PAULA REDMOND looks at the background to some of the images traditionally  and historically associated with Ireland


Before the tricolour was officially adopted in 1937 as our national flag various other designs were used to represent Ireland. From the 1700s onwards, the ‘Green Flag’, which featured a gold harp on a green background, was a popular nationalist emblem. It was used during many rebellions and was also used by the Land League. It was flown above Liberty Hall in Dublin just before the 1916 Rising and is the same as the modern day Leinster flag.

Similar to this is the ‘Érin Go Bragh’ flag (sometimes spelled Érin go Braugh meaning ‘Ireland Forever’), which features a gold harp lady on a green background. Shamrocks or lettering are often featured below the harp.

During the American Civil War this flag was flown by the 8th Alabama Irish Brigade of the Confederate States Army. It was also used in the Mexican – American War of 1846 by the St. Patrick’s Batallion.

The Presidential Standard features a gold harp on a blue background and was approved in 1945. The harp was adopted as the state emblem when the Irish Free State was formed in 1922. The harp represents the Brian Boru harp that is housed in Trinity College, Dublin.

The Presidential Standard differs from the national arms in a few ways. Firstly, the harp strings are yellow and number just twelve, as opposed to the larger number of white or silver strings on the national arms.

Also, on the Presidential Standard the harp is not tilted in the playing position, meaning it has diagonal strings unlike the vertical strings of the national arms. In addition, the blue of the Presidential Standard is a darker shade than that of the national arms with the ornamentation of the harp worked in the same colour.

The ‘Sunburst’ flag or ‘An Gal Gréine’ features a blue background with part of an orange coloured sun emerging from the bottom left hand corner. The edge of the flag represents the horizon.

It is first mentioned in literature dating from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries about the Fianna warriors, where it is described as the personal banner of Fionn Mac Cumhaill and his men.

The earliest known image of the ‘Sunburst’ flag is in a manuscript from 1731 written by Cathal Ó Lúinin, a Trinity College lecturer and writer. From the mid-1800s the flag was used by many republican organisations and was widely used in America by Irish groups including the Fenian Brotherhood of America (FBA).

These organisations favoured it to the green harp flag as this was often used by British colonial powers in Ireland.

A revised version of the flag featuring a green background with a centred yellow sunburst (often emerging from a cloud) was frequently used in America as it was felt that green better symbolised the nationalist tradition than blue.

Continue reading in Issue 5550