The Irish Tricolour

The Irish Tricolour at the Easter Rising Memorial in Dublin
This morning I woke up at 4:30 to start my interminable journey through Irish literature. In fact, as you will learn in a later post, I have enlisted the help of a few Irish writer friends in this endeavor--and they've given me some homework. Good Lord. If I don't get an honorary Master's degree from Trinity College for the reading they've given me, I'll be a bit pouty. And no, I don't know if Trinity College offers a Master's program. That's one more thing I have to look up. This All Things Irish thing just goes on and on and on.

Daunted by the task of Irish literature, I decide to dally with something a bit less monumental. What could be simpler than the Flag of Ireland? Green. White. Orange. There ya go. Fat chance. After three hours of reading, I have come to the conclusion that nothing is simple in Ireland. Nothing. On the other hand, I have learned a few new words--as always. Did you know that a "pale" means a vertical band of color in heraldic lingo? And that a "saltire" is a composed of two diagonal bands making a cross? Well, if you didn't, you do now. And you're about to learn so much more. Be afraid.

The status of my knowledge before research:

The Irish flag is green, white and orange. The colors have something to do with Protestants and Catholics. I have no idea which color symbolizes which religious group. But! But! I suspect that green symbolizes Catholics because you don't see many orange hoodies in Dublin souvenir shops. This is how my brain works.

The broad brain-bursting extent of my knowledge subsequent to research:

First the superficial Fun-with-Flags stuff I was hoping would be the only stuff I'd find:

1. The flag is half as high as it is wide
2. The green bit always flies next to the mast
3. The shades of green and orange are only traditional (rather than official). Yellow and gold have been used instead of orange, but this of course has been frowned upon by some political parties.
4. That's it; everything else is complicated.

I should have known what I was getting myself into. Symbolism is so messy and sticky. I knew the green, white and orange of the Irish tricolour weren't entirely devoid of meaning; I simply thought their meaning would have more to do with concepts and less to do with knowing which Protestant king won which war.

It was in fact William of Orange, a Dutch Protestant prince who invaded England and went on to rule as William III King of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1689-1702; and though I have written this here, I will have forgotten it twenty minutes later. Or maybe not. A little mnemonic to help: Orange = William of Orange = There are slightly more protestants in Florida (lots of oranges there!) than Catholics. There. It's locked in now. If your brain works differently, well I'm sorry.

The color green has been used at least since the Irish Catholic Confederation (1642-1652), and has been a symbol of Irish Republicanism since the Society of United Irishmen, who launched the Irish Rebellion of 1798 with the intention of creating an Irish state independent of Britain.

White (You can't see it, because it's white.)
The white is a symbol of peace between the two religious groups. And sadly, at least for some, it is a symbol of the persistent division between them.

Obviously not the exact dimensions of the flag
The Politics of Color

I don't think you can understand the import of the Irish flag without understanding the history of Irish politics; and I don't think I'll be able to explain Irish politics with any sense of authority. I can, however, tell you a bit about the Easter Rising of 1916, when the Irish tricolour was reportedly flown for the first time as a symbol of Irish Independence.

The Easter Rising or Easter Rebellion of 1916 is said to be the most important Irish uprising for independence from Britain since the Rebellion of 1798. It was, however, unsuccessful and left nearly 200 dead and many more wounded. The architects of the uprising were all executed. You might know all of this, but did you know the Irish Volunteers, as they were called, had enlisted the aid of Germany in their fight? The German ship Libau or SS Castro but using the name Aud was supposed to deliver munitions to the Irish Volunteers but was intercepted by British forces.

The tricolour made its first appearance appropriately as a gift from a group of French women to a man named Thomas Francis Meagher in 1848. Meagher was an Irish nationalist whose death sentence for sedition was commuted to a life sentence in Australia. He later escaped, sailed to America, studied law and became the subject of statues. And you think your life is hard.

The Irish tricolour is a daring symbol of Ireland's troubled history but also a hopeful statement about religious diversity and acceptance. I'd like to think that white bit--that white "pale"--symbolizes peace rather than distance.

What does your country's flag mean?

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly: the Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Contrary, Prime Number Magazine, [PANK], Necessary Fiction, and Word Riot. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice.  



  1. Very interesting look into the Irish flag! It's easy to recognize a country by its flag, but how often do we know the story behind them? Thanks for sharing!

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