Sunday, 17 May 2015

Development & History of Irish Flags Pt14: The Irish Tricolour

The current flag of the Republic of Ireland rose to prominence in the Anglo-Irish conflict between 1919-1922, which resulted in the establishment of the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland. This flag was popular with those fighting the Royal Irish Constabulary and its Reserve and Auxiliary organizations due to its use in the 1916 Easter Rising, and after the conflict was adopted as the national flag of the new Free State. This has led many to think that it is a relatively recent flag, compared to the harp flags or St Patrick's Saltire, but its origins are older and it dates at least to the 19th Century.  The colours of the flag are sometimes misunderstood. the flag has three vertical bars og green, white and orange, however the orange has in the past been mistaken for, and in some cases changed to gold, which to a certain extent still happens today.

The Orange & The Green

The two irreconcilable colours, that symbol the two tribes of people and two ideas of Ireland. When did orange mix with green is not fully known, but it probably was not in the uprising of 1798. In fact quite the opposite the rebels are known to have had a deep hatred of the colour. Orange was/is the colour of Protestantism and the Orange Order, a Protestant fraternity which commemorates King William III (Prince of Orange) and opposed the United Irishmen and its Republican ideas, and is loyal to the Crown. Green on the other hand was the colour of republicanism, revolution and an independant  gaelic nation.  A great way to see this is the songs of the time. The rebels sang  songs like the croppy boy: which includes the lyrics
"I forsook the pink and the orange too,
But I did forsake them and did the deny
And I'll wear the green, like a croppy Boy"
While those who opposed the rebels sang songs like The Protestant Boys a variant of Lillibullero, which often spoke of the "old colours which flew o'er many a fray" and contained the lyrics:
"The Protestant Boys for liberty drew
and showed with orange their banner of blue...
...And  Derry well
whose might can tell
and first in the ranks did orange display"
The Orange Standard of loyalism and the
green harp flag of nationalism
The thought of the two colours together is still thought of with a certain degree of scepticism, as one modern pub song the Orange and the Greens states:
"It is the biggest mix up that you have ever seen 
My father he was orange, and my mother she was green"
While the latter song is light hearted and poking fun at the two groups, it underlines that the union of the two colours and symbolism was groundbreaking by 19th Century standards and probably ahead of its time. The first known use of the colours green, white and orange are not on a flag but a cockade (a decorative badge historically worn in military headgear, notably the bicorn hats and shakos), The cockade in question was mentioned in a letter from Amelia Eleanor Hamilton to the Marquess of Westmeath in 1830, which was to prepare an Irish address about the the new revolution in France. Miss Hamilton said the cockade had been worn in her father's hat and would like to see worn throughout the island, implying the colour scheme was unusual. The Cockade in question was orange, green and white, with the following meaning:
Orange, Green and White cockade
worn by Miss Hamilton's father
"Hereafter may the orange remind us only of a patriot king, a necessary revolution and a bill of rights; the green of that heart-cheering hue which a residing aristocracy can easily confer on our uncultivated bogs and mountains; and the white of a virtuous and peaceful people's fairly elected representatives in parliament."
Presumably Miss Hamilton's father was a Protestant nationalist (Irish politics was only beginning to become aligned to religious denomination at this time) and as such the intended symbolism of the colours in the cockade seem to reflect his identity or his idea of Irishness (Orange=Protestantism, green=land itself, white=peace and self government); rather than a union of two groups of people who share an island. However Miss Hamilton attached new meaning to it, the first lines of her letter began "May Orange and Green no longer be see, Destained with the blood of our island", this is clearly a reference to the colours symbolising two sides.

