The Starry Plough Flag And Irish Republican Socialism
No symbol is as closely associated with the IRSP and the Irish Republican Socialist Movement as the Starry Plough flag. The modern day Starry Plough flag has seven white, 5 pointed stars, in the shape of the Ursa Major constellation (also known as the Plough of the Heavens or The Great Bear) on a blue background. The Starry Plough flag has been intrinsically linked to Irish Republican Socialism for close to a century, since it’s first use, in April 1914, by James Connolly’s small but famously courageous Irish Citizen Army (ICA). The ICA were a worker’s militia, created to protect Trades Union members and James Connolly’s Irish Socialist Republican Party.
The ICA proudly carried the Starry Plough as they marched through Dublin on the first day of the 1916 Easter Rising. With no short measure of poetic justice, during the Easter Rising, the standard of Republican Socialism flew over commandeered premises belonging to the infamous Capitalist villain, William Martin Murphy. Murphy was the Dublin workers’ class enemy number one, a notorious strike-breaker and chief Gombeen of the Dublin Lock-out of 1913-14!
The Starry Plough Flag And The 1981 Hunger Strike
The Starry Plough flag in it’s original and modern form has been used by various Republican, Trades Union and Socialist organisations throughout the years and has been carried at parades, marches and demonstrations. However, it was during the tragic Hunger Strikes of 1981, when ten IRA and INLA prisoners gave their lives for the right to be treated as political prisoners, that the Starry Plough flag became very publicly and indelibly linked to the Irish Republican Socialist Movement in the eyes of the world.
During the Hungers Strikes of 1981, the Republican funerals of the Hunger Strikers were beamed to television screens in living-rooms all over the world by the assembled global media. Almost a third of the Hunger Strikers, who bravely gave their lives, were members of the Irish Republican Socialist Movement’s military wing, the INLA. The three Irish National Liberation Army Hunger Strikers, Volunteers Patsy O’Hara, Kevin Lynch and Michael Devine, were all rightfully accorded full Republican Socialist military funerals, even under the most difficult of conditions.
The coffins of the three INLA Hunger Striker’s had both the Starry Plough flag and the National flag draped on them. Arguably, it was from these images, which were broadcast all over the world, that the Starry Plough flag became the publicly perceived flag of the Irish Republican Socialist Movement. Anyone watching the INLA Hunger Striker’s funerals, who saw the prominence given to the Starry Plough during the H-block martyrs requiem ceremonies, would have made the connection in the symbiotic symbolism of National Liberation and Socialism, being of equal importance to the Republican Socialist Movement.
A Brief History of The Starry Plough Flag
The original Starry Plough flag was first adopted by James Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army in April,1914. The original design had the symbol of a gold ploughshare, with a sword as it’s cutting edge, with the seven stars of the Ursa Major constellation superimposed upon it, with a green background. This flag is also carried by the Irish Republican Socialist Movement, although the various factions of the Official IRA used it quite prominently as a de facto logo, in the not so distant past. The original Starry Plough was designed as the military ‘colours’ or ‘standard’ of the Irish Citizen Army and this explains it’s slightly oversized appearance when reproduced on conventional flags’ dimensions. In recent times the Provisional Sinn Fein splinter group Eirigi have to a certain extent re-claimed the ICA version of the Starry Plough flag.
The modern day Starry Plough design, with it’s striking seven white stars, on a blue background, made it’s first appearance during the 1930’s as the emblem of the Republican Congress. The Republican Congress of the 1930s was a Left-wing Republican political construct, created by Peader O’Donell and others in the hope of placing Irish Republicanism on a more overtly Leftist trajectory. Since then, the modern day Starry Plough has been intrinsically and rightly linked to Irish Republican Socialism.
