|Political flyer typical of the era|
on both sides
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.
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 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.
|Volunteer Colour of the Limerick IVF|
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.
|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
|National standard of 3rd Battalion of the Wicklow IVF|
Now in the National Museum of Ireland
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|
|two UVF colour parties on parade during the Home Rule Crisis|
|"King's Colour" of the 3rd Battalion, Central Antrim Regiment UVF|
laid up in St Nicholas' Church, Carrickfergus
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|
|colour of 2nd Battalion, Monaghan regiment UVF|
Preserved in Monaghan Orange Hall
|Colour of 5th (Cookstown) Battalion of the Tyrone Regiment UVF|
|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)|
For more in this series see the links below or click the label History of Irish flags:
Also in the Series
Pt6 Jacobites & Williamites
Pt7 St Patrick's Saltire
Pt 8 Military flags of the 18th & 19th Centuries
Pt7 St Patrick's Saltire
Pt 8 Military flags of the 18th & 19th Centuries