Early Flags

The three colours mentioned above gained popularity as political colours, and were used in all sorts of party  ribbons, badges and bunting. When Daniel O'Conner, the man credited with Catholic emancipation entered Dublin in December 1830 at the start of his own career as a Member of Parliament, he was greeted by a display of ribbons and badges of such colours. He himself is said to have worn a medal, the ribbon of which was half green and half orange, which ties in with his statement "I come to Ireland to court the Orangemen. Oh, it opens a new ear... to behold the orange and the green." It is this event in which the earliest known mention orange, white and green flags occurs, they were waved by the crowd and were probably specially made for the occasion.
he was also met by the banners (similar to Fraternity and Trade Union Banners)of the trade guilds of Dublin, The Carpet Weavers banner is of particular interest. It was a large tricoloured banner of green, white and orange. On the green bar was a harp and crown, on the orange two clasped hands, one in an orange glove the other in green; above which was a dove dropping an olive branch. On the white was the slogan "Repeal of the Union."
It is often said that the Irish tricolour was heavily influenced by that of France, This could well be the case, France had just restored its monarchy, however unlike before it was a constitutional monarchy, and the new king, Louis Philippe, restored the French tricolour as the national flag, which other kings had abolished due to its republican origins and symbolism, and it remains the flag of France to this day. This would have been big news in northern Europe and it is possible that the Irish mimicked it. The story of it being gifted by the people of France to the Irish however is unlikely.
This period was a time of land crises in Ireland and many tenant farmers and labourers began to challenge how land was divided up in Ireland and how it was managed. At one such meeting near Portadown in Co Armagh, a flag "striped with orange and green alternatively" flew briefly before it was torn down and torn up by a Mr J Brown who then persuaded the meeting to disperse peacefully.
The tricoloured flag started to appear in more and more political settings, however this politicised the flag, which as politics had by now mainly taken up its religious look, made the flag a victim of the circumstances which created it. However there was still hope this be reversed as a J.P Grey the son of an Ulster bishop remarked, he hoped that
"the Protestants of Ireland, should inflamed by generous nationality, march in the ranks of their Catholic countrymen, unfurl the standard of orange and green and....display their hereditary valour in fields that would eclipse the glories of Derry and the Boyne"

A National Banner?

It was in 1848 however that the tricolour gained popularity, in that year the King of France was again forced to abdicate by revolution and France once again became a republic. It became a common site to see the French tricolour of blue, white and red flying in Ireland as a symbol of solidarity. 
In that year a party from the Young Irelanders movement traveled to France to gain support for their cause, however the only support they could count on was that of the Irish diaspora living in France, who presented to the group a tricolour of orange, white and green, on a pole topped by a pikehead. Members of the group included Meagher and John Mitchel, who spoke of the flag. 
Meagher spoke of the symbolism of white representing a lasting peace between the orange and green, He then added
"If this flag be destined to fan the flames of war, let England behold once more upon the white centre, the red hand that struck her down from the hills of Ulster..."
   The inclusion of the red hand of Ulster, was not on the flag and appears to be a proposal of his own invention. It would appear odd today to place provincial symbols on national emblems, however as Ireland was a constituent nation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the lines separating national and provincial symbols were blurred, to the point they were all looked at as Irish symbols. But of all the comments about the flag the one of most interest came from Mitchel who said in his speech:
"My friends, I hope to see that flag one day waving as our national banner..."
This is quite an extraordinary statement, not only is he saying that it should be more than a flag for rallies or special occasions, but the national flag, and as early as 1848! This is all the more extraordinary when many believed unquestionably that the green harp flag was the undisputed emblem of Ireland since ancient times (although as we have seen it only dates to the 1640s). What happened to the flag?
In 1852 a senior British Police Officer was inspecting the Dublin Metropolitan Police stores in Dublin Castle. He noted two confiscated flags, one was "the flag given by certain Paris ladies of easy political virtue to Mr Meagher and captured in the summer of 1848," and the other was black with "the harp of Ireland in white" and "the words Famine and Pestilence" on the reverse. The tricoloured flag was indeed confiscated by Dublin Police during a riot and quoted at trials that followed, and is certainly the one mentioned, as to the sinister black flag its origins and details of how it came into the possession of the authorities are unknown. 
There is also reports of tricolours including  colours of orange, green and white, being used in the run up to the generously named 1848 rising (or rather skirmish with police).

Changes in Colour

In the mid 19th Century an organisation known as the Land League was gaining popularity, it's purpose was to stand for the rights of Tenants. It put forward candidates for election in 1850, notably the Rev David Bell. /During this campaign a new flag came out, it was also a tricolour, Its colours were green for Roman Catholics, Orange for Anglicans and Blue for Presbyterians. This flag is interesting as it doesn't "tar the Protestants with the same brush" but rather separates them into their two largest denominations. 
This appears to have been a one off flag and it soon disappeared.
The significance of the orange in the flag was also soon lost, The rise of Fenianism wanted little to do with the Orange Tration and Ulster was staunchly opposed to Home Rule. As a result of such use of the flag declined drastically, although there are examples of green, white and orange colours still being used in Nationalism, however these were primarily in sashes, cockades and political badges rather than flags.
In Fact the only way the flag seems to have survived is by replacing the orange with yellow or gold. This has resulted into much confusion to this day, with the flag popularly referred to as green, white and gold!
This would of course destroy the symbolism of the flag, and it has been suggested that the colour sense of some Victorians was defective, and that the shades yellow and orange were interchangeable.
There are also depictions of flags being used by the followers of Parnell that is yellow, white and green. This is in the form of a horizontal tricolour, rather than a vertical one.
Although it might have practically disappeared into obscurity the tricolour survived because it was revolutionary and new, where as other flags such as the green harp flag were old, popular with the moderate mainstream of nationalism and was even beginning to be accepted to a certain extent to the establishment. This is perhaps why a tricolour was chosen to drape the coffin James Stephens a leading figure of the Fenian movement in 1901, despite the fact the Fenians had no real connection with the tricolour, at least not when Stephens was alive. The Fenian flags as we have seen were the green flags and sunbursts. As theses flags became more familiar they probably lost their radical meaning which is why a tricolour (still a rather unknown flag in Ireland) was used. There aren't any real references to the use of tricolour flags by the Irish Volunteer Force, although in 1916 the Volunteers who hadn't volunteered for military service in WW1, were known to wear tricoloured arm bands. As the organization split on the issue of military service it could be said that these men wore the bands to identify themselves from their former comrades now in the Army.

