 1641 rebellion. it was led by Catholic nobles and clergy, with the aim of reversing the English and Scottish Plantations, but declaring allegiance to Charles I, and later Charles II. Initially in conflict with most of the factions in Ireland, however when the English Civil War and Scottish Covenanter Wars spilled into Ireland in the War of the Three Kingdoms, the Confederacy found itself on the Royalist side.
replica Confederate flag, reenactment
of 1642 battle of Glenmaquin Co Donegal
If one looks at the Wikipedia page about the confederacy, they will see that the flag given there is a green harp flag. There is however only one reference to this sort of flag that I could find, that is related to the Confederacy. That is the flag of Roe O'Neill (great grandson to the above mentioned Hugh O'Neill)  who served as a Spanish soldier after following his family into exile. He returned with a ship of military supplies in 1642 to take part in the conflict in Ireland. His ship the St Francis sailed to France presumably to trade for more arms, and was said to fly "the Irish harp in a green field, in a flag" from her mainmast. If true probably the first use of such a flag. However the main symbol that appears to have been used by the Confederates in flags is the cross potent, not the harp (although that is in their seal, which the Wikis have got right), a lesson not to take Wikipedia at face value. It appears in depictions of flags in some declarations. There are records of unit colours among the papers of the Irish Franciscan friar, Fr Luke Wadding in Rome. Although it is unclear if these flags were carried in battle, or even if they were more than a proposal, it is very likely that ones like them were.
Each flag was double sided, (some units of the Irish Defence Forces still use double sided colours) on all flags one side depicted one uniform feature. This is described as a green field, on which was "as Irish Cross" probably a cross potent,(which seems to have been a native Irish symbol of the period) in a red circle. Above the circle was the royal cypher of Charles I, the letters 'CR' under a crown. Below the circle was the motto "Vivat Rex Carolus" (Long Live King Charles). A flag not unlike this description (but not double sided) is carried by Confederate side at the annual Battle of Glenmaquin reenactment by the East Donegal Ulster-Scots Association. The reverse side of the flag was unique to its unit, they are described as:

  • A white field flecked with red, symbolising blood stains, bearing an image of the crucifiction of Christ. The motto "Aequum est pro Christ mori" (It is fitting to die for Christ) 
  • A green field bearing an image of Jesus carrying his cross. The motto "Patrior ut Vincam" (I suffered that I may conquer).
  • A yellow field bearing an image of the resurrection of Christ from the tomb. The motto "Exsurgat Deus et dissipentur  inimici ejus" (Let God arise and his enemies scattered).
  • A red field inscribed with the name of Christ (presumably the IHS symbol). The motto "In nomine Jesu omne genu flectetur"(At the name of Jesus every knee shall bend). 
  • A blue field with an image of St Mary carrying the infant Jesus, standing on a serpent head. The motto "solvit vincula Deus (God hath(or has) broken our chains). 
  • A crimson field, with the device of an armoured arm, holding a lance, protruding from a cloud. The motto "Fortitudo mea desuper" (My strength from above)
  • A silver field depicting a man in armour, burning a book representing "Calvin's Institutions" with a torch. The motto "Sic pereant Haereses" (So may heresies perish). 
  • A purple field depicting Christ and the fathers of Limbus. The motto "Victor redit de barathro" (The conqueror returns from the pit). 
The religious symbolism evident and a sad reflection on the sectarian call to arms in this island, that still haunts us, Confederates are also described as marching under a saltire, other sources describe their colours having a red saltire on a taffy(yellow) field in the canton. Links to St Patrick's Cross have been suggested but the symbolism or origin is unknown. Using theses sources I drew up some possible interpretations of Confederate colours, (above right). Also of interest is this short film I found yesterday, by a period acting group. It depicts three confederate soldiers, one a colour bearer, who escaped after the fall of Drogheda to the Roundheads (Parliamentarians). Of interest is their unit colour. They have based their flag on one historical source and it is not too dissimilar to my designs.

