Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Flag for Northern Ireland

The Flag for Northern Ireland?

From Issue 11 of The Ulster Folk
By Paul Stewart

It can be seen everywhere yet not everyone is conscious of it or even knows what it is: it was considered the one flag that represented this part of the world that everyone could accept. I’m referring to the Irish flag that is a red diagonal cross on a white background or Cross of St Patrick or Saint Patricks Saltire as it has come to be known.

It has its detractors, based mostly on disinformation, after all, equality and shared identify are surely a threat to those with a narrow sectarian agenda. Before passing comment it is better to understand a balanced view of what exactly it is. The Saint Patricks cross is often criticised for having been ‘made-up’ during the 1800 Act of Union and combined with the St Andrews Cross of Scotland and St Georges Cross of England to form the new Union flag.

It’s true that it was not a common Irish flag in that particular era but its existence predates the Act of Union by some considerable time: its first use being recorded some 400 years before the Ulster banner, so disliked by Nationalists; 300 years before the Tricolour of Green, White and Orange, so disliked by Unionists, and at least fifty years older than the Green Harp Flag.

The earliest depiction of the red saltire in association with Ireland occurs in a map of "Hirlandia" by John Goghe dated 1576, which now resides in the Public Record Office, and on another map depicting the battle of Kinsale in 1601.

The arms of the Trinity College in Dublin are based on a seal from 1612 and show the red saltire flag from one of the towers.

Le Neptune Fran├žois published in 1693 illustrates the flags of Europe. It describes the ‘Ierse Irlandois’ flag as a white flag with a red saltire: and an etching depicting Bastille Day celebrations in Belfast, 1792 show the street festooned with French flags, the new United States flag and the St Patricks Cross.

It’s use in the 17th and 18th Centuries by the Irish at home and over seas is well documented including O’Neills Irish regiment that served Spain after the famous ‘Flight of the Earls’, The Irish Brigade of the French army during the Williamite wars and various Irish groups in America and elsewhere.

So yes, the flag was incorporated into the Union flag after the Act of Union. The red saltire is counter changed with the saltire of St Andrew, in such a way that the white of St Andrew follows the red of St Patrick moving clockwise. This means that the Union flag can easily be flown upside down by mistake: a fact obviously lost on many of those who protested against the absence of the union flag outside Belfast City Hall.

But the St Patricks Cross was common in the ancient heraldry of many Irish families, counties, towns and an untold number of Irish institutions. Examples include the coat of arms for Belfast (flying from the rear of the ship), Coleraine, Co Fermanagh, Co Cork, Queens University and of course in recent times was chosen as the neutral symbol of the centre piece of the PSNI crest. It is in fact the only flag in Ireland that has to a greater or lesser degree been consistently used by both traditions and even before the existence of both so called traditions: older and more unifying than any flag that has been ‘made up’ by any exclusionist grouping since.

As every school child knows St Patrick himself was enslaved in Co Antrim, built his first Church in Co Down and the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland is in Armagh: yet it is religion that has caused such division in Ulster. No better place and no better time to set aside the conflicting religions and celebrate what unifies us. In a part of the world so fixated with flags perhaps it is time for a flag to symbolise us all and bind all us Northern Irish together.

If the unifying reality of our Northern Irish identity is to be celebrated - the peace that has been realised by this growing sense of self - safeguarded for future generations: we must move away from the worn out, increasingly archaic and irrelevant arguments of the traditional divisive symbols of green and orange belligerents. As one people we need to embrace a unifying symbol, with the gravitas that only something which is historically and culturally relevant has.

If the St Patricks cross where to serve as the bases for a new Northern Ireland flag then who would oppose it? Only those who are terrified of the truth: the truth that is the emerging realisation of shared identity - of Northern Ireland as a political and social reality - an equal, fair and progressive society - a future without the politics of the past.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting debate on a new NI flag on Belfast Telegraph website