The Starry Plough Flag

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The Starry Plough Flag


The Starry Plough Flag has a background of green defaced with a golden plough using a sword as a plowshare. Additionally, white stars in the formation of section of Ursa Major (a.k.a the Big Dipper or just Plough in the British Isles). The flag symbolizes the struggle of the common man. The sword as the plowshare is also a biblical reference in Isaiah 2:3-4: Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths. The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” In the bible verse, God pushes his followers to turn their weapons into tools, turning the means for war into the means for peace. The ambiguity arises when examined in the context of 1916 when the workers took up their plowshares and fought, the opposite of what the Bible verse is proposing, which is surprising from the flag representing a Catholic-majority group of soldiers. The marriage of Catholic tradition, the biblical reference being integral to the flag’s design, with socialist concepts espoused by James Connolly, the leader of the Irish Citizen Army where the Starry Plough originates, like the working class and the implied oppressor forcing them to  take up their plowshares as arms, leaves the Starry Plough flag with complexity and nuanced implications, which culminate in a very wide range of interpretations.


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The original Starry Plough Flag that flew over the Imperial Hotel in Dublin

The Starry Plough Flag was originally used by the Irish Citizen Army in the 1916 Rising and flew opposite the Irish Tricolour and Irish republic Flag of the IRB. James Connolly, one of the leaders of the rising and the head of the ICA founded the group on socialist principles in order to better the plight of the common worker. The tool to weapon imagery as well as the use of stars is also consistent with other notable Marxist nations, but the Catholic connotations also give the flag a distinctly Irish meaning, which resonated with many members of the ICA having just recently, in 1912, experienced a harsh lockout in Dublin which left animosity toward the rich business owners at a peak.

Modern Day

In addition to the ironic capitalistic commodification of the Starry Plough Flag which stood for James Connolly’s brand of socialism, the flag is being kept alive in formal commemorations of Easter 1916, rallies involving the labour movement and as representation of political parties like the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP).

Modern commemoration events that utilize the Starry Plough Flag can vary depending on the context. More general ceremonies pertaining to the Easter Rising overall mainly focus on the impact of all the members of the Irish Provisional Government set up in 1916 with all the other leaders, but more specific commemoration events focus on the impact of James Connolly. Below is a video of a commemoration that was held in Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin where James Connolly and the other leader were executed in honor of the 100th anniversary of their deaths:


The event was held by the Dublin Council of Trade Unions in honor of James Connolly as mentioned. Particular emphasis must also be put on the opening of the ceremony and on the orator, Michael O’Reilly, speaking from 10:40 to 22.50.

In the opening sequences of the ceremony, the Starry Plough Flag first emerges from the doorway followed by the Tricolour. While short, the opening highlights the varying degree of significance placed on the flags of Ireland. In a James Connolly specific context the Starry Plough is presented as more important than the nation flag of Ireland, the Tricolour. The Starry Plough then remains behind the speakers as the ceremony proceeds. Also, an older design of the Starry Plough is being used, presumably to appeal to the Easter Rising as it was. The ceremony is also composed of a recitation of James Connolly’s last words and symbolic raising of the

The modern Starry Plough Flag design

The aforementioned speaker is also worthy of some note. To summarize, the speaker begins by addressing the history of James Connolly and his work as a labour reformist and socialist leader, but, as his speech goes on, he delineates between the perceptions of James Connolly, one as a physical force narrow-nationalist and the other as a peaceful advocate of socialist ideals. Eventually, the speaker discusses the modern struggle of unionist and nationalist mindsets in Ireland and urges the audience to advocate for peaceful cooperation to fight for the lower working classes of the world and Northern Ireland rather than just the Irish Republic, as, the speaker claims, Connolly would have supported.

Taken as another interpretation of James Connolly’s values, the other force continually using the Starry Plough Flag, the IRSP, can very much be seen as the antithesis of the above video. From the IRSP’s website, “The party is guided by the analysis of James Connolly: that the class struggle and national liberation struggle cannot be separated, and are the only movement that uphold that analysis.” The IRSP also has adopted the modern designs of the Starry Plough Flag of seven stars on a blue or red background (pictured). Additionally, the IRSP is against parliamentary legislation of socialist ideals in mainly Northern Ireland because they are seen as acts of imperialism, and the party also rejects the Good Friday Agreement for being a so called “imperialist-backed undemocratic sabotage of true peace and freedom in Ireland,” an Ireland the party sees as 32 counties.

These two examples of modern ideologies surrounding James Connolly very much represents the very real difference in perception of the Starry Plough and the man most closely associated with the banner. One side attests to Connolly’s desire for peace and betterment of the working class in general with cooperation as a means to achieve that end, the other very much sees Connolly as an unwavering nationalist who was willing to fight to reach the liberation of the working class. There is no “correct” answer to the various modern interpretations of James Connolly and his teachings, but the struggle over who is a more legitimate representation of the man’s ideals is still a struggle being waged what the memory of Connolly actually communicates and what the design of his flag actually implies.

See Also:

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

Notable Flags involved with the 1916 Rising

Souvenirs featuring the Starry Plough Flag:

[1] Accessed December 15, 2016.

[2] “Peace Accords Matrix.” Official Language and Symbol: Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement | Peace Accords Matrix. Accessed December 15, 2016.