Irish Parliamentarians 

The Roundheads of Cromwell's New Model Army invaded Ireland in 1649 after their victory in English Civil War. Their objective was to defeat what was an unlikely and fragile Royalist alliance of English Cavaliers, Catholic Confederates and Scots Covenanters. While the English New Model Army flags might be outside the scope of this series, it is worth mentioning they seem to bear distinct similarities with the Confederate ones! One series of unit flags were double sided with a distinct uniform device on one side. This was the arms of  Parliament's Commonwealth, two shields bearing St George's Cross and a harp side by side, with the motto "Floreat Res Publica" (May the Commonwealth Flourish) this was on a blue field with a laurel wreath. The reverse sides show various scenes and figures, with religious or party slogans as mottoes. One shows a man in armour with a sword in one hand, and wreath or possibly a crown of thorns in the other, standing on a bishop's mitre, not unlike the Confederate flag depicting a soldier burning a book representing Calvinism. Another the colours of Major General Langhorne's regiment depicts an armoured arm protruding from a cloud and carrying a sword. An almost identical symbol to one of the proposed Confederate flags! Apparently this was common in Parliamentarian flags, this symbol travelled to America and was used by the Minute Men militias in their flags. Such a flag was carried by Bedford Minute Men Company at the battle of Lexington in 1775. 
Before 1649 however their were Protestant (or Anglican is probably a better word) Parliamentarian garrisons in Ireland, notably in Ulster and Munster. Londonderry was held for parliament and besieged by a Scots/Laggan army loyal to the King in 1649, before being relived by an unlikely alliance of Gaelic warriors and Roundhead troops. This has become known as the forgotten siege of Derry (as it was overshadowed by the great siege of 1689).
Interestingly the harp appears to have been the favoured symbol of Irish parliamentarians. A flag of a Captain Trenchard's company was blue, with a harp with broken strings. The motto "Fides Temerato Coegit (Compelled by loyalty to an outraged cause). The Earl of Inchiquins Protestant army from Munster had a series of nine red harp flags, forming a uniformed set of unit flags. 
The first had a single harp, with St George's Cross in the canton. The second did not have the cross but yellow waves like a flame coming out of the top left corner. A relatively common feature of the period. The third bore two harps, the fourth bore three harp, fifth bore four harps and so on, All had the motto "Concordes resonem da Deus alme sonos" (Grant kindly God that I (the harp) may give fourth harmonious notes). The harps may have had a beast head pillar (forerunner to the maid of Erin) and were as far as we know the only red harp flags.

Scottish and Ulster-Scots flags

Dunluce Castle Seal
Scottish settlement in Ulster pre-dates the British plantations of the 17th Century. Dunluce Castle the seat of the Earl of Antrim was occupied by the MacDonnell Clan. Recently a seal was discovered in an archaeological dig, in the lost town of Dunluce (the Irish version of Atlantis) which was never rebuilt after it was burned in the massacres of 1641. The seal depicts the castle with flags flying, although if there was any detail on the flags it has been eroded by time, soil and sand. This is interesting as Randel MacDonnell 1st Earl of Antrim, complained before his death in 1636 that he couldn't get "yellow and Crimson taffeta" to make a pair of colours, and because of this his forces in Dunluce looked like "a parcel of Irish Kern." (Kerns were Irish light infantry in medieval Ireland, although in this period it was used to describe Gaelic bandits).
Laggan Army flag, re-enactment of
1642 Battle of Glenmaquin Co Donegal 
During the atrocities of 1641 a militia known as the Laggan Army or Lagganers was formed from primarily the Scottish (although some English and Protestant Irish, were also in the ranks) settlements in North West Ulster, to defend their families and homes. This was quite an effective force and defeated the Confederates (with whom they would later be allied with!) at the battle of Glenmaquin in 1642. This is still re-enacted by the East Donegal Ulster-Scots Agency very year. Their flag for the Lagganers is "a red flag, the colour of blood, with a St Andrews Cross in the canton, denoting the Scottish origin of most of the Lagganers." Although I couldn't find any specific reference to flags of the Laggan army it is possible such a flag might have been used. Scottish red ensign were carried by land forces as well as at sea, Lord Levin's Lifeguard of Foot, used one. 
In 1642 a Scottish army invaded Ireland as a direct response to what happened in 1641. It operated out of Carrickfergus and founded the first formal Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, many of its soldiers settled in Ulster. We know that this force carried unit colours, possibly the same as (or at least similar to) the Scottish Covenant flags they carried in mainland Great Britain.  These were predominantly satires, Blue was the main colour favoured by the Lowlanders but other colours were also used. During the conflict with the confederacy some of their colours were captured, 30 or 40 infantry colours (both Scots and English/Anglo-Irish) and the great standard of horse were lost at the battle of Benburb 1646. Most of these were torn up or burned but some were sent to Rome were they were hung up as spoils of victory in St Peters. 
The flags of the Scottish Solemn League and Covenant, the national Protestant movement in Scotland often bore inscriptions like "For Religion, Covenant, King and Kingdomes" or "For Christ And His Truths" It is Likely that the Scottish Covenant forces in Ireland also used these flags.
Examples of Scottish Covenant flags, similar flags may have been used in Ireland

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

Also in the Series

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