Last modified: 2005-03-19 by rob raeside
Keywords: northern ireland | ulster | united kingdom | ireland | red hand | cross: st george | crown | star: 6 points (white) |
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by Graham Bartram
The Union Jack is the only official flag of Northern Ireland. The well known red hand flag has not been used officially since 1973.
Dean McGee, 27 January 2002
This was a civil flag for Northern Ireland, but the status of this was abolished when the Belfast Stormont assembly was closed down in 1973. Thereafter, the Union Flag was made official for all purposes in Northern Ireland.
Stuart Notholt, 11 February 1996
What law was being changed when this flag was abolished?
Nathan Lamm 8 July 2004
No law as such was involved. The closing of the Stormont Parliament (and the consequent removal of official status from the flag of Northern Ireland) predates the 1995 amendment to the 1993 Regulations (which specifically refers to "National Flags") by over 20 years, and so the amendment simply did not (and does not) apply.
Christopher Southworth, 8 July 2004
My understanding is that the defaced St George's cross [bearing the red hand, white star and crown] was the arms of the Government of Northern Ireland and not Northern Ireland itself, nor the Royal Arms for use in Northern Ireland. This is why the Northern Ireland flag used by the Unionists [the red hand flag] is no longer official as that government was abolished and its arms went with it. I suspect this [issue of royal arms of Northern Ireland] is one of those issues that has just been fudged because no one wants to face the almost inevitable furore that would follow an official pronouncement of the arms of Northern Ireland, or rather of the Royal Arms for use in Northern Ireland. As far as I can see they should be quartered Ireland, England, Scotland, Ireland with the hart crest. As for supporters they could either both be the red lion and elk (as in the old Government of Northern Ireland arms) bearing the two banners, or they could be a combination of an elk and a English lion, although perhaps it should be a hart and a Scottish unicorn as the majority of Northern Irish are of Scots descent rather than English.
The Royal motto of Northern Ireland is "Quis separabit" (Who will separate us) - a motto that can be taken a number of ways.
Graham Bartram, 20 October 2004
Searching for information on the Governor of Northern Ireland's flag I noticed that on the Government flag (white field, red St George cross, red hand and crown above) that a few illustrations show a "Tudor" style crown as opposed to the Edwardian version. Is this a mistake I wonder? This flag was officially adopted in 1953, and this would seem to indicate that it should be an Edwardian crown. The flag is a "Banner of Arms" and although the Arms most certainly would have the Tudor-style crown, surely when the flag was officially adopted this would have been changed. The Tudor crown I noticed is of the same style in silhouette as the crown on the Governor's flag depicted in Flaggenbuch (1992), but with more pearls and a more intricate base.
Martin Grieve, 25 February 2005
Although authorized under the Warrant of 1924, I understand that the Government flag only received widespread use following the receipt of Royal Assent on 29 May 1953, it follows therefore, that the St Edward's Crown is the one to show, since any earlier flags (whilst perfectly legal under the Laws of Arms) were apparently not officially used?
Christopher Southworth, 25 February 2005
Although some versions of the flag of the Government of Northern Ireland have no doubt been made with St Edward's crown, I suggest that any 'correct' version should have the Tudor crown. As a general 'rule' flags that are banners of arms, or have seals as badges should not be modified unless the arms or seals are altered. When the Tudor crown was introduced with the accession of Edward VII, those flag badges based on seals that included a crown, were deliberately not modified until after the seal had been amended. The arms of Northern Ireland were not altered when the St Edward's crown replaced the Tudor crown. Therefore the crown on the flag should not have been changed.
David Prothero, 25 February 2005
We contacted the College of Arms to see what information they could provide. William Hunt (Windsor Herald) very kindly took the trouble to check through the ("somewhat dusty") records and to contact the Office of Garter King of Arms, so was able to report as follows:
"There is no illustration of either the original grant of arms of 1924, nor of the flag of 1953 on record, there is however, one of the arms as augmented by the addition of a compartment (ref. 183.321) on 6 January 1971, and this (as you would expect) shows the St Edward's Crown (which may be seen in Burroughs, 1971 Edition, p. 246.)"
Christopher Southworth, 28 February 2005
The red hand of Ulster comes from a legend from one of Ireland's many legendary invasions. The leader of a war party promised a prize to the first man to touch land with his right hand; so the winner, a left-handed man, cut off his right hand and threw it onto the shore.
