Significance of the Irish Flag
The annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City is not for the faint of heart. Thousands of spectators line the sidewalks thirty or more bodies deep, many of them fortified by green beer from pubs that aren’t any more Irish than the beverage patrons gulp.
Attending the parade many years ago, I was young enough to be immune to the crush of the crowd or to the good-natured vulgarities emitting from its drunken members. I was immune, that is, until an Irishman snatched the orange, white, and green flag I had been happily waving, chastising me for displaying what he called a “false flag” of Ireland before handing my souvenir back. For decades, I would wonder why this flag had upset the man so.
To my shame, it took me thirty years to start looking for an answer. Only then, challenged to learn more about my heritage by two authors – Tim Pat Coogan and Tom Hayden, whose books I’d read – I learned how the Irish Tricolour might, to some, represent the division of the north and the south of Ireland that has troubled this island since an uneasy peace treaty artificially forged separation in 1922. I would also find out how deeply connected I am to the Flag of Ireland through a distant cousin, Gearoid O’Sullivan, who had the honor of raising the Irish standard in defiance of Ireland’s English occupiers during the historic Irish 1916 ‘Rising.
Gearoid was one of some 150 men of the Irish Citizen Army and the Irish Volunteers who on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, took over the General Post Office (GPO) on what is now O’Connell Street in Dublin. He was the youngest officer of the IRB, which had infiltrated the Irish Volunteers and secretly planned the uprising. As such, insurrection leader Patrick Pearse chose Gearoid to hoist the newly spun Irish flag over the GPO.
Thus it happened on that momentous day almost a century ago that Gearoid tore down the British flag that had waved over the GPO. In its place he installed Ireland’s new flag – green for the Irish Republic, orange for Ireland’s Ulster Territory, and white for the peace that would hopefully exist between them. It was an historic moment, marking the first time the new flag of the soon-to-be-forged Irish Free State flew over Dublin.
Although the pitifully outmatched rebels would face heavy artillery fire from British troops surrounding the GPO – and bitter defeat later that Easter week – those who survived would live to continue the fight – against the British first and then against each other.