Commemorating the tricolour

Published in Editorial, Issue 4 (July/August 2023), Volume 31


In this issue, and in this year, the 175th since the ‘first’ flying of the Irish tricolour from the Wolfe Tone Confederate Club in Waterford on 7 March 1848, Sylvie Kleinman (pp 16–17) outlines the slightly more complicated evolution of the flag over the previous 50 years. She also reminds us that Thomas Francis Meagher was not the sole instigator but a team player in a collective enterprise; that ‘The colour of Ireland is green; of united Ireland green and orange’ (The Nation, 4 March 1848); and that the flag represents the unity of an Irish nation based on citizenship rather than religious affiliation. It is a citizenship, moreover, which in today’s Ireland is open to all residents of the country regardless of their origins. It is therefore deeply, and sadly, ironic that in recent months the national flag has become associated with the exact opposite—anti-immigrant demonstrations fanning the worst form of xenophobia and divisiveness. It is time, surely, for these self-styled ‘patriots’ to ‘take it down from the mast’.

Niamh O’Sullivan (pp 22–3) adds a new twist to the controversy arising from the ‘Spice Bag’ image of masked gardaí superimposed on a Famine-era eviction painting. The gardaí in question were ‘observing’—in case there was a breach of the peace—an eviction in 2018 in Dublin’s North Frederick Street being carried out by a private security firm. This was just one of several such incidents at the time where the evictors used strong-arm tactics, with which the gardaí effectively colluded. Even the most disinterested of observers must be scratching their heads at the apparent dichotomy between this robust response and the kid-glove tactics employed in respect of anti-immigrant protests.

There are resonances, too, with the current refugee crisis in Fiona Fitzsimons’s article on the Palatines (p. 31). Fleeing war and religious persecution in the early eighteenth century, they were originally welcomed with open arms in England and in Ireland. When it was revealed that up to a third were Catholic, and not persecuted Protestants but economic refugees, Tory politicians played the ‘race card’ and warned that they would ‘blot out and extinguish the English race’. Plus ça change!

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