The Green Flag Pre 20th Century

The Irish wire-strung harp, depicted as early as the 11th century, was testament to the exalted role the harper played for centuries in Gaelic society, so that the harp became recognised as a national symbol of Ireland from at least the 13th century, although it had declined by the late 18th century.

Green Flag with Harp
Green Flag with Harp

The harp emblem survived, not in its native Irish form, but crowned and adorned with a winged maiden, as a symbol of Ireland under British rule from the late 17th century until it was allegorically revived by the Cork-born painter Daniel Maclise in the 1840’s, in illustration to ‘The Harp that Once through Tara’s Halls’ and ‘The Origin of the Harp’, from Thomas Moore’s stirring collection of Irish Melodies.

A letter to the Irish Press in 1946 about the Tricolour Flag

Letter to the Irish Press in 1946 from Hayes McCoy
Letter to the Irish Press in 1946 from Hayes McCoy

A discussion about what was the national flag still rumbled on in the 1940's, as we can see from the reader's letters to The Irish Press newspaper.

G.A. Hayes McCoy the historian who wrote about the Irish flags responded to a letter in June 1946 and mentions that the Green Flag with the harp was

  • In a picture from 1883 of the old parliament house
  • Green Flag with harp mentioned as the flag of Ireland as early as 1642
  • It was the flag of the 1798, 1803, 1848, 1867 rebellion.
  • Carried in the Ballingarry area in 1848
  • Fenian Harp Flags
  • Flag of the Land League Flag of pre-1916 Irish Volunteers
  • Formally hoisted as the national banner on Liberty Hall immediately before Easter week

He concludes that the tricolour is the flag of 'new Ireland' but we shouldn't forget the green flag.

Underneath Hayes McCoy's letter, another reader had written another response to the discussion around the flag.  He sent in a poem which draws on the nature around the country to describe where he feels the colour's of the tricolor came from.

To the Editor, THE IRISH PRESS

What worry, my son, from whence came Ireland's banner

If some say 'twas Meagher, some France or some Spain.

Just look around you in spring or young summer

And see our Tricolour again and again.


On yonder fair hillside God spread His green mantle

And bordered the fields with the hawthorn bloom.

Then with lavish hand added beauty to beauty

When He poured out His gold o'er furze bush and broom.


See down in that valley a background of emerald,

The blackthorn, daisy and pure canavaun,

The gold of the buttercup, benweed and cowslip

Their colours excelling the best arts of man.


Other nations may boast of their battled-scarred emblems,

Their flags and their banners rich colours command.

But what race can boast that the flag of their nation

Is 'spread o'er their country by God's kindly hand.

- R.E. Manuel

18 Newbridge Ave., Sandymount

Poem about the Tricolour in Irish Press 1946
oem about the Tricolour in Irish Press 1946

In Your Opinion

  1. Why was a flag for a 'New Ireland' needed?

Supporting Material

Irish Press Newspaper

Related Stories