Thursday, October 08, 2020

Symbols and meaning - a century apart, a world of both difference and similarities

Symbols have no meaning in themselves - we give them meaning in how we use them, and in how we perceive them. These two representations, of Ulster in 1954, and of Northern Ireland in 1958, are over 100 years apart yet they are in so many ways the same. The five pointed Irish crown and the shield on the left, are superseded by the British crown and the six pointed star on the right. The 'clan belt' on the left becomes an artistic flax flowers border on the right. The meaning is different but the composition is essentially the same.

The six pointed star device was introduced in the early 1920s to represent the six counties of Northern Ireland. As per the clipping below, it was proposed as the sole centrepiece of the new Governor of Northern Ireland flag in 1924, designed by artist William R. Gordon (1896–1951) of the Belfast Libraries, Museums and Arts Committee. He proposed a Union Flag with no Irish Province of Ulster Red Hand element at all.

Gordon was also involved in the design of the 'Ulster Pavilion' at the Empire Exhibition at Wembley that same year, and in the early organised Arts scene in Belfast. 

A year later, in May 1925, the design below was produced by Belfast Rotary Club as a presentational gift for a visit to Cleveland, Ohio, USA. Gerald Anthony Hayes-McCoy's 1979 book A History of Irish Flags from Earliest Times is a great reference on these things, but he doesn't go into real detail on the flags of post-1921 Northern Ireland. Maybe somebody should.

All symbols evolve and change, and will continue to do so.