The Irish flag meaning and the powerful story behind it

Learn all about the famous Irish flag meaning. We‘ll take you on the journey through its history, from its birth to modern-day importance.

The Irish flag is famous around the world for its tripartite of colours, the green, white, and orange flying proudly from homes, buildings, and memorials in all countries and continents.

With the flag now firmly part of Irish society and culture, there comes a powerful story and meaning with it, etched in the annals of Irish history and struggle, which have had a lasting impact on all people of this island.

The Young Irelanders

The Irish flag meaning is very important to those from this island.
Michael Collins wrapped up in an Irish tricolour.

While there was talk of a tricolour for Ireland in the 1830s, it was on 7th of March 1848 that Thomas Meagher, a Young Irelander, first publicly unveiled the flag from the Wolfe Tone Confederate Club at 33 The Mall, Waterford City.

The Young Ireland movement was a group of cultural nationalists whose aim was the revival of the Irish nation and its culture. Central to their belief was the uniting of all people in Ireland, which was deeply divided amongst different religious denominations.

The Young Irelanders were inspired to take up their cause following revolutions that same year in various European capitals, such as Paris, Berlin, and Rome, where royals and emperors were overthrown.

The French connection

The Irish flag meaning is to bind the protestants and catholics under one banner.

Meagher, along with other prominent Young Irelanders William Smith O’Brien and Richard O’Gorman, travelled to France to congratulate them on their victory. When there, several French women wove an Irish tricolour “made from the finest French silk”, according to the Irish Times, and presented it to the men.

The flag was then presented in the Irish capital of Dublin on the 15th of April 1848, a month after it was first unveiled in Waterford. Meagher proclaimed: “The white in the centre signifies a lasting truce between the ‘orange’ and ‘green’, and I trust that beneath its folds the hands of the Irish Protestant and the Irish Catholic may be clasped in generous and heroic brotherhood.”

Meaning of the Irish tricolour

While there is a compelling Irish flag meaning, there are still divisions based on its use.

As previously mentioned, Irish society was divided along religious lines, and the tricolour was an attempt to establish unity between these different denominations, as is proven by Meagher’s words.

The green symbolised Irish Catholics, who constituted a majority of Irish people. While the colour green is widely associated with Irish landscapes and shamrocks. The colour also symbolises Irish Catholic and nationalist revolution in the country.

For example, an unofficial Irish flag used before the tricolour was a green flag with a gold harp at its centre, which was used in Wolfe Tone’s rebellion of 1798 and after. The association of green with the Irish nation lasts today, from St. Patrick’s Day parades to the colour of the national sports-teams jerseys.

The orange represented the Irish protestant population. Orange was the colour associated with Protestants in the North of Ireland, where the majority of them resided. This was due to William of Orange’s defeat of King James II in 1690 in the Battle of the Boyne.

James was a Catholic and William a Protestant, and this was a decisive victory for Protestants across Ireland and Britain. The Orange colour retains its importance today, where the Orange Order, or ‘Orangemen’, march annually on the 12th of July, mainly in the North.

The flag’s legacy

There is hope that someday the Irish flag meaning will be used by everybody on the island.

While the Young Ireland Rebellion of 1848 was suppressed, the Irish tricolour withstood this defeat and earned the admiration and use from later Irish nationalist and republican revolutionary movements.

The Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), Irish Volunteers, and the Irish Citizen Army flew the Irish tricolour from atop the GPO in Dublin on Easter Monday 1916, following the creation of the Provisional Irish Government and the beginning of the 1916 Easter Rising. The tricolour rests above the GPO today.

The flag was also adopted by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the War of Independence (1919-1921). It was used by the Irish Free State following its creation in 1922. The Irish Constitution of 1937 included the tricolour as the state’s flag.

The hope of lasting peace and unity

The tricolour can be spotted proudly presented all across Ireland.

Indeed, there remains today in the North of Ireland divisions between Catholics and Protestants, Unionists and Nationalists. The goal of peace and unity called for by Meagher in 1848 remains to be fully achieved.

While many Unionists and Protestants do not adopt the flag or attach any sense of belonging to it as a result of its association with Irish republicanism, it is still hoped that Ireland will one day be a nation where Catholics and Protestants, and all religious denominations for that matter, feel safe and secure under the Irish nation.

Let us know what you think about the Irish flag meaning and the story behind it.

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Dan O'Muirigh is a keen travel writer from Belfast, County Antrim. He is a passionate sports man who plays Gaelic football for Naomh Gall GAC. He recently graduated with a degree in Law but instead wants to pursue a career in writing. He loves Ireland and believes the island offers something for everyone. He has immersed himself into the country by playing Irish sports, taking part in the culture and learning the Irish language.