A brief history

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The flag known as the Starry Plough was created as the visible manifestation of the hopes and aspirations of the Dublin workingman. It is the flag of the Irish Citizen Army (ICA), which was founded in 1913 by James Larkin in response to police brutality during the Lockout. It was carried into the GPO in 1916 by James Connolly, to demonstrate that the Rising was not just in the cause of nationalism but also in the cause of labour and that a new Irish state would deliver improved conditions of work, housing and education for the working people of Ireland.

Made in 1914 and depicting a plough with the seven stars of the Great Bear or Plough constellation, the exact origins of the design are uncertain. The Starry Plough is first mentioned in an issue of the Irish Worker in April 1914: ‘. . . a large number of the Citizen Army were in attendance, headed by a standard bearer carrying a beautiful new poplin flag, displaying the design of the Starry Plough, the work of Mr Megahy’.

During the Rising, on Connolly’s orders, it was placed on the front of the Imperial Hotel (now Clery’s department store) as an act of revenge against the workers’ arch-enemy, William Martin Murphy. Murphy was the leader of the employers’ federation during the Lockout, and the luxury hotel and retail complex was his flagship building. Connolly, who had served in the British Army, understood that a ‘rebel’ flag would make the building a target for the British.

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