James Dignan, 27 November 1995
I have read most of the pseudo-historical works that describe the mythological invasions of Ireland - 'Leabhar Gabhála Éireann', 'Foras Feasa ar Éirinn', 'Annála Ríochta Éireann', and I have not come across such a story.
The most recent and best study of Irish heraldry, Nicholas Williams, 'Armas: Sracfhéachaint ar Araltas na hÉireann' (Dublin, 2001), contains no mention such a legend either - although the author's 'day job' is as a university lecturer in Irish literature. This is what he has to say about the origin of the red hand (the translation is mine):
"It is not really known what the origin of the 'red hand' is but it is associated with various Ulster lineagaes. A poetic dispute from the 16th century is extant which indicates that Síol Rúraí (McGuinnesses) and the northern descendents of Niall Naoighiallach (O'Neills) claimed the exclusive right to use the red hand as a symbol. It is significant that the red right hand is widely found in Irish heraldry, especially in Ulster, e.g. in the arms of the O'Neills, McCartans, O'Donnellys, O'Dunlevys, and McGuinnesses. It is clear that the human hand was a basic element in pagan Irish imagery."
I might add that the ancestors of the McGuinnesses were displaced as rulers of Ulster by the ancestors of the O'Neills in the 5th century. The fact that they were disputing ownership of the red hand a thousand years later suggests that by the 16th century it was associated with the province.
Vincent Morley, 2 June 2002
by Mario Fabretto
A yellow flag with a red cross, bearing a white shield charged with the red hand of Ulster, is a banner of the arms of the traditional province of Ulster. Sometime after Northern Ireland was formed as a separate self-governing entity in 1922 it adopted arms based on, but not the same as, Ulster, with which it is not coterminous (three of Ulster's nine counties being in the Republic). Presumably the Northern Irish arms were deliberately made more "British" with the addition of the crown and the changing of field to make it look like the St. George's cross. Interestingly, when these arms were displayed on a flag badge in the Governor of Northern Ireland's flag, the disc was yellow, not the customary white.
Roy Stilling, 6 March 1996
The six-pointed star represents the six counties of Ulster that make up Northern Ireland. Other Ulster counties are in the Republic. The traditional flag of the province of Ulster is similar to the flag of Northern Ireland, but the field is yellow rather than white, and the red hand is on a white shield rather than a star, no crown.
Devereaux Cannon, 22 January 1998
The Ulster arms, of which the flag is a banner, has an upright red cross on a gold field - a design derived from the arms of the de Burgos who were earls of Ulster until the line became extinct. The flag is commonly seen in the Ulster counties of the Republic. It also has a certain currency among nationalists in Northern Ireland but has always been overshadowed there by the Irish Tricolour and is more likely to be seen as part of a display of all four provincial flags than on its own. It doesn't begin to approach the popularity which the Northern Ireland flag has among unionists and so is a relatively uncontentious and unpoliticised emblem and is used in sports in which Ulster teams compete.
by Nitesh Dave, 2 July 2000
The Northern Ireland flag was introduced in 1953 but it is a banner of arms which had been used by the government of Northern Ireland since 1925. Interestingly, the supporters of the shield in those arms each carry a banner: one is a crowned harp, gold on a blue field, the other is the red-on-gold cross of the de Burgos.
Vincent Morley, 24 January 1998
Northern Ireland has its own soccer team and the red-handed flag is used in all European and world football events. A few days ago the draw was held for the qualifying groups for the European championship in 2000 and there it was, used by UEFA (Union of European Football Associations).
Jorge Candeias, 23 January 1998
The official flag of Northern Ireland is the Union Flag. In 1924 the Government of Northern Ireland was granted arms by Royal Warrant and had the right to display these arms on a flag or banner. This right was exercised for the Coronation in 1953 and assent was given for the use of such a flag, known as the "Ulster Banner", on festive occasions. The Banner was
designed by Sir Gerald Wollaston, then Norray and Ulster King of Arms; a white flag carrying the cross of St George, with a white six pointed star carrying the red hand of Ulster in the centre of the cross, the star being ensigned by the imperial crown.
In November 1973 the College of Arms advised that it would be improper to use the Northern Ireland Coat of Arms after the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 had been passed. The effect of this has now been overtaken by The Flags Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000 which prohibits the flying of any flag on Government buildings, other than the Union Flag, and in certain circumstances, the Europe Flag, the Flag of a visiting Head of State, or the Royal Standard.
