Letter from Sean O’Casey to G. A. Hayes-McCoy 1954 | Adoption of the Tricolour

In 1954, G. A. Hayes-McCoy, from the National Museum of Ireland, asked Sean O’Casey, who was a member of the Irish Citizen Army, if he could assist him in identifying a banner showing the plough and the stars design that had flown over the Imperial Hotel in Dublin during the 1916 rising.

he Irish Citizen Army flag in 1916 as flown over the Imperial Hotel during the Rising (NMI)
he Irish Citizen Army flag in 1916 as flown over the Imperial Hotel during the Rising

The above image is a photograph of the flag still in the possession of the National Museum.  Their notes about this artefact are as follows;

The Plough and the Stars: The Irish Citizen Army flag in 1916 as flown over the Imperial Hotel during the Rising. 6' x 5' 5". Green Field with gilt fringe. On the field a yellow plough outlined in black and seven silver stars also outlined in black. Patches missing over the right hand shaft of the plough and beneath it. Another patch is missing in the field to left. The coulter of the plough is represented as a sword with a jagged or worn blade. The flag has many holes in it that may be bullet holes.

Stated by Sean O'Casey to have been made by the Dun Emer Guild
(Hayes McCoy - History of Irish Flags). HE:EW.2362

The following contains some extracts from the letter.

Dear Sir – G. A. Hayes-McCoy,

The flag depicted in the Photograph is not the original Citizen Army Banner; not the one I knew and handled. But, on the other hand, I have no doubt that the Flag is a genuine one; … that the Sender, when he was British Officer, took it down, or picked it up, from the burning building, kept it safe, and has now kindly and generously returned it to Ireland. I hope you will let him know how grateful you (and I am) are for sending back such a dear Symbol of Ireland’s battle for political freedom in 1916.”

I knew, of course, the man who carried the flag. He was one of three brothers name Espell, I[‘m] nearly sure; three magnificent lads, six foot three or more; but … he found it hard to carry the banner when the wind was blowing moderately, and how he carried it at all, I dont know, just with his hands and arms, without any other aid … I persuaded the [Citizen] Army Committee to allow the expense of a harness, strapped over both shoulders, and having the socket in the middle of the body … so you see I had a lot to do with the flag.

 My opinion is (for I remember, or seem to remember) how disappointed most of the C(itizen) A(rmy) Men were that the color (sic) wasnt (sic) green instead of blue; green to them being the one color known to poor oul’ Ireland – that the green aspect of the flag rose from the almost sub-conscious idea that every Irish flag must be necessarily green.

Connolly had a very sentimental attachment and reverence for “our own immortal green” witness his hoisting the green flag with the harp – a beautiful flag by the way – over Liberty Hall

Well, there you have all the information I can give you; and there is nothing to add except that the … flag is a genuine one as being the flag of the C. A. that went out to fight, and so should be precious, and kept safely for display to the generations yet to come.


With all good wishes,


Yours sincerely,


Sean O’Casey

In Your Opinion

1. What is O’Casey’s opinion of the British officer who donated the flag to the National Museum of Ireland?

2. O’Casey tells Hayes-McCoy about the men who used to carry the flag. Why does he give him this information, in your opinion?

3. The Citizen Army flag did not contain the colour green. Why were some of the Citizen Army men disappointed at this decision?

4. James Connolly was one of the leaders of the 1916 rising. What, according to O’Casey was his view of the green flag with the harp?

5. O’Casey concludes his letter by stating that the flag “should be precious”. Why does he write this statement, in your opinion.

6. “Well, there you have all the information I can give you”: O’Casey’s views as expressed in the letter that this was not the original Citizen Army flag was challenged by in an article in History Ireland in 2015. 

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