1916 Easter Rising

The tricolour was favoured by the rebels of 1916 probably because to them it was different. They wanted as they saw it, a new age and a new symbol, and for them the tricolour was that flag. Weather they new or understood the original symbolism is debateable, It is probably fair to assume that they didn't, however the symbolism of its colours was irrelevant because of the reasons already mentioned. The tricolour was not the only flag to be flown in rebellion in the rising of 1916, however there were at least four tricolour flags, at least one of which was horizontal rather than vertical. The Tricolour was flown from the General Post Office (GPO) which was the headquarters of the rebellion. One of the rebels Sean T O'Kelly (who would later become Irish President) recalled that the rebel leader Connolly had:
The Tricolour flown from the GPO in the rising
"instructed me to go to a certain room in Liberty Hall. In a press which he described I would find a large brown paper parcel two flags, one tricolour and the other a green flag with a gold harp in the middle..."
The problem with this is that the green flag is not mentioned in any of the eye witness accounts or photographs, It is possible that the flags could have been replaced, the President's quote was made years after the event, and it is possible his memory was playing him false.
The tricolour was not the only flag hoisted in rebellion in 1916, there was at least one green harp flag. A green harp flag flown from an empty building, and served to draw the fire of a government gunboat.
Government troops with the captured "Irish Republic" flag
In this pic the flag is purposely being held upside down. 
The most famous non tricolour flag associated with the rising was the Irish Republic flag, this was a green flag with the words "Irish Republic" on it in white and edged in orange or yellow. This flag flew from the GPO, alongside the tricolour. This flag was kept in the Imperial War Museum in London, It was gifted to the Irish Government in 1966, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the rising. It is now in the safekeeping of the National Museum of Ireland.
Original Starry Plough flag of the 1916 rising
The other flag used during the rising was the starry plough of the socialist Irish Citizen Army. This was a green flag with a yellow plough, on which were the stars of the Big Dipper constellation.blue, red and green Variants are still common with Republicans particularly by the Irish Republican Socialist Party. It is often compared to the flag of the American State of Alaska, however it is more than a decade older.

Independence, Civil War & a National Flag

The use of the tricolour in the Easter Rising marked it out as the flag if rebellion. The gorilla nature of the conflict in Ireland following WW1 ment that flags were little used. However it was the common practice of those in sympathy with the guerrillas to tie a tricolour to a weighted rope and suspend it from a telegraph wire, which made it particularly difficult for the police to remove! Following the Anglo Irish Treaty the tricolour was adopted as the flag of the new Irish Free State. Its popularity was a result of its association with the rebels and not because of its original symbolism. After the establishment of the Free State, civil war broke out between Republicans and the new government. Both sides used the tricolour. It is sometimes said that the new State Army used the tricolour of Green, White and Orange and that the Republicans used the tricolour of green, white and gold, however their is no evidence to support this and both variants were probably used by both sides. 
Blessing the Colours by John Lavery
The flag was adopted as the national flag and state ensign, however it was the national flag through precedent rather than law. It was not until the adoption of the Irish Constitution and creation of the Republic of Ireland in 1937, that it was enshrined in law. 
In article 7 of the constitution the tricolour of green, white and orange was officially the national flag. However the constitution does not specify the offical symbolism of the colours. The closet you get to official symbolism is a protocol booklet, by the Department of the Taoiseach (Prime Minister). It specifies that the flag symbolises "the inclusion and hoped-for union of the people of different traditions on this island," and actively discourages the use of yellow and states faded flags should be taken down and replaced. 
At sea the tricolour was originally reserved for state ships, it was not until 1939 its use was extended to merchantmen. 

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