Irish Republican Flags

In Republican working class areas of Ireland, especially the North of the country, Republican flags are very much in evidence particularly in the run up to the anniversary of the 1916 Rising at Easter time.  Generally speaking, Irish Republican flags would not be on display to the same extent that pro-British flags would be in Unionist towns and villages in the North East of the country.  Many Unionist areas in the North of Ireland would be tackily festooned with Loyalist flags and bunting on a near 365 days per year basis.


In Republican areas householders would still be very conscious that, due to the sectarian nature of the Northern state-let, their flying of Republican flags to commemorate the Easter Rising would be viewed by the various forces of the British occupied ‘state-let’ as being subversive, leaving them susceptible to surveillance and indeed raids by the MI5-directed PSNI/RUC.  Until fairly recently, Republican flags were the subject of a de jure ban, which was rigorously enforced by the North’s paramilitary police force the RUC and this was used as a pretext to break up even the mildest of Nationalist parades which had the temerity to carry the National flag of Ireland, usually referred to as the Tricolour. Indeed one of the sparks that helped ignite the tinder that led to the conflagration of the 40+ year conflict in the North was the ‘Divis Street flag incident when the RUC acting at the behest of arch-Loyalist, the late Ian Paisley, stormed the then Sinn Fein HQ to remove a small Irish tricolour on display that caused zero offence to any local resident. (There is considerable truth in the  words ascribed to Napper Tandy  that the ‘wearing of the Green’ has been effectively outlawed by British rule for centuries, as the old song goes)

The Tricolour

In most Republican areas the flag most prevalently on display would be the National flag, which is also commonly referred to as ‘the tricolour’, it is made up of three vertical bands of green, white and orange. The tricolour’s origins are from the French revolution and the era of Europe-wide bourgeois revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries.  Many of the then new nation-states of Europe from that era, such as France and Italy post-Risorgimento also have tricolours as their national flags composed of various colours.


The modern Starry Plough


The Starry Plough

A very close second to the Irish tricolour would be the Starry Plough flag which is becoming even more popular in Irish Republican working class areas.  The Starry Plough has a blue background with white stars marking the shape of the constellation Ursa Major, also known as the heavenly plough.  The Starry Plough is the flag of Irish Republican Socialism and is closely associated with the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP), although not exclusively so.  Most Irish Republican colour parties, marching bands or parades will have a Starry Plough included. The Starry Plough has it’s origins in James Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army, although the design most seen today is an adaptation of the original, which was adopted by the left-wing Republican Congress of the 1930’s. The original Starry Plough aka the Plough and Stars has a green background, a ploughshare with the Ursa Major constellation marked on it and a sword as the plough’s blade, in the colour yellow.

The Original Irish Citizen Army Starry Plough flag


The Sunburst, Four Provinces and other flags

The Sunburst flag, which was adopted in the early 19th century as the flag of Na Fianna Eireann youth movement, has a blue background with a splintered sunrise in red or dark orange. In recent times the Sunburst has become quite popular and is a staple in most colour parties.


The Four Provinces flag is also quite popular as a stand alone flag.  It incorporates the four flags of the provinces of Ulster, Connacht, Munster and Leinster.  Some colour parties carry the Four Provinces flag or each provincial flag individually.  During the long period of the banning of the Irish tricolour, especially from rural Nationalist/Republican marches, the Four Provinces flags were often used as a substitute and received less attention from the sectarian, antagonistic RUC.


The Harp flag on a green background is relatively popular in rural Republican areas, although it is a flag that is rightly or wrongly associated with Hibernian-type narrow Nationalism. The 9 County Ulster flag (contained in the Four Provinces Flag above) which has a yellow background, a red cross and a red hand within a shield, does make appearances as a stand alone flag, although due to it’s very slight similarity to the Unionist ‘Northern Ireland’ flag, it is not as popular as it perhaps should be.  (In reality, the 9 County Ulster flags only heraldic link to the Northern Ireland flag is the red hand of O’Neil, the latter flag is strictly speaking the cross of St George with the red hand incorporated inside a 6 pointed, Zionist type star.)


A copy of the original flag that flew over the GPO in 1916. In recent times it has become closely associated with the ‘1916 Societies’


In conclusion, Irish Republican flags are colourful and steeped in history and tradition.Unlike the serial be-decking of Unionist areas, many people have given their lives for right to display Republican emblems. As stated earlier, in times past at least, many people were reluctant to commemorate the likes of the Easter Rising by flying flags from their homes, as it potentially marked their homes out for raids by the RUC and British army. In many cases the displaying of Republican flags by residents were used by the state-sponsored death squads of the Loyalist paramilitaries to target ordinary civilians for murder.   Many Irish Republican parties and groups have their own specially designed flags which are often seen at protests and demos.


Irrespective of what flag one chooses to fly and align oneself to, it is a small gesture to commemorate the heroism of the Revolutionaries who against overwhelming odds took up arms in open revolt against the British imperialist presence in Ireland during Easter 1916 in Dublin and those who selflessly laid their lives down in later periods of the national liberation struggle.  99 years later their objectives have still to be fully realised, with British imperialism still undemocratically claiming possession of the six northern counties. However, any examination of the cyclic nature of the Irish dialectic will still concur with Irish Marxist theoretician and Irish Republican Socialist leader of the 1916 Easter Rising, James Connolly, in his speech to the Court Martial that sentenced him to death following the Rising, when he proclaimed:

“that the British Government has no right in Ireland, never had any right in Ireland, and never can have any right in Ireland, the presence in any one generation of Irishmen, ready to die to affirm that truth, makes that Government for ever a usurpation and a crime against human progress!”

The current IRSP ‘party flag’


Most of the flags above and associated merchandise can be purchased from James Connolly House, Chamberlain StreetDerry or online via this link



Alex McGuigan


One Response to “Irish Republican Flags”

  1. I didn’t watch the video but the article is interesting, thanks. I am composing a piece called Memorial partly inspired by the Easter Rising – I didn’t realise there could be quite such a fuss over flying a flag, but I suppose it ties in with the banning of the harp and the wearing of the green.

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