Flying the flag in 1916


A chara, – I enjoyed Manchán Magan’s article about the Tricolour, based on new research by Brian Hand (“Tracking the Tricolour”, April 20th). However, I disagree with the claim that the Free State government “had no clear intention” of adopting the tricolour as the national flag, and that its destiny remained uncertain before its inclusion in the Constitution in 1937.

As I discuss in my book Our Own Devices: National Symbols and Political Conflict in Twentieth-Century Ireland , the Free State government considered that the Tricolour had been established as the national flag by usage and that statutory recognition was unnecessary. In 1926, in response to a question in the Dáil, the head of the Free State government, William Cosgrave, stated clearly that the Tricolour of green, white and orange was the national flag. Despite the demand of republicans that the Free State should “Take it down from the mast, Irish traitors”, the Tricolour flew as the national flag on land throughout the Free State period. The British red ensign was, however, used on ships registered in the Free State.

There was some popular uncertainty about the correct colours of the Tricolour in the early years of the state, and perhaps some misunderstanding of its intended symbolism. The flag was often referred to as “green, white and gold”, and it was not uncommon for a yellow stripe to replace the orange. There are probably a number of reasons for this, including the fact that the old green flag with the gold harp had been referred to as the “green and gold”; the fact that the Vatican City flag was white and gold; and perhaps also a reluctance to acknowledge the orange of the Orange Order. – Is mise,


Cleary Street,

Lower Hutt,

Wellington, New Zealand.

Sir, – Dr Ann Matthews’s claim (April 29th) that the Tricolour, “in a homologically vertical arrangement” was not flown in 1916, is incorrect.

After the reading of the Proclamation by Patrick Pearse, Argentine-born Eamon Bulfin, the son of William Bulfin, hoisted two flags, the Tricolour, and the traditional green flag emblazoned with the words Irish Republic, above the GPO. The Tricolour was flown at the corner of Henry Street and “Irish Republic” flag at the corner of Princes Street. However, there was a third emblem, the Union Flag, which was just as significant on that historic day, albeit by its absence from the GPO.

The fact that the Tricolour was the flag chosen by the leaders of the Easter Rising to be flown at the GPO in 1916 was hugely significant and is why it remains our national flag today. – Yours, etc,


Delaford Lawn,

Knocklyon, Dublin 16.