Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Development & History of Irish flags Pt12: the Home Rule Crisis

Political flyer typical of the era
 on both sides
The Home Rule debate was the most prominent issue in Irish politics in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Home Rule was an early form of devolution where an Irish Parliament would be established in Dublin to run domestic affairs, similar to the current Scottish Parliament. There are many reasons this was supported or opposed, many saw it as the beginning of the end of the union, so it naturally divided opinions and loyalties, often on tribal grounds. The Second Home Rule Bill passed the House of Commons in 1893 but it was defeated in the House of Lords. However following parliamentary reforms in the UK the House of Lords veto was limited to a two year delay. This meant that when the third Home Rule Bill passed parliament in 1912, it would not be implemented until 1914. This meant that over these years tension and division built up in Ireland, and by 1914 there were two rival armed militias opposing each other and threatening civil war. Naturally symbols, emblems and colours would play a part during this emotive time and none more so than flags.
Flags are naturally emotive symbols, being visual representations of a group of people, be it a country or somthing else. This makes them particularly vulnerable to being political or propaganda objects, and it was as true in 1912 as it is today. The Propaganda posters and flyers on both sides often featured prominent depictions of flags. Pro Home Rule Nationalist posters favoured the green harp flag, while anti-Home Rule Unionists championed the Union Flag. These flags became degraded from national emblems to party political symbols for the two Irish tribes. As the top right flyer points out, there are two groups and two flags.
Interestingly Unionists seem to have employed flags more in propaganda posters than nationalists as there are greater amounts of Union Jack posters. In some cases flags appear to have been made up! The below poster depicts an Ulster flag and Ireland flag for the Ulster and Irish Unionists. The Irish flag is depicted as a white cross on a green field defaced with a white shield bearing a harp and crown. The Ulster flag is a white cross with green fimbriation on a red (or possibly orange) field bearing a red hand of ulster.
As the 1912 rolled on the Unionist call for action in response to the threat as they saw it only saw an increase in Union Jacks and it was used increasingly as the flag of liberty as they saw it in radical Unionist posters:
Union Flags could be seen all over the island, particularly Ulster in response to Home Rule, many were often very elaborate. On 9th April 1912, at a demonstration in Balmoral, what was believed to be the largest Union Flag ever woven was flown from a 90ft high pole!
The Unionist mobilisation was complete when on 28th September 1912 (Ulster Day) thousands signed the Ulster Solemne League and Covenant pledging to resist Home Rule by "all means... necessary." The Unionist Leader Sir Edward Carson led a procession to Belfast City Hall to sign the Covenant, led by the Boyne Standard, and signed with a silver pen on a Union Flag draped table.
In 1913 the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) was formed to resist home rule by force if necessary. In response the nationalist party formed the Irish Volunteer Force (IVF). It appears that both of these militias took their inspiration from the Volunteers Corps of the 18th Century. The IVF even said "the banner of the Volunteers is waving after its century close furled on its standard." However for both sides this was little more than flowery language and both had very little in common (particularly flags) with the original Volunteers.
In May 1914 the Provincial Committee of the IVF not only authorised the carrying of unit colours but went as far as proposing a standard uniform design, to which every unit was expected to conform to. The decision was reached that each battalion of each unit was to carry two colours, a national standard and Volunteer colour. The national standard was a green harp flag, This flag had a canton on which a local/regimental insignia was placed. Below this the battalion number in Roman numerals was placed. The harp was the gold winged maid of erin design.
The Volunteer colour was to be blue, with a representation of the rising sun, the rays of which extended over the whole field (a rather oriental looking design). A regimental or local device, appeared on a shield in the canton. The roman numeral appeared on the sun itself.
The flags were apparently designed by a committee of historians. It was suggested they should be made of Irish linen and measure no more than six feet by seven feet square. (1.82 meters by 2.16). However it was decided that they should be three feet by three feet nine inches and made of silk or poplin.
Volunteer Colour of the Limerick IVF
A certain O'Rahilly a member of this committee seemed to be the prime figure in the designs of these flags. He explained in the IVF journal that the winged maiden harp, rather than a plain pillared harp was adopted on the advice of a Dr George Simpson, stating the green harp flag was "as matter of fact, the national flag of Ireland." Simpson said that the green harp fla was established "by history" as the national flag, and that the winged maiden harp was "identified with Ireland only" and dated from the thirteenth century and by placing this version of the harp on the national flag, it would avoid confusion with the arms of the Province of Leinster.
The O'Rahilly explained the rising sun represented "the coming of Lugh, the sun god of Irish antiquity, out of the kingdom of Manannan (the sea)" to "rescue" the island. He even went so far as to claim that a rising sun was on the ancient standard of Finn McCool! He didn't however mention the Fenians of the previous century.
Uniquely these colours had no text (except the numerals) this was because O'Rahilly who seemed to know a little about vexillology thought "wording of any kind is distinctly out of place on a flag."