Derry IRSP have an excellent, more in depth history of the Starry Plough flag published online which can be accessed: Here
The Starry Plough And Irish Republican Socialism
Various Irish Trades Unions have adopted both versions of the Starry Plough or incorporated them into their emblems over the years. The Irish Labour Party at one stage used it as their party logo, on a red background but have since ditched it, along with any pretence at being remotely a Socialist party (and are currently paddling in the murky waters of coalition government with Fine Gael, a party who spawned Ireland’s only Fascist movement, the Blueshirts!)
The Communist Party of Ireland’s youth wing, the Connolly Youth Movement, have used the Starry Plough in their banners. One of the most iconic images from the early ‘Troubles’, showed militant Belfast Official IRA leader, Joe McCann, armed with an M1 Carbine, with the Starry Plough flag flying beside him, at the battle of Inglis’ Bakery, in the Markets area of Belfast. (It has been convincingly argued that had Joe McCann lived, given his adherence to militant Republican Socialism, he would have been one of the Official Republicans who would have joined Costello’s Irish Republican Socialist Movement)
The Workers Party use the early Starry Plough design (which is also known as the Plough and Stars) in their party logo and for some time that version of the flag was closely associated with the Stickies. However, over this past two decades, the original Starry Plough flag has been carried by the Irish Republican Socialist Movement during demonstrations and in Colour Parties, along with the modern, Republican Congress version of the flag – the instantly recognisable 7 stars on blue background.
All contemporary Irish Republican organisations, including Provisional Sinn Fein, Republican Sinn Fein, the 32 County Sovereignty Movement and others carry the Starry Plough flag during parades, although it is more for traditional symbolic purposes, than any real political commitment to Connolly’s Marxism. Incredibly, during a Free State army commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising, one of their colour parties, uber inappropriately, carried the original Starry Plough standard of Connolly’s Marxist militia, the Irish Citizen Army! One may very well ask what connection the Free State armed forces could ever claim to have to the Revolutionary Socialist flag of a worker’s militia, the ICA?
The IRSP and the Starry Plough
The IRSP use both versions of the Starry Plough on party logos and sometimes it appears on a red background, for party flags or banners. During funerals for Irish Republican Socialist Movement veterans, the Starry Plough is usually the only flag draped on the coffin, which differs slightly from the era of the Hunger Strikes, when the Irish Tricolour usually accompanied the plough on the coffins of IRSM martyrs. In some funerals of Republican Socialist veterans, such as the funeral of Johnny White in Derry, the Starry Plough and the plain Red Flag of International Socialism, shared equal prominence on the coffin during these sad occasions. During the funeral in Derry in April 2012, of INLA veteran, Seamus ‘Chang’ Coyle, a striking Starry Plough with 7 stars on a red background adorned his coffin on it’s journey to the City Cemetery.
In conclusion, the Starry Plough has been, and will continue to be, the flag most closely associated with the Irish Republican Socialist Movement. The Irish Republican Socialist Party can carry the Starry Plough safe in the knowledge that they are the direct heirs of Ireland’s first Marxist revolutionary, James Connolly. The IRSP endeavour to build the basis of Connolly’s vision of a re-united, 32 County Socialist Republic and they seek to make the Starry Plough the flag proudly shouldered by all Irish workers, irrespective of religious denomination, in the struggle for economic liberty as well as national liberation. James Connolly’s words written over a century ago aptly differentiate Irish Republican Socialism from the various one dimensional nationalist groupings who insist on the stages credo that ‘labour must wait’
“Ireland, as distinct from her people, is nothing to me; and the man who is bubbling over with love and enthusiasm for ‘Ireland,’ and can yet pass unmoved through our streets and witness all the wrong and the suffering, the shame and the degradation wrought upon the people of Ireland – yea, wrought by Irishmen upon Irish men and women, without burning to end it, is, in my opinion, a fraud and a liar in his heart, no matter how he loves that combination of chemical elements he is pleased to call Ireland!”
(James Connolly: The New Evangel Preached To Irish Toilers 1901)
Alex McGuigan, (edited 2013)