The national flag of Ireland (Irish: bratach na hÉireann / suaitheantas na hÉireann) is a vertical tricolour of green (at the hoist), white, and orange. It is also known as the Irish tricolour. The flag proportion is 1:2 (length twice the width). Although the flag's meaning is not covered by the Irish Constitution, the Irish government has stated that the green represents the Irish nationalist tradition of Ireland and the orange represents the Orange tradition in Ireland, with white representing peace, or a truce, between them.
Presented as a gift in 1848 to Thomas Francis Meagher from a small group of French women sympathetic to the Irish cause, it was not until the Easter Rising of 1916, when it was raised above the General Post Office in Dublin, that the tricolour came to be regarded as the national flag. Meagher was the son of Newfoundland-born mayor of Waterford, Thomas Meagher Jr, however there are two theories on his inspiration for the flag; the similarly-coloured Newfoundland Tricolour credited in legend as having been created in 1843, though this seems unlikely given the actual known history surrounding the Newfoundland Tricolour, and the French Tricolour.
The flag was adopted in 1919 by the Irish Republic during its war of independence, and subsequently by the Irish Free State (1922-1937), later being given constitutional status under the 1937 Constitution of Ireland. The tricolour is regarded by many nationalists as the national flag of the whole island of Ireland. Thus it is flown (often controversially) by many nationalists in Northern Ireland as well as by the Gaelic Athletic Association. It is similar to the Flag of Côte d'Ivoire, but that flag is shorter and the colours are reversed.
Design and symbolism:
In relation to the national flag of Ireland, the Constitution of Ireland simply states in Article 7:
The national flag is the tricolour of green, white and orange.
As there are no further statutory requirements in relation to the flag, the Department of the Taoiseach takes general responsibility over matters relating to the flag. In its advisory role, the Department has issued guidelines to assist persons in their use of the national flag. The flag should be rectangular in shape and its length should be two times its width, translating into an aspect ratio of 1:2. The three coloured pales - green, white and orange - should be of equal size, and vertically disposed. The precise colours of the flag as set by the Department of the Taoiseach are:Scheme: Green - White - Orange.
The flag should normally be displayed on a flagstaff, with the green pale positioned next to the flagstaff, at the hoist; the white pale positioned in the centre; and the orange pale positioned at the fly, farthest from the flagstaff. Provided that the correct proportions are observed, the flag may be made to any convenient size.
The green pale in the flag symbolises Irish republicanism dating back to the Society of United Irishmen in the 1790s. The orange represents the minority who were supporters of King William III, who was of the House of Orange and originally the Stadtholder of the Netherlands, had defeated King James II and his predominantly Irish Catholic army at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. His title came from the Principality of Orange in the south of France that had been a Protestant bastion from the 16th century. It was included in the Irish flag in an attempt to reconcile the Orange Order in Ireland with the Irish independence movement. The white in the centre signifies a lasting truce between the two cultures and a living together in peace. The flag, as a whole, is intended to symbolise the inclusion and hoped-for union of the people of different traditions on the island of Ireland, which is expressed in the Constitution as the entitlement of every person born in Ireland to be part of the independent Irish nation, regardless of ethnic origin, religion or political conviction.
There are exceptions to the general beneficent theory. Green was also used as the colour of such Irish bodies as the mainly-Protestant and non-sectarian Friendly Brothers of St. Patrick, established in 1751. When the tricolour was designed in 1848 the Orange Order faced suppression and was in serious decline.
Occasionally, differing shades of yellow, instead of orange, are seen at civilian functions. However the Department of the Taoiseach state that this is a misrepresentation which "should be actively discouraged", and that worn-out flags should be replaced. In songs and poems, the colours are sometimes enumerated as "green, white and gold" in song, using poetic license.
