The first coloured image of the Irish tricolour, 1853 1853 | Origins of the Flag

Panel from Stokes Tapestry
Panel from Stokes Tapestry held in the National Museum of Ireland
Photo of the Stokes Tapestry courtesy National Museum of Ireland
Photo of the Stokes Tapestry

The first visual record we have of Meagher’s tricolour appears on a very special tapestry that is now on display in the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks.

Stephen Stokes enlisted in the British army, transferring to the Dublin Metropolitan Police in 1836, retiring in 1855. Over 20 years, he sketched 250 figures in 31 panels showing many scenes from military and police life in Ireland.

The illustration of the unsuccessful 1848 rebellion at the bottom of the tapestry shows the engagement between the police and the rebels at ‘Widow McCormack’s cabbage-patch”. To the left of the burning cottage, seven armed police led by a mounted officer face off against four rebel figures.

In Your Opinion

  1. Examine the clothing of each group. What does it suggest about the organisation of each group?
  2. What is the difference in the weapons carried by the two groups?
  3. How do the two leader figures differ in how they are shown? Who holds the better advantage on a battlefield?
  4. The rebels appear to be much bigger compared to the smaller policemen. Can you suggest a reason why Stokes would have shown the figures as different in size?
  5. The position of the flag at the centre of the panel is very dramatic. Can you suggest why Stokes placed it in the centre of the panel?

Supporting Material

To mark the ‘Soldiers and Chiefs’ exhibition in the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks, curators Lar Joye (Military History) and Alex Ward (Textiles) wrote an article about the Stokes Tapestry. 

Read it on the History Ireland website.

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