The separate City and County units were given freedom to chose their regimental/local emblem. Use of Municipal coats of arms was suggested for most city units, but the following designs were suggested for the following units:

  • Antrim - the red lion rampant of the MacDonalds of Antrim on gold field.
  • Carlow - a four leaf shamrock, possible pun for the county's gaelic name (Ceatharlach), which is similar to ceathair (four)
  • Down - the St Patrick's Saltire
  • Longford - a gold lion rampant on green field (popular arms of the O'Farrells)
  • Clare - three lion passants on a red field (popular arms of the O'Briens) 
  • Caven - two gold lions supporting a hand (popular arms of O'Reilly)
  • Donegal - red crosslet on gold field (popular arms of the O'Donnells) 
  • Mayo - A wild boar (popular arms of the O'Malleys) 
  • Clare County East - red and white bars (popular arms of the Barrymore)
  • Clare County West - red stag on white field (arms of Muskerry)
  • Dublin - three burning castles on blue field (Dublin arms)
  • Meath - a King seated on throne (arms of the ancient province of Meath)
  • Derry City - A fortified gate, reference to the city walls of Londonderry.
  • Derry County - an oak/acorn tree. A reference to the popular meaning of the gaelic for name for Derry (Doire) meaning oak grove
  • Dublin County - a black raven on white field (a reference to Dublin's Viking origins) similar to the former County arms.
  • Monaghan - A black Ostrich, (from the MacMahon arms)
  • Fermanagh - a white horse. (a reference to Manann the Celtic sea deity)
  • Galway - a red cross on gold field the Hiberno-Norman Burke arms, the Medieval Earls of Ulster were once the greatest landowners in the county. It was also suggested this was the flag of Ireland in Cromwell's time (a possible mistake between the burke arms and red saltire on gold that appeared on Confederate flags). 
  • Kildare - St Brigid's Cross
  • Sligo - a seashell. The name Gaelic name for Sligo (Sligeach) means a shellbank. 
  • Leitrim - Two black lions on gold field (arms of the O'Rourkes).
  • Limerick - an interpretation of the stone on which the Treaty of Limerick was signed.
  • Limerick County - A red (St Patrick's) saltire, from the Fitzgerald arms. Distinguished from the St Patrick's Saltire of Down by placing it on an ermine field. 
  • Tipperary - a gold antique crown on blue field. similar to the Munster arms
  • Waterford - A blue lozenge
  • Westmeath - red, white and black bars. The meaning is not clear but thought to be a reference to legend of Deirdre, and sons of Usna. (checks red as blood. Skin white as snow, hair black as raven) although there is no local connection to the legend.  
  • Wexford - a red cross on black field taken from the "Wexford Marksmen" flag of 1798 mentioned in Part 9.
  • Tyrone - The  red hand of Ulster. A symbol used by the chiefs of the clan O'Neil. Who once held the title Earl of Tyrone. 
Had all these recommendations been followed then the colours might have looked something like this:

Proposed unit colours of the Irish Volunteer Force showing the use of local/regimental insignia and battalion numbers
click to enlarge or open image in new tab
The idea of a uniform set of unit colours for what was at best a citizen army was quite radical, and indeed this is the most comprehensive set of territorial flags in known Irish history. I find these flags rather splendid (coming from someone whose great grandparents pledged to resist Home Rule in the Ulster Covenant). However there were objections raised by IVF officers to the proposal. A FJ Bigger (who was not one of the historians on the design committee) preferred a plain fore pillar harp, and thought the rising sun was "too oriental" as well as objecting to some of the regional unit insignias.  He claimed that the MacDonalds never used a red lion, and that the St Patrick's Cross was an English invention and was (and I quote) "faked for union jack purposes." He is also quote claiming the winged maid of erin harp was "of foreign origin." As seen in these series both these emblems have long and complex histories in Ireland, histories which were (and are) often warped, twisted or denayed for political purpose, Bigger seems to be a victim of this.
National standard of 3rd Battalion of the Wicklow IVF
Now in the National Museum of Ireland
 How many of these flags were actually made is unknown. Bigger said he saw two, one for a "northern city" and an unspecified place to the west.
The design wasn't followed to the letter, either. As seen above the Limerick colour has no battalion number. Other surviving flags such as the colours of the 1st Wexford Battalion of the unit, used a plain pillar harp, and rather than the roman numeral battalion number used the text "1st Batt, Enniscorthy"
The national standard of the 3rd (Aughrim) Battalion of the Wicklow Volunteers conforms to the above pattern but in two respects. It has a plain pillar harp, and battalion name units number. The crossed spears on a crimson canton was the badge suggested by the Provincial Committee for the Wicklow Volunteer Regiment.
