Known as the “Irish Tricolor,” the formal history of the current Irish flag began in the early 1800s. It signifies the unification of the new Ireland with the old Ireland and harmony between Catholics and Protestants.
The orange section of the flag is associated with Northern Irish Protestants who were led by William of Orange – the King of Ireland, Scotland and England – to victory over the deposed King James II, a staunch Roman Catholic, in the historic Boyne battle near Dublin. The battle took place in 1690 and when it commenced, King William III established Protestant dominance in England. The bitter feuding over religion in England during the 1600s largely stemmed from the fear of a return to the Spanish Inquisition and the Smithfield burnings of “heretics” that were common under the reign of Catholic Queen Mary I of England – the daughter of King Henry VIII – who is often still referred to as “Bloody Mary.”
The green section of the Ireland flag symbolizes the Irish Catholic nationalists, who were opposed to the ascension of King William of Orange and were true to King James II. Green is also a symbol of revolution, and this color was chosen as the background for a previous Ireland flag that has a green background featuring a gold harp – for just this purpose. Some also say that the green may symbolize Ireland’s verdant landscapes and shamrocks, but this is merely conjecture, although very possible.
The white color always seen between the two bolder hues signifies brotherhood. It was the color of hope that the Catholics from the South and the Protestants from the North could one day live in peace with each other, with neither side attempting to change the values of the other or force them to follow a different type of worship.
The tri-colors were spoken of in 1830, and again in 1844; however, this term for the flag did not receive broad recognition until 1848. In the spring of that year, young Ireland leader, Thomas Francis Meagher, presented the tricolored flag at a meeting in Dublin and John Mitchell was quoted as saying that he hoped the flag would one day became Ireland’s national banner. Nevertheless, the national flag remained a green background featuring a gold harp, designed by Roe O’Neill.
An Intriguing History of Ireland’s Flag
In the late 1700s, the color green was again associated with revolution in Ireland. Founded in 1790, the “United Irishmen” used the aforementioned green flag with the gold harp. A rival organization, which was eventually dubbed the “Orange Order,” was founded in 1795 in King William of Orange’s memory. They used a similar flag with an orange background and ultimately pitted the “orange” tradition associated with the Anglican Protestant Ascendancy with the “green” tradition of the United Catholic Irishmen. By the mid-1800s, a goal had emerged among many Irish men and women to create friendship between people belonging to each of the two traditions and form a self-governing country that would operate as a peace-loving union. It was this objective that eventually led to the creation of the tricolored flag, featuring the green, white and orange sections.
The oldest known use of the tricolors as a national emblem can be traced back to September, 1830, when tricolor cockades were displayed at a meeting held to celebrate the Revolution of that year.
The colors were also used during that time for badges and rosettes, as well as trade guild banners. Even novelties and gifts featuring the green, white and orange were made during this time. On March 7th, 1848, Thomas Francis Meagher unveiled the flag from a window on the Wolfe Tone Club’s second floor and from that time on, the Irish tricolors appeared at official meetings throughout the country, as well as in France when Irishman travel to that country for international meetings.
Non-Standardized Pattern Impedes the National use of the Ireland Flag
Even though the tricolors were often seen since 1848, they were thought of as more of an idealist’s symbol due to the goal for which they stood, rather than the country’s national flag. The flag was used infrequently on a national level between 1848 and 1916 and up until that year, the flag featuring the harp on a green background was flown at national events and celebrations. This is because neither the tricolors nor their arrangement were ever standardized. When the flag was flown, Orange was sometimes put next to the staff and other times, the white section of the flag was placed on the outermost edge.
Also between 1848 and 1916, different versions of the flag were created, with one featuring blue instead of the classic green, and another that replaced the orange section with yellow. In 1937, the tricolor’s position as the national flag of Ireland was officially confirmed by the country’s new Constitution. At this time, the flag was standardized and all other variations were quickly abandoned. Currently, the flag is always flown with the green section next to the hoist and the white section making up the middle. With its long and interesting history, this colorful flag will likely always hold appeal for Irish men and women, as well as history buffs throughout the world.