History of the Starry Plough Flag
The Starry Plough Flag
No symbol is as closely associated with Irish Republican Socialism 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 was 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 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 (Irish National Liberation Army) 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 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 selflessly 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 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 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.
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 and 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 flag dimensions. In recent times the Provisional Sinn Fein splinter group Éirigi 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 blue background made its first appearance during the 1930s as the emblem of the Republican Congress. The Republican Congress of the 1930s was a Left-wing Republican political construct created by Peadar O'Donnell 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.
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 brownish-red background but have since ditched it, along with any pretence at being remotely a Socialist party after habitually paddling in the murky waters of coalition government with Fine Gael, a party who spawned Ireland's only significant 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.
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, Saoradh, 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. During a Free State army commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising, one of their colour parties 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.
In recent years a version of the Republican Congress Starry Plough with a red background has become increasingly popular, especially after its very public appearance at the funeral of veteran Derry Republican Socialist, Seamus 'Chang' Coyle. Although it is unlikely that the red background 'Plough will ever replace the more established designs, it certainly complements them. With a border poll becoming an increasingly popular issue in Ireland and Irish reunification a serious possibility, the Starry Plough flag may well take on an even increased significance as the rallying standard of the Irish working class, as envisioned by James Connolly and Seamus Costello.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2019 Liam A Ryan