First tricolor was unveiled by Thomas Francis Meagher in Waterford City in 1848
Ireland’s tricolor symbolizes struggle, freedom, peace and reconciliation
Tricolor will play a special part in the 1916 Easter Rising centenary celebrations
The beloved tricolor is inextricably linked with Ireland’s past, present and future. The flag is proudly flown by the 80 million Irish diaspora in all four corners of the globe and is set to take center stage during next year’s 1916 Easter Rising centenary celebrations. You can find it enthusiastically hoisted at sporting events, parades and commemorations but what is the real story behind the flag and its original champions?
IrishEmpire.org took a closer look at this Celtic Holy of Holies and discovered some fascinating history and characters along the way. Here are our top five reasons to fly the Irish tricolor with pride all year round.
I: Honoring a Pioneer
Meagher unveiled the first tricolor and later went on to command the Fighting Sixty-Ninth.
"I now bid farewell to the country of my birth — of my passions — of my death — a country whose misfortunes have invoked my sympathies — whose factions I sought to quell — whose intelligence I prompted to a lofty aim — whose freedom has been my fatal dream."
— Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher — Fighting 69th Regiment
Thomas Francis Meagher is a man with an incredible story to tell. In Irish history, he is synonymous with the nationalist cause as the leader of the Young Irelanders in their doomed Rebellion of 1848. He is equally synonymous with the tricolor as it was he who unveiled the very first flag in March of 1848.
Banished from Irish shores for sedition, Meagher would go on to play an important role in the American Civil War on the side of the Union. Despite his initial leanings toward the Confederates, Meagher became a leading campaigner, organizer and commander of the Fighting 69th New York State Militia. He later went on to become Acting Governor of the new Territory of Montana.
II: Ode to History and Roots
The emblematic banner has rallied troops, poets & scholars behind the cause of Irish nationalism.
Historically, the tricolor has been a source of nationalist pride having a dynamizing effect on movements from the Young Irelanders to the Irish Volunteers. It has always espoused a unified Ireland free from the scourges of religious sectarianism, colonial rule and civil war. Its utopian vision of a better Ireland was most clearly articulated by Thomas Francis Meagher, the first Irishman to raise the flag in 1848.
As a fledgling symbol of Irish nationalism, the tricolor fanned the flames of secessionist rebels but soon evolved to become the primary emblem of Irish independence. During the 1916 Easter Rising, it was the tricolor that was proudly hoisted above the GPO in Dublin by the Irish Volunteers. Today it remains as important as ever, still encapsulating the hopes and dreams of an Ireland at peace.
III: Symbol of Peace and Reconciliation
As you enter Derry across the Craigavon Bridge, you’re greeted by this touching bronze sculpture.
“The white in the centre signifies a lasting truce between the “orange” and the “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”
Thomas F. Meagher — Leader of the Young Irelanders in the Rebellion of 1848
The Irish tricolor is a remarkable pivot from previous iterations of the national flag and it carries with it the lofty ambitions of an island torn apart by religious sectarianism and imperial meddling. The choice of colors echoed the sentiments of a new wave of nationalism determined to coexist and live peacefully with old foes and religious rivals. The Irish Green representing the Catholic, nationalist majority would seek to live peacefully with the Protestant Orange, who feared being ruled by a nationalist government from Dublin.
The Hands Across the Divide monument in the above photo is another shining example of the original vision first laid out by Thomas Francis Meagher in 1848. The destinies of all the diverse communities that inhabit our island are interdependent and best realized as a united people.
IV: Beacon of Democracy and Freedom
The tricolor is the leading symbol of Irish democracy along with Bunreacht na hÉireann (the Constitution of Ireland).
Along with Bunreacht na hÉireann (the Constitution of Ireland), there is no more potent and universal symbol of modern Irish independence and nationalism than the tricolor. Its widespread adoption by leaders of the era represented a watershed in Irish politics. The umbilical cord with the UK’s parliament was permanently severed with the renaissance of an independent Ireland flying its own flag and legislating for its own people.
The tricolor equally plotted a moral roadmap for the emergent state signalling its intentions to the world of becoming an inclusive Republic characterized by social justice and equality and shunning the political and religious enmity responsible for corroding the fabric of the nation.
V: 100th Anniversary of the Easter Rising
Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance commemorates all of the brave souls who lost their lives in the quest for Irish Freedom.
2016 promises to be a very emotional, joyous and nostalgic time for Ireland. It will mark 100 years since the 1916 Easter Rising led by a group of brave men whose leaders were mercilessly executed by the British . Around 500 souls perished in total as a result of the Rising (including 184 civilians and 107 enemy combatants). The dream of a free and independent Ireland under the rebel’s tricolor continued to burn brightly and their sacrifice on that tragic day didn’t go in vain.
Understandably, the tricolor that was hoisted above the GPO on that fateful day in 1916 will be the focal point of the centenary commemorations in 2016. The spectacular vision and aspirations of Ireland’s founding fathers may not quite have materialized into the utopian socialist paradise promised by eloquent speeches but a free and modern European nation has flourished thanks to centuries of indomitable spirit.
Below: The poignant moment a ruling British monarch finally came to Dublin to lay a wreath for Irish souls lost fighting for freedom.