A green flag featuring a harp was an older symbol of the nation of Ireland, dating back at least to Confederate Ireland and the pursuits of Owen Roe O'Neill from 1642. It was subsequently widely adopted by the Irish Volunteers and especially the United Irishmen. A rival organisation, the Orange Order, whose main strength was in Ulster, and which was exclusively Protestant, was founded in 1795 in memory of King William of Orange and the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688. Following the Irish Rebellion of 1798, which pitted the "green" tradition of the republican United Irishmen against the "orange" tradition of Anglican Protestant Ascendancy loyal to the British Crown, the ideal of a later nationalist generation in the mid-19th century was to make peace between the two traditions and, if possible, to found a self-governing Ireland on such peace and union.
The oldest known reference to the use of the three colours of green, white and orange as a nationalist emblem dates from September 1830 when tricolour cockades were worn at a meeting held to celebrate the French Revolution of that year - a revolution which restored the use of the French tricolour. The colours were also used in the same period for rosettes and badges, and on the banners of trade guilds. However, widespread recognition was not accorded to the flag until 1848. At a meeting in his native city of Waterford on 7 March 1848, Thomas Francis Meagher, the Young Ireland leader, first publicly unveiled the flag from a second-floor window of the Wolfe Tone Club as he addressed a gathered crowd on the street below who were present to celebrate another revolution that had just taken place in France. It was inspired by the tricolours of France and Newfoundland; Meagher's father was born in Newfoundland. Speeches made at that time by Meagher suggest that it was regarded as an innovation and not as the revival of an older flag. From March of that year Irish tricolours appeared side-by-side with French ones at meetings held all over the country. John Mitchel, referring to the tricolour of green, white and orange that Meagher had presented from Paris at a later meeting in Dublin on 15 April 1848, said: "I hope to see that flag one day waving, as our national banner".
Although the tricolour was not forgotten as a symbol of the ideal of union and a banner associated with the Young Irelanders and revolution, it was rarely used between 1848 and 1916. Even up to the eve of the Easter Rising of 1916, the green flag featuring a harp held undisputed sway. Neither the colours nor the arrangement of the early tricolours were standardised. All of the 1848 tricolours showed green, white and orange, but orange was sometimes put next to the staff, and in at least one flag the order was orange, green and white. In 1850 a flag of green for the Roman Catholics, orange for the Protestants of the Established Church and blue for the Presbyterians was proposed. In 1883, a Parnellite tricolour of yellow, white and green, arranged horizontally, was recorded. Down to modern times, yellow has occasionally been used instead of orange, but by this substitution the fundamental symbolism is destroyed.
Associated with separatism in the past, flown during the Easter Rising of 1916 and capturing the national imagination as the banner of the new revolutionary Ireland, the tricolour came to be acclaimed throughout the country as somewhat of a national flag. To many Irish people, though, it was considered to be a "Sinn Féin flag".
In the Irish Free State which existed between 1922 and 1937, the flag was adopted by the Executive Council but not necessarily with the intention that it should become the national flag. Republicans, especially those who are involved in or support the "armed struggle", claim the sole right to ownership of the tricolour, as expressed in the song "Take It Down From The Mast". A 1928 British document said:
The government in Ireland have taken over the so called Free State Flag in order to forestall its use by republican element and avoid legislative regulation, to leave them free to adopt a more suitable emblem later.
The 1922 Free State constitution did not provide for national symbols; the decision to use the flag was made without recourse to statute. The pre-independence Merchant Shipping Act 1894 was not repealed, and so the Free State's Merchant Navy flag continued to be the Red Ensign.
In 1937, the tricolour's position as the national flag was formally confirmed by the new Constitution of Ireland. It did not replace the Red Ensign until September 1939, after the outbreak of World War II, when a decree under the state of emergency was made, to ensure neutral Irish ships were not mistaken for British ships by the German navy. The tricolour's marine status was formalised by the Merchant Shipping Act, 1947.
