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Flag of Ireland

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Missing imageFIAV_63.pngImage:FIAV_63.png  The Irish tricolour (flag ratio: 1:2).
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The Irish tricolour (flag ratio: 1:2).

The National Flag of Ireland (Irish: An Bhratach Nisinta), also known as the Irish tricolour, is the national flag of the Republic of Ireland. The flag was first adopted as the national flag of the Irish Free State in 1922. When the Free State was succeeded by the state now known as the Republic of Ireland, under the 1937 Constitution of Ireland, the tricolour was given constitutional status.

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. Historically Ireland has been represented by a number of other flags, including St. Patrick's cross, the Green Flag and the "four provinces" flag.

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The tricolour

The tricolour, with its three equal vertical bands of green (hoist side), white and orange, was first used by Irish nationalists in 1848 during the Young Irelanders' rebellion, though the colours on the original flag were in reverse order to the modern version. Inspired by the French tricolour and the Newfoundland tricolour, it was designed to represent the Catholic Gaelic community (represented by green) and the Protestant community (represented by orange due to William of Orange) living together in peace (symbolised by the white band). Contrary to myth, the tricolour was not the actual flag of the Easter Rising, although it had been flown from the GPO; that flag was in fact a green flag with a harp and the words 'Irish Republic'. However the tricolour became the de facto flag of the extra-legal Irish Republic declared in 1919 and was later adopted by the Irish Free State.

The 1922 Free State constitution did not provide for national symbols. The modern Constitution of Ireland provides in Article 7 that the "national flag is the tricolour of green, white and orange". Today the National Flag is flown over following 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 tricolour is also draped across the coffins of:

Use in Northern Ireland

The purported symbolism of the flag (unity and respect between nationalists and unionists) has not become a universal reality. In 1920, Ireland was partitioned, with the unionist-dominated northeast becoming Northern Ireland, while later, in 1922, the remainder of Ireland seceded from the United Kingdom as the Irish Free State.

The Northern Ireland state used the British Union Flag and 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 banned in Northern Ireland under the Flags and Emblems Act of 1954. In 1964, the enforcement of this law, involving the removal of a single tricolour from the offices of Sinn Fin in Belfast, led to two days of rioting.

Despite its purported 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. After its creation the Ulster Unionist Party Government of Northern Ireland adopted the 'Flag of Northern Ireland' (based on the flag of Ulster) as the flag of Northern Ireland in 1953. Thus it is this flag and the Union Jack that are flown by Unionists, while the tricolour is often used to represent nationalist defiance.

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. Elements of both communities fly their flag from chimneys and tall buildings.

Some argue that the symbolism of the tricolour has been undermined by its use by radical republicans such as Sinn Fin and the Provisional IRA. Most controversially, the IRA drape the flag over the coffins of dead members.

Nationalists from the Republic of Ireland have complained of the tricolour's use by Sinn Fin at election counts in the 2002 general election to triumphantly celebrate its electoral victories. This caused considerable comment and criticism in the Irish print and broadcast media, the party and its members being accused of showing 'gross disrespect' to the National Flag.

Under the Belfast Agreement flags continue to be a source of disagreement in Northern Ireland. The Agreement demands "parity of esteem" in how symbols are used in Northern Ireland and nationalists have pointed to this requirement to argue that the use of the Union Jack for official purposes should be restricted, or that tricolour should be flown alongside the British flag on government buildings. However all signatories to the Agreement also declare their acceptance of the "legitimacy" of Northern Ireland's place within the United Kingdom, and unionists argue that this provision amounts to recognising that the Union Jack is the only legitimate official flag in Northern Ireland.

Nonetheless some level of compromise has been achieved. The British flag is no longer flown over Parliament Buildings and state offices except on a limited number of 'named days' (honouring, for example Queen Elizabeth II's official birthday). An exception to this rule is Lisburn council, which flies the Union Jack every day of the year. A Sinn Fin Lord Mayor of Belfast displayed both flags in his own offices, and this caused much controversy. In time, it is expected that both communities will grow more tolerant of each other's symbols and flags.

Saint Patrick's Flag

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"Saint Patrick's cross"

From 1783 to 1922, the usual flag used to symbolise Ireland was known as "Saint Patrick's cross". This consisted of a red saltire on a white field. It was the symbol of the Order of St Patrick, and was incorporated into the Union Jack following the 1801 union of Great Britain and Ireland. However it was never popular with the majority of Irish people, who saw it as a British invention.

The pattern on St. Patrick's Flag clearly resembles Saint Andrew's cross in the Flag of Scotland. It may have been adopted from the arms of Earls of Kildare (the Fitzgerald family). An Irish coin from the 1480s has two saltires on it. A map of the 1601 battle of Kinsale shows a combined Irish/Spanish force under a red saltire. The seal of Trinity College, Dublin, from the same period, shows the saltire under a harp, opposite Saint George's cross under a lion. Two Dutch seventeenth century guides also described it as the Irish flag.

The use of St. Patrick's cross is not now common but is occasionally used as a neutral flag, for the representation of Ireland, in Northern Ireland. It is the basis of the police badge of the new Police Service of Northern Ireland and is also used by the Reform Movement in the Republic

Other flags

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The "Four Provinces" flag. The "Green Flag" is in the lower right quadrant.
  • The Four Provinces: The four provinces flag is divided into four parts, each of which is the flag of one of the four traditional provinces of Ireland. The four quadrants represent the provinces of Ulster (top left), Munster (top right), Connacht (bottom left) and Leinster (bottom right). It is often flown in support of the Irish rugby team.
  • The Green Flag: The green flag was a common flag used to represent Ireland during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It consisted of a harp on a green background. It is identical to the flag of Leinster.






National flags
List of national flags | List of national coats of arms
de:Flagge Irlands

et:Iirimaa lipp es:Bandera de Irlanda fr:Drapeau de l'Irlande it:Bandiera irlandese ga:Bratach na hireann he:דגל אירלנד nl:Vlag van Ierland ja:アイルランドの国旗 no:Irlands flagg pl:Flaga Irlandii pt:Bandeira da Repblica da Irlanda sv:Irlands flagga

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