IVF flag by FJ Bigger preserved in Defence HQ, Dublin
Another flag that seems to have been inspired by but totally different from the proposed flags already mentioned, was presented to Londonderry IVF in Celtic Park in the city. It is a green harp flag with plain fore pillar, in the top conner of the fly is a red hand of Ulster, on a white disc, with four yellow triquetral knots. This flag was presented to the Derry IVF as a gift from a Charles O'Neil who was related to FJ Bigger who is thought to have designed the flag. It is preserved in the Republic of Ireland's Department of Defence HQ in Dublin.
two UVF colour parties on parade during the Home Rule Crisis
The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) also made use of regimental colours. I am not a aware of any examples of a standard uniform design. However for the most part their colours mirrored the infantry colours of the Army. Like the propose colours of the IVF, each battalion carried two flags a "King's Colour" and a regimental colour. However unlike the IVF there doesn't seem to be any standard design and the flags vary from unit to unit. Each battalion seems to have carried a Union Flag known as the "King's Colour" (although technically speaking only the authorised organisation very few of which exist outside the army can officially carry King's/Queen's colours). These flags varied little, and common designs included unaltered flags, to flag like the one on the top of the page, which were defaced with a crown and the UVF insignia. A surviving example of this type of flag, is laid up in St Nicholas' Church of Ireland in Carrickfergus Co Antrim. The insignia on this flag is particularly interesting as instead of the UVF motto "For God and Ulster" the motto reads "For King and Empire." Below this are two scrolls reading "Central Antrim Regt" (Regiment) and "3rd Batn" (3rd Battalion). In the canton is the battalion number in roman numerals.
"King's Colour" of the  3rd Battalion, Central Antrim Regiment UVF
laid up in St Nicholas' Church, Carrickfergus
judging by surviving flags,(which are now over a century old) defacing the Union Jack with insignia like this was rare, the more common practice seems to have copied the army practice, of placing a crowned circle in the centre of the flag, In the centre of this circle was either the battalion number (in roman numerals) or the text "Ulster Volunteer Force" On the edge was the text reading the regiment's name and in some cases the battalion number.
The regimental colours vary greatly and are often different colours and blazoned with different badges or insignia. It does not appear that the earliest flags were variants of the boyne/orange standard but with the colours reversed (purple field with orange star) often with the words "Ulster Volunteer Force" or "UVF" in the centre, these appear to be flags of the terrorist group which adopted the name in the 1970s, the oldest date from that period and appear to have originally made by prisoners in jail:
example of 1970s UVF flag based on Boyne Standard
 Another early example of unit colours was a flag bearing a crown and two scrolls. One scroll would have the unit name the other the battalion number. Between the scrolls were the letters "UVF."
colour of 2nd Battalion, Monaghan regiment UVF
Preserved in Monaghan Orange Hall
This appears to have been an attempt to adopt a standardised design. However as the organisation evolved and became more organised and individual unit flags were adopted, colours based on those used by the military were used. The common theme for these flags were a Union flag canton, a central badge, and the unit name, and a motto, on two scrolls. A rather splendid flag like this survives in a church in Cookstown Co Tyrone. It is a beautifully home made flag based on the colours of an Irish regiment in the British army. It is white with a small Union Jack in the canton (an odd size when compared to other flags.) In the centre is a harp and crown, surrounded by a wreath of roses, thistles and shamrocks and (what I think is) flax. Above and below are two scrolls. The top reads "Tyrone Regiment" with "5th Batt. Cookstown" below which seems to have been added as an afterthought. The bottom scroll has the UVF motto "For God and Ulster." In each corner are the emblems of the Union, a red hand (for Ulster) a rose (England), a shamrock (Ireland) and a thistle (Scotland). The inclusion of a red hand, as well as a shamrock is interesting an suggests that Ulster folk were at this early stage, already beginning to see the province as a different entity from the rest of the island.
Colour of 5th (Cookstown) Battalion of the Tyrone Regiment UVF
This example used a well established symbol used on colours, but other units used municipal coats of arms, like the IVF did. For example the City of Derry Regiment used a variant of the city coat of arms, with the motto "No Surrender" the battle cry first shouted in the 1689 siege of Londonderry. This flag is laid up in the city's historic Cathedral alongside so many other military flags dating from the 17th Century to more recent times.
Colours of the "City of Derry Regiment" UVF laid up in St Columb's Cathedral Londonderry
Many other unit colours appear to have adopted UVF related insignia as their central badge. The East Belfast Regiment for example, adopted the UVF badge in the centre of the Burke arms based on the flag of Ulster. Battalion numbers appeared in roman numerals in the flags canton.
reenactment of UVF units being presented with colours at a drum head service (a religious service in the field, where drums are used to make a temporary alter, a tradition still practiced in the UK armed forces)
Fortunately the civil war never materialised. In a sad irony of history the men and women of both Volunteer forces fought side by side for their various reasons in the first World War, many of whom never came home.

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