Monday, October 10, 2022

Part Three - Gerald Anthony Hayes-McCoy's 1979 book 'A History of Irish Flags from Earliest Times'

This is a classic volume, heavily illustrated and with meticulously-researched textual narrative. I consult it often, and picked it up again back in July after hearing a Radio Ulster discussion about flags, which was instigated by the annual burning of flags which happens on bonfires here, by loyalists on 11 July and then later in the summer by republicans too. I don't have a sense of how genuinely widespread flag burning is as a behavioural phenomenon, but it sure generates a lot of online reaction and press & broadcast media coverage.

Hayes-McCoy has a chapter entitled 'The Tricolour Triumphant' and also a subsection entitled 'Orange or Yellow?' where he outlines that the American 'Fenian' movement in the 1870s made various alterations to Meagher's tricolour design – first with a golden sunburst in the white third, and later by substituting a yellow or gold for the orange third. The 'Fenians' had other flags and emblems, one intriguingly described as:

 'a tricolour of Green, White and Gold, Saint Patrick's Cross with a red field, and shaped nearly like Saint Andrew's Cross, has one large shamrock emblazoned on it, with a wreath of small shamrocks encircles the cross, embracing the three colours. I never saw a handsomer flag in my life-time of experience. The Fenians and the Legion of St Patrick maintain that their destiny is to make a New Ireland, and the first step is that of providing a Flag that will be universally adopted by Irishmen in every part of the world. They hold to the belief that the Sunburst and Harp are not suitable, and not correct in point of historical accuracy...' 
– The Irishman, Saturday 18 September 1869

The poem below is from The Flag of Ireland newspaper, 10 July 1869. 'Green white and gold' is certainly a descriptive figure of speech everyone has heard. And from various online 'debates' I have been sent links to very recently, the introduction of 'gold' is indeed seen by many as a purposeful ousting of the 'orange' which had been used by Daniel O'Connell and the Association of the Friends of Ireland in 1831, and Meagher in 1848.

Often, the most extreme voices and positions about issues in Ireland come from beyond these shores, from romanticised ex-pats or those who like to indulge in what might today be interpreted as a kind of political 'cosplay', or by others seeking purpose through emotional involvement in far-away disputes. Or online, from the safely detached distance of a keyboard.

Flags, often belittled by the middle classes and some in the media as flegs, in fact hold visual stories and can tell us a lot about eras and ideas.