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The Irish Flag; A proud national symbol since 1916

Written by: Caitlin
Published: 26th November 2021, last updated: 20th May 2022

The Irish flag with its striking tricolour stripes has been recognised as the country’s national flag since 1916. Now you can see it flown all over the country, and stamped on merchandise around the world.

But do you know anything about the history of the Irish flag, how the design came to be chosen or what it represents? Read on to find out everything we found out.

Irish flag

The name for the Irish flag in Irish is ‘Bratach na hÉireann’. It is also referred to as tricolour or Irish tricolour.

The three colours are in equally sized stripes, with green at the hoist, white in the middle and orange on the end. The flag’s proportions are 1:2 which means that it is twice as wide as it is tall.

Origin of the Irish flag

The earliest record of the Irish flag was in 1848, when some French women who were sympathetic to the Irish cause presented it as a gift to Thomas Francis Meagher, the Irish nationalist leader of the Young Irelanders.

Ireland was at this time experiencing a deep divide between the Catholics and the Protestants, and suffering hugely from the effects of the “Great Famine”, which killed a million Irish people and caused another million to emigrate.

The colours on the flag were meant to symbolise the longed for union between the Roman Catholics, represented by the green colour, and the Protestants, represented by orange. Meaghar said:

“The white in the centre signifies a lasting truce between Orange and Green and I trust that beneath its folds the hands of Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics may be clasped in generous and heroic brotherhood”

The Irish flag did not become regarded as the national flag until 1916 during the Easter Rising, when teacher, army officer and politician Gearóid O’Sullivan raised it above Dublin’s General Post Office. Since then, it has been used as the national flag of Ireland by nationalists on both sides of the border, and it was later given constitutional status under the 1937 Constitution of Ireland.

Symbolism of the Irish flag

Green – The colour green has been associated with Ireland since hundred of years before the Irish tricolour came around. In the 1640s the green harp flag was used by the Irish Catholic Confederation, and green ribbons have been worn on St Patrick’s Day since at least the 1680s.

This suggests that green was already a national colour of Ireland, hence why the green stripe is meant to represent the Roman Catholics of Ireland.

Orange – The other half of the population that needed uniting at this time was the minority Protestants. They were supporters of William of Orange, whose title came from the Principality of Orange, hence why they were represented by the colour orange.

Orange was included in the Irish flag in an attempt to make Irish Protestants feel included in the Irish independence movement.

White – The third colour of the Irish flag is white, which has historically been associated with peace, from the white flags of surrender to the international symbol of peace, the white dove. That is why the white section in the middle of the tricolour was used, to signify a lasting peace and hope for union between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland.

History of the Irish Flag

When the Irish flag was first flown by  Thomas Francis Meagher on March 7, 1848, during that year’s Young Irelander Rebellion in Waterford City at the Wolfe Tone Confederate Club, it flew for eight days before it was taken down by the British.

In April of 1848, inspired by the revolutions across Europe, a contingent of Young Irelanders (including Meaghar) traveled to France. Their aim was to congratulate the rebels on overthrowing King Louis Philippe I, and whilst there, Meagher was presented with an Irish flag which had been woven out of French silk.

When they returned back to Ireland, Maeghar presented the tricolour to the Irish people and explained the symbolism of the three colours on the flag.

Whilst many embraced tricolour as a symbol for Ireland, it didn’t become the primary flag for the country until 1916. The previous one was green with a harp in the centre, the harp being Ireland’s national symbol, and was known to have been used as early as 1642.

Irish flag

During the Easter Rising of 1916, both of these Irish flags were flown above the GPO, the headquarters of the rebels, and this was when the tricolour became more widely accepted.

After the Rising, during the Irish War of Independence between 1919 and 1921, the new Irish flag was adopted by the IRA. It was also used as a symbol of the Irish Free State between 1922 and 1937.

When the Irish constitution came into law later in 1937, the tricolour was confirmed as the official flag of Ireland by Article 7, which states: “The national flag of Ireland is the tricolour of green, white and orange.”

From then until now, the Irish flag is seen as a symbol of Irish pride, and it remains to be an important reminder of the peace that has been achieved and the progress that is still to be made.

Flying the Irish Flag

In 2016, 100 years since the Easter rising, as a mark of remembrance, all schools in Ireland received an Irish flag. Members of Ireland’s defense forces travelled around primary schools to educate the students on the flag’s story, its meaning, and proper care.

Examples of the proper kind of care for the Irish flag include:

  • the flag must always be flown above any others displayed on the staff
  • it must never be displayed in poor condition
  • the flag must not be allowed to touch the ground or become entangled with trees.
  • and it must always fly with the green segment closest to the flagstaff

If you are looking for the perfect spot to fly your very own Irish flag, why not treat yourself to your own little piece of the Emerald Isle HERE.

The Irish Flag Shot

Irish flag

It’s no secret that the Irish like a celebration, or that they are an extremely patriotic country. So what better way to combine the two than with an alcoholic drink that celebrates the Irish flag.

So why not try making this one yourself- to mark St. Patricks Day or just to liven up a rainy Friday evening- you don’t need an excuse!

All you need to make your own Irish flag shot is:

  • 1 part creme de menthe.
  • 1 part Baileys Irish Cream.
  • 1 part Grand Marnier Orange Liqueur.

The three liqueurs naturally form three layers when poured slowly one at a time over a spoon, rather than mixing together, so the striped appearance is easy to achieve.

In terms of taste, it’s an acquired one, the orange and the mint are not naturally complimentary flavours, but it’s not the worst combination most of us will have tried!

The Irish Flag Salad

Irish flag

If a strong alcoholic drink isn’t your cup of tea, why not try celebrating the Irish flag with a wholesome and nutritious salad. This recipe uses green leaves, white cheese and orange fruit to represent the three colours of the Irish flag.

All you need to make this yourself is:

  • a large handful of fresh baby spinach
  • 2 medium pears, thinly sliced
  • 2 medium oranges, peeled and sectioned
  • 2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped pistachios
  • and a sweet salad dressing of your choice (why not try THIS ONE if you don’t already have your own favourite recipe)

You could even add some basil for some extra greenery if that is to your taste.

This Irish flag salad would make the perfect light summer lunch or perhaps served as a starter if indulging in a three-course meal.


About the author

Written by: Caitlin


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