Thursday, March 7, 2013

I used to think it was gold.

The orange part of the flag, that is. I thought it was something like ‘green for the 40 shades’, ‘white for the sky’ and ‘gold for the all gold’ (or Golden Age of Irish monasticism, would be more fitting). And when I found out it was ‘orange’, I was in denial. I refused to give up the lustre of gold for the rust of orange. Of course, I really had no idea what the Irish tricolour actually meant.

 For those still favouring gold, you should know that ‘green is for those who regard themselves as Irish on the island of Ireland’, ‘orange (after William of Orange) is for those who regard themselves as British on the island of Ireland’, and ‘white is for the peace between them’. Some would say that it’s more so a religious divide than a cultural one, but some would also say that the white is not peace they share but ….

The story of the flag is that it was inspired by that of France, which similarly has disputed symbolism. White represents the clergy, red for the nobility, and blue for the bourgeoisie. That just gave me an idea to add to our list of symbols for the Irish flag: white is the church that has separated the two groups. Ah, tis all a bit political for me. Personally, I would prefer a different flag:

This flag does have gold. Hurray! But it’s more than just that. The golden harp has been a symbol of Ireland for around a millennium (see here). The harp is our national emblem and I interpret its place on this flag as representing not only the importance of the harp in Irish history, but the importance of music in general, and, with that, all the arts. All the arts of Ireland: Irish music, poetry, song, story - our heritage. These are what have made our country unique. The gold symbolising our culture’s richness. That, not political boundaries, was what united our country.

The green is a deeper, solemn shade. A shade for wisdom. For centuries’ learning of our monks, our brehon’s (judges) 20 years of aural memorisation of every detail, poets’ and story-tellers’ ability for something new nearly every day of the year, for education for Catholics after O’Connell abolished the Penal Laws.
All that speaks to me more.
So why isn’t the flag of Ireland? Well, because it’s already the flag of Leinster. 

You see, during the Eleven Years’ War, a self-governing body was established in Kilkenny which remained loyal to the British monarch throughout its duration. From 1642 to 1649, the Irish Catholic Confederation governed most of Ireland and basically wanted freedom for Catholics in Ireland under the crown of England, as opposed to free from it. Their flag was a gold harp on a green background, supposedly incited by Owen Roe O’Neill (one of the descendents of the ancient Irish ruling dynasty of Uí Néill) who flew it from his ship’s mast and who would become the Commander of the Confederate Army. Thenceforth, it became associated with Kilkenny and its province, Leinster.

Our tricolour was first flown in public on the Mall in Waterford City on March 7th 1848. And we commemorate its anniversary today. So it’s a more suitable day than most to buy a wee Irish flag.

Don’t know which one, though. ;)