David Prothero, 28 January 2002
In 1970 the Ulster Defence Regiment was formed within the British Army to replace the B-Specials, Royal Ulster Constabulary auxiliaries, who were tainted with Protestant bias and a reputation for brutality (somewhat like the Black and Tans fifty years earlier). The UDR were a regiment of part-time soldiers much like the Territorial Army (reserves) in the rest of Britain. Like the rest of the Army each infantry battalion was entitled to carry a stand of two colours - Queen's (Union Jack) and Regimental.
The UDR also became slightly tainted since it was very hard to recruit Catholics. In 1992 the UDR was merged with a regular army regiment, once again to help boost its image and reputation. A year previously, as the unit faced extinction in the form it has known for 21 years, the Queen went to Northern Ireland to present the first ever colours to four of the nine UDR battalions.
The colours of the battalions are identical except for the battalion number in Roman numerals in the upper canton. In the center is a circlet inscribed with the regiment's name in gold. In the circle is the regimental badge, a rather plain harp (variations of which are common to most Irish regiments) surmounted by a crown. Around the circlet is a "union wreath" of roses, thistles and shamrocks (a uniform design for the whole army), the whole surmounted by another larger crown. The flags look very bare compared to the rest of the army's which are cluttered with battle honours on gold scrolls around the union wreath.
T. F. Mills, 3 March 1996
by Martin Grieve
Redrawn from Flaggenbuch (1939).
According to the Flaggenbuch (1939), the badge on the defaced Union Flag of the Governor of Northern Ireland was a gold disk with a shield. Three publications in my possession clearly state that it is an *orange* disc and not gold as suggested - this of course could be an error, although the version in Flaggenbuch looks orange to my eyes. Do we have any concrete evidence to nail this one down?
Pederson 1970 makes reference to this flag and leads the reader to compare the description given with an illustration of the Lt Gov of Jersey. The implication here is that it was a standard garland, although both Flaggenbuch and a scan sent to me by David suggest that it is most certainly different. A peculiar situation not too unlike
the Garland on British Palestine proposed Governor flag.
Martin Grieve, 25 February 2005
The disk looked and looks "orange" to me as well, and orange is the logical colour for a Northern Irish flag.
Christopher Southworth, 25 February 2005
The circle behind the shield on the Governors flag is gold instead of white for purely aesthetic reasons. Presumably some illustrators were unsure of the colour of the circle and wrongly assumed that it was orange because of the association of that colour with Ulster.
David Prothero, 25 February 2005
by Martin Grieve
by António Martins-Tuválkin
According to Carr (1961), p. 67, Northern Ireland had a Blue Ensign for government vessels, that was defaced with a white disc bearing the letters "GNI" (for "Government of Northern Ireland") in large black capitals.
Roy Stilling, 27 September 1999
Flaggenbuch shows this flag with red letters and describes it as the ensign and jack for vessels used by the Government of Northern Ireland.
Ivan Sache, 10 October 1999
I've just rechecked Carr (1961), p.67 and I note he doesn't explicitly say the colour of the letters. However, the accompanying black-and-white illustration shows the letters in heavy black type, and the convention used in that book is that where a black-and-white illustration contains black, it represents black in the original flag. If the letters were another colour they'd be shown in outline. I have found inaccuracies in Carr before, so I'm not saying he's right, just that I think that's what he's implying.
Roy Stilling, 12 October 1999
The flag was introduced in 1929 and withdrawn, I guess, in 1973 when the Northern Ireland Parliament was abolished. The letters G N I were in red.
In 1935 the Admiralty contacted the Home Office to ask if the drawing, in the German Flag Book, of a Government of Northern Ireland Blue Ensign was correct. The Home Office denied all knowledge of the flag and suggested that it might be the flag of the Great North of Ireland Railway. Later it was found that the flag had been agreed in 1929.
Officials of the new government in Belfast were not familiar with the procedures that had been followed by the previous Anglo-Irish government in Dublin and had sent the request for a Blue Ensign to the wrong department. The request finally reached the correct office, but because it had not gone through the proper channels, was not recorded by the Home Office nor by the department in the Admiralty responsible for producing the Flag Book.
The German Embassy in London had enquired about the flag of Northern Ireland vessels in 1932, pointing out that it was not shown in the British Flag Book, and asking if it was a Blue Ensign with the badge of the Governor in the fly. The enquiry had gone to the Foreign Office, who passed it to the