The Colors of Ireland’s Flag

The Emerald Isle – Forty shades of green – Green beer – Shamrocks – Wearing of the Green – Green Leprechauns; what is up with Green being associated with Ireland?

Not only is the landscape considered lush and green, but the color itself has important, as well as, political meaning.

St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is said to have explained the Holy Trinity by using the shamrock, a type of clover, which grows profusely in Ireland. (Seamrog is the Irish word for ‘little plant’ and hence, shamrock.) But that’s only the beginning.

The English had been trying for several hundred years to subject the Irish into submission. Which the Irish resisted through countless rebellions and strife. Probably where the idea of Irish stubbornness comes into play. Sometime in the early 18th century, soon after the rebellion of 1798, green became the color of Irish nationals. Patriots began wearing green ribbons to show their support of Ireland and its independence. The English were not amused.

Ever attempting to quell Irish rebellion, a ban on wearing green was enforced. You may have heard the popular Irish song, The Wearin’ of the Green. It was written at the time of this ban and is still sung today. Here is part of the song:

“O Paddy dear, and did ye hear the news that’s goin’ round?
The shamrock is by law forbid to grow on Irish ground!
No more Saint Patrick’s Day we’ll keep, his color can’t be seen
For there’s a cruel law ag’in the Wearin’ o’ the Green.”
I met with Napper Tandy, and he took me by the hand
And he said, “How’s poor old Ireland, and how does she stand?”
“She’s the most distressful country that ever yet was seen
For they’re hanging men and women there for the Wearin’ o’ the Green”.”

(There are several versions of the song, all with the same theme.)

Ironically, this ‘ban’ forever joined Ireland to the color green. As many Irishmen and woman were forced to leave Ireland for America, Australia, and England, they brought their pride of Ireland with them by ‘wearin’ of the green’.

As the Irish were Catholics, and religion is a political issue in Ireland, green was the color associated with the Catholic Irish.

How does orange come into all of this? William of Orange, a protestant king of England, came to the ‘rescue’ of Irish protestants in the late 1680s. He fought alongside his army in the battle of Boyne and is considered a hero to the protestants in Northern Ireland. You can read a great account here:

Bringing it to basics then: green is for (Catholic) Irish independence and Orange is in support of Protestants and against an Irish Free State. (Which now exists, after the Easter uprising of 1916 and is known as Ireland rather than Irish Free State – Northern Ireland is still part of the UK.)

White is the hope for peace between Catholics and Protestants.

As late as 2005, the IRA (Irish Republican Army) was active in trying to unite all of Ireland into one country. They announced an end to armed conflict in 2005, bringing some peace to a land torn by war, rebellion and uprising for hundreds of years.

Growing up in NJ I remember St. Patrick Day’s parades where supporters of Ireland wore green and Irish Protestants wore orange. It was a pretty big deal. Maybe a few fights would break out – just a bit of shenanigans by some hooligans drinking too much green beer.


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