Next to the Stars and Stripes, Ireland’s national flag is one of the most widely recognized by Americans. It’s commonly seen in the United States hanging outside of Irish pubs and on bumper stickers and key chains. It’s an image that’s proudly displayed by Irish-Americans of all ages, but few people know much, if anything, about it’s origins.
Officially adopted by the Irish Republic during the War of Independence with England in 1919, the “Tricolour” was made the country’s official flag when Ireland became an free nation in 1921. Before this time the flag had served as the symbol of the Irish fight for independence. It was flown over the General Post Office in Dublin as a symbol of defiance and Irish unity during the Easter Rising in 1916.
The flag itself is thought to have been a gift to Ireland in 1848 from a group of women in France who were strong supporters of Ireland’s fight for freedom. Some say this is why the Irish flag’s tri-color design so closely resembles France’s national flag.
Orange, White and Green
Each of the colors on the Irish flag has a distinct meaning. Used for William of Orange, or King William III of England, Scotland and Ireland, the color orange is thought to symbolize Ireland’s Protestant population. A Protestant King, William III is most well known for defeating the dethroned King James II, a Roman Catholic, at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, giving Protestants control over Ireland.
The green on Ireland’s flag is thought to represent the country’s Catholic population as well as to symbolize revolution. It’s thought to have been taken from an earlier version of the Irish flag that was solid green with a gold harp in its center, this earlier flag having been used by revolutionaries to symbolize Irish nationalism.
The white center of Ireland’s flag is thought to represent peace and the everlasting hope that the country’s Protestant and Catholic populations can live together in harmony.
The next time you see the flag of Ireland hanging outside a restaurant or on a t-shirt, remember where it came from. You may even impress your friends with your knowledge!