Belfast Telegraph

I’m flying the flag for putting the harp back on our banners

By Kevin Myers

The return of the international rugby season always reminds us what a petty and unyielding thing identity can be.

Here we are, an island of about five million people, with — by European standards — loads of space, virtually one race, one language, a pleasant climate and a pathological inability to find a flag that symbolises the island or an anthem which all can join in with gusto. It is truly pathetic.

After all, the Belgians are divided by language, so one can understand the fissiparousness of that curious Franco-Flemish mongrel.

But the Swiss, equally, have linguistic divisions, yet no secessionism at all that I know of. But what the Swiss do have is a truly great brand: the Swiss flag.

And what nationalist Ireland has and clings on to with all the reason and logic of a mewling, puking toddler is the tricolour.

Now, I have to confess, most of the flags of Europe are also some forgettable three-hued pottage or other, although there are exceptions.

Two Scandinavian flags are superb — the Swedish, because of its lopsided-cross in a strangely compelling summertime blend of yellow and blue, and the Danish, probably the oldest flag in the world.

The rest of the flags of Europe are, for the most part, a minestrone of tricolours, few of which outsiders can identify with certainty.

The exception, of course, is the Union Jack. This is the flag that hoteliers in the Republic do not fly when they are putting up the flags of the EU, usually resorting to the weasel excuse of flying the component flags of Scotland, England and Wales.

The refusal to fly the Union Jack is symptomatic of the immaturity and unreason which attach to this entire subject.

Which brings us to the Irish tricolour, a binary essay in chromatic insipidity, which no one outside Ireland recognises.

This statement of the obvious usually attracts the rebuttal that the tricolour on someone's suitcase was instantly recognised as Irish by people in Burkina Faso or Outer Mongolia or the far side of Mercury. Sure. I know the syndrome.

Also, that the Irish are the most loved people in the world. Also the most musical. And the most literary et cetera. Yawn. You can add the rest yourself.

The embrace of the tricolour in preference to the great heraldic image of Ireland — the harp — is truly a triumph of illogic.

Moreover, the green in the tricolour is usually a sickly pea-shade and the orange a toilet-bowl bile.

Have you ever wondered why no one in Europe — not even the Dutch, who are ruled by the House of Orange — have claimed orange for their flag?

It lacks all strength and vitality and only has emotional resonances in the diseased tribalism of Ireland. Which makes it very Irish indeed: but it doesn't make it pleasant.

And, anyway, the ‘orange' is a pun. The House of Orange takes its title from the town of Orange in France.

This was originally called ‘Arausio', but over time the place name became misleadingly conflated with the fruit. Hence, the orange curse: and hence the tricolour.

The Union Jack is one of the most brilliant pieces of flag-branding ever devised — and is all the more reason for giving an Irish flag a dramatic quality which is both instantly recognisable and instantly appealing to unionists.

We had it all along and still have it: the harp. It was the flag raised by the insurgents of 1798; it was also on the badges of most Irish regiments of the British Army and the RUC.

Its appeal is manifold: it is simple, it does not confuse us with the Ivory Coast and it offers the stark chromatic possibilities that simple designs, such as the Danish and the Swiss flags provide, as does the brilliant maple-leaf motif of Canada.

The harp could be a deep old gold, or sunflower yellow on a sea of navy blue, or what is now called British Racing Green. But BRG was invented by the racing pioneer Gordon Bennett after his visit to Ireland in 1904, during which he was much taken by the attractive green bunting everywhere.

It is surely time to reclaim that green — and to lay our hands once and for all on the harp, before the itchy-fingered Welsh collar it for their flag.

Such a move would require imagination and courage: but how much of those do we really have, when the local bigot is the primary reason why Irish hotels are usually incapable of flying the Union Jack?

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph