Most people of Irish descent are very proud of their heritage. Thus, it makes sense they would use a variety of flags to display their pride in the land of Eire or Ireland. One such flag is the Erin Go Bragh flag. The flag features a yellow harp on a green field with the words “Erin Go Bragh.”
The First Irish Flag with a Harp
The first flag with a harp with a harp made to represent Ireland was created in 1642 by Eoghan Rua O Neill to represent the Irish confederacy after the Irish Rebellion of 1641. At the time, the tension was growing between Irish Catholics and the officially Protestant English administration that was ruling Ireland. During this period, the only legal form of religion was Anglicanism or other forms of Protestant Christianity such as Presbyterianism and Lutheranism. Catholics could be fined and in other ways penalized for practicing their faith.
Irish Catholic nobles had asked the English Parliament for greater religious freedom. Their wishes were granted in return for higher taxes on the Irish. The taxes were implemented, but the changes to religious freedom were delayed. This strained the relationship between the Irish Catholics and their English overlords to the breaking point. A flag was made to represent Irish Catholics who wanted freedom from the English. The flag continued to be used into the 19th century.
The 1642 flag was simply a yellow harp on a green field. Later, in the 18th century, the motif of a maiden was added to the harp. The maiden was even given a name, Erin, maiden of Ireland. By the 19th century, the phrase Erin Go Bragh had been added to the flag. Erin Go Bragh is an Anglicization of the Irish Eirinn Go Brach, a phrase that can be translated “Ireland Forever.” After World War I, the flag fell out of use as a national flag, as the modern tricolor green, white, and orange flag became more commonly used.
In Ireland, green is associated with Saint Patrick, who, according to legend, used clover leaves to explain the trinity to the Pagan Celts when he introduced Christianity to the island in the 5th century. Before 1642, it was blue that was associated with Ireland, and the flag of the English administration in Ireland contained a harp on a blue field.
Green was chosen for the flag because it was meant to represent the Catholics who looked back to Saint Patrick. The harp was used because it is an ancient symbol of Ireland, which reflects the status harpists had in traditional Gaelic society.
This flag continued to be used by Irish Catholics to represent themselves into the early 20th century. The reason the tricolor flag was adopted was partly to show the peace between Catholics and Protestants. In that flag, the other two colors, orange and white, represent Irish Protestants and peace between Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics, respectively.
The flag has also been used in several instances outside of Ireland for Irish solidarity. In 1847, during the Mexican-American war, the flag was used by a group of Irish-American immigrants who chose to defect and join the Mexican side. They used the Erin Go Bragh flag and called themselves the battalion of Saint Patrick (the San Patricios in Spanish). This was also a case of the flag being used for Catholic solidarity since those who joined the battalion were not only the Irish.
The Battalion of Saint Patrick was started by John Riley and composed of Irish, Germans, and Italians who were Catholic. These immigrants had difficulty assimilating into American society, at the time, and were more inclined to side with the Mexicans during the war. The San Patricios are considered traitors in the United States but are honored as heroes in Mexico and Ireland.
In a less violent context, the flag was also used by the Hibernian football club as their banner in Edinburgh in the late 19th century. It was established by Irish athletes and the Irish Catholic Church.
The Irish have not had an easy past. The country was invaded in the 17th century and was not able to gain full independence until 1921. In the meantime, Irish immigrants to North America, especially the United States, were poorly treated and viewed with suspicion.
One thing that seems to have held the Irish together through these difficulties was their identity as Irishmen and women. They would have been unable to maintain this without symbols, slogans, and flags. This flag flown on St. Patrick’s Day is a legacy of the Irish refusal to give up their heritage in the face of opposition. This might be one of the reasons that Irish culture is so popular today.