Use in Northern Ireland:
The purported symbolism of the flag (peace and unity between Catholics and Protestants) has not become a universal reality. In 1921, Ireland was partitioned, with the unionist-dominated north-east becoming Northern Ireland, while later, in 1922, the remainder of Ireland left the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland to form the Irish Free State. Northern Ireland continued to use the British Union Flag and created its own derivation of the flag of Ulster (with a crown on top of a six pointed star) to symbolise the state. Furthermore, for many years the tricolour was effectively banned in Northern Ireland under the Flags and Emblems (Display) Act (Northern Ireland) 1954 which empowered the police to remove any flag that could cause a breach of the peace but specified, rather controversially, that a Union Flag could never have such an effect. In 1964, the enforcement of this law by the Royal Ulster Constabulary at the behest of Ian Paisley, involving the removal of a single tricolour from the offices of Sinn Féin in Belfast, led to two days of rioting. The tricolour was immediately replaced, highlighting the difficulty of enforcing the law.
Despite its original symbolism, in Northern Ireland the tricolour, along with most other markers of either British or Irish identity, has come to be a symbol of division. The Ulster Unionist Party Government of Northern Ireland adopted the Ulster Banner (based on the flag of Ulster) in 1953. Thus it is this flag and the Union Flag that are flown by unionists and loyalists, while the tricolour is flown by nationalists and republicans. In Northern Ireland, each community uses its own flags, murals and other symbols to declare its allegiance and mark its territory, often in a manner that is deliberately provocative. Kerb-stones in unionist and loyalist areas are often painted red, white and blue, while in nationalist and republican areas kerb-stones may be painted green, white and orange, although this is a much less frequent occurrence. Elements of both communities fly "their" flag from chimneys, tall buildings and lamp-posts on roads.
Under the 1998 Belfast Agreement, it was recognised that flags continue to be a source of disagreement in Northern Ireland. The Agreement stated that:
All participants acknowledge the sensitivity of the use of symbols and emblems for public purposes, and the need in particular in creating the new institutions to ensure that such symbols and emblems are used in a manner which promotes mutual respect rather than division.
Nationalists have pointed to this to argue that the use of the Union Flag for official purposes should be restricted, or that the tricolour should be flown alongside the British flag on government buildings. Unionists argue that the recognition of the principle of consent in the Agreement - that Northern Ireland's constitutional status cannot change without a majority favouring it - by the signatories amounts to recognising that the Union Flag is the only legitimate official flag in Northern Ireland. Nonetheless some level of compromise has been achieved. As in the rest of the UK, the British flag is flown over Parliament Buildings and state offices on a limited number of named days - for example, those honouring Queen Elizabeth II's official birthday). Major exceptions to this rule are the City Hall in Belfast where the Union Flag is allowed to fly year-round, and the local district councils. For instance, local councils such as the Larne Borough Council can choose to fly the Union Flag every day of the year, on designated days of the year, such as the Lisburn City Council, or not at all, like the Down District Council or Derry City Council. A Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Belfast, Alex Maskey, displayed both flags in his own offices causing much controversy.
The Department of the Taoiseach has issued guidelines in order to assist persons in giving due respect to the national flag. Observance of the guidelines is a matter for each individual as there are no statutory requirements. It is expected, however, that the national flag will be treated at all times with appropriate respect by those who use it. The Department has general responsibility in relation to the national flag and this is primarily concerned with the protocol for the flying of the flag. The Department's role, therefore, is an advisory one.
With respect to the display, placing and precedence of the national flag by both itself and in relation to other flags, the Department has made a number of suggestions. No flag or pennant should be flown above the national flag. When the flag is carried with another flag, or flags, it should be carried in the place of honour - that is on the marching right, or on the left of an observer towards whom the flags are approaching. Where one of these flags is that of the European Union, the European Union flag should be carried on the immediate left of the national flag, or, as seen by an observer when the flags are approaching, on the immediate right of the national flag. In the event of a display of crossed staffs, the national flag should be to the right and to the fore - that is to the left of the observer who is facing the flag. Its staff should be in front of the other flag or flags.
When the group of flags of the European Union are flown, the sequence is alphabetical, based on the first letter of the country's name. The flags should be flown from left to right with the European Union flag flown from the first flagstaff before the group. An alternative order of flags is to begin on the left with the national flag and place the European Union flag on the far right of the group, as seen by an observer. With regard to international flags; where either an even or an odd number of flags are flown in line on staffs of equal height, the national flag should be first on the right of the line - that is on the observer's left as he or she faces the flags. Where one of these flags is that of the European Union, the European Union flag should be flown on the immediate left of the national flag, or as seen by an observer, on the immediate right of the national flag. Where, however, an odd number of flags are displayed from staffs grouped so that there is one staff in the centre and higher than the others, the national flag should be displayed from the staff so placed. Where one of these flags is that of the European Union, the European Union flag should be flown from the first flagstaff on the right, or as seen by an observer, on the first flagstaff on the left. Only one national flag should be displayed in each group of flags or at each location. In all cases, the national flag should be in the place of honour. When the national flag is displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall or other background, the green should be on the right (an observer's left) in the horizontal position or uppermost in the vertical position. When displayed on a platform, the national flag should be above and behind the speaker's desk. While being carried, the flag should not be dipped by way of salute or compliment except to the dead during memorial ceremonies.
In raising or lowering, the national flag should not be allowed to touch the ground. When being hoisted to half-mast, the flag should first be brought to the peak of the staff and then lowered to the half-mast position. It should again be brought to the peak of the staff before it is finally lowered. On ceremonial occasions when the national flag is being hoisted or lowered, or when it is passing by in a parade, all present should face it, stand to attention and salute. Persons in uniform who normally salute with the hand should give the hand salute. Persons in civilian attire should salute by standing to attention. The salute to the flag when it is being borne past in a parade is rendered when the flag is six paces away and the salute is held until the flag has passed by. Where more than one national flag is carried, the salute should be given only to the leading flag. When the national anthem is played in the presence of the national flag, all present should face the national flag, stand to attention and salute it, remaining at the salute until the last note of the music.
When the national flag has become worn or frayed it is no longer fit for display, and should not be used in any manner implying disrespect. The national flag, when used as a decoration, should always be treated with due respect. It may be used as a discreet lapel button or rosette or as part of a centrepiece for a table. When used in the latter context with the flags of other nations, the national flag should also be displayed in the place of honour on a nearby flag staff. Where multiple national flags are flown on festive occasions these should be of uniform dimensions. Bunting of the national colours may also be used on festive occasions.
The national flag should be displayed in the open only between sunrise and sunset, except on the occasion of public meetings, processions, or funerals, when it may be displayed for the duration of such functions. When displayed on a platform, the national flag should not be used to cover the speaker's desk, nor should it be draped over the platform. The national flag should never be defaced by placing slogans, logos, lettering or pictures of any kind on it, for example at sporting events. The flag should not be draped on cars, trains, boats or other modes of transport; it should not be carried flat, but should always be carried aloft and free, except when used to drape a coffin; on such an occasion, the green should be at the head of the coffin. The tricolour is draped across the coffins of Presidents of Ireland (including former Presidents), soldiers and Garda Síochána personnel killed in the line of duty, and other notables accorded state funerals, such as Roger Casement in 1965, or Kevin Barry in 2001. Care should be taken at all times to ensure that the national flag does not touch the ground, trail in water or become entangled in trees or other obstacles.
It is the normal practice to fly the national flag daily at all military posts and from a limited number of important State buildings. The European flag is flown alongside the national flag on all official buildings, and in most places where the Irish flag is flown over buildings. The national flag is flown over buildings including: the residence of the President of Ireland, Áras an Uachtaráin; Leinster House, the seat of the Irish parliament, when parliament is in session; Irish courts and state buildings; Irish military installations, at home and abroad; and Garda Síochána (police) stations. The national flag is also flown on Saint Patrick's Day (the national holiday), Easter Sunday and Easter Monday (in commemoration of the Easter Rising of 1916), and the National Day of Commemoration on the Sunday closest to 11 July - the date of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921. On these occasions the national flag is flown from all State buildings throughout the country which are equipped with flagpoles, and many private individuals and concerns also fly it. The national flag is flown on the occasion of other significant national and local events such as festivals and commemorations. The national flag is frequently flown at half-mast on the death of a national or international figure on all prominent government buildings equipped with a flag pole. The death of a prominent local figure may be marked locally by the national flag being flown at half-mast. Where the national flag is flown at half-mast no other flag should be half-masted.