The Irish Tricolour


The Irish Tricolour
The Irish Tricolour


The Irish constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann,  defines the national flag as a “tricolour of green, white and orange.” [1] The three colors making up the vertical stripes (green on the hoist side, white in the midsection, and then orange) represent Catholicism, the hopeful peace between the two main religions of Ireland, and Protestantism, respectively. Likewise, the green of the flag is associated with the acts of St. Patrick who is given credit for converting Ireland to Catholicism, and the orange is an homage to William of Orange a Protestant king of England popular in the northern, protestant parts of the island. Lastly, in terms of the vexillology, the Irish Tricolour is based off the design of the French Tricolour and was designed around the same time by an earlier revolutionary group, the Young Irelanders, who later were incorporated into the Irish Republican Brotherhood, which was eventually led by leaders of the 1916 Rising.


The Tricolour was one of the most prominent flags of the Easter Rising as it flew over the General Post Office above Patrick Pearse as he read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. In 1916, the Irish Tricolour became linked with republicanism and the physical force nationalism utilized in the rising. As a result, the Tricolour became the national flag of the Republic of Ireland.

However,  the use of the flag in 1916 departs from original meaning of the flag. The Tricolour represents a truce, a peace, between to sides that are usually at odds, the Protestants and the Catholics, but the use of violence under a flag that is meant to embody cooperation betrays the flag. As the flag was used under a republican uprising in 1916, the Tricolour’s association with republicanism created a more significant link between the flag and the mainly Catholic, republican south, and further alienated the Protestant, unionist populations of the north. While the white midsection of the Irish Tricolour is meant to represent the “hoped-for union,” according to information on the Irish Tricolour from the Department of the Taoiseach [2], the flag only became more divisive following the 1916 Rising. The white rectangle of the Irish Tricolour which was meant to embody a union became more like border.

Modern Day

It is prudent to first examine the Irish Tricolour from the perspective of commemoration in 2016, 100 years after the 1916 Rising. Below is a video revolving around how the Irish government will honor their flag:

However, this video glosses over much of the more controversial and divisive perceptions of the flag. Juxtaposed with mentalities of Northern Irelanders and even more extreme unionists, there really is not much common ground for the “diversity and peace” the Irish Tricolour represents to coexist.

The Irish Tricolour has been no stranger to controversy over the time it has been used in Ireland. During the time of the Troubles, the Irish Tricolour was used most heavily by republican paramilitary groups such as the Provisional Irish Republican Army (or IRA), which was heavily involved in acts of terrorism against Northern Ireland in attempts to unite Ireland under one republic. Paramilitary groups brandishing the Irish Tricolour along with some of the other flags of 1916 like the Irish Republic flag and the Starry Plough flag, heightened the Irish Tricolour’s association with republicanism and an ideology of violence stemming from 1916.

The background of violence is on of the main reasons the Tricolour cause controversyImage result for union jack and irish tricolour common wealth day among unionist/Protestant groups, especially in Northern Ireland. According Clashing Symbols?, a book written based on survey responses of unionists and nationalists, ” The symbols of the Irish State are seen as irredentist and threatening and unionists would prefer that they are controlled.” One survey response is also cited directly after that statement as “‘The Tricolour is a symbol of violence for me — symbol of the “armed struggle” and though it might have been artificially and idealistically to suggest a truce between the Orange and the Green, it only represents evil for me.” [3] Although, Clashing Symbols? was written in 1994 still at the tail end of the Troubles and tensions may have relaxed some following peace talks like the Good Friday Agreement, evil does not simply go away with legislation. A flag is only representative of the people that stand under it and hatred toward a flag is more so hatred toward the group that follow it. And the people who believe in republicanism in the north most likely did not disappear with a decline in violence, especially considering the abundance of Tricolours in republican/Catholic areas of Northern Ireland. While peace has become the policy of the island of Ireland and is more closely in line with the “idealistic” meanings of the Irish Tricolour’s design, hatred and belief in the other’s illegitimacy and “artificiality” will continue to divide and keep tensions slightly below a boil.

See Also:

Disunity of the 1916 Flags: The Irish Tricolour and the Starry Plough

Notable Flags Involved with the 1916 Rising

Souvenirs featuring the Irish Tricolour:

Stamps featuring the Irish Tricolour:

[1] “Constitution of Ireland – Bunreacht Na HÉireann.” Constitution of Ireland – Bunreacht Na HÉireann – Department of Taoiseach. Accessed December 15, 2016.

[2] “National Flag.” National Flag – Department of Taoiseach. Accessed December 15, 2016.

[3] McCartney, Clem, and Lucy Bryson. Clashing Symbols?: A Report on the Use of Flags, Anthems and Other National Symbols in Northern Ireland. Belfast: Institute of Irish Studies, Queen’s University of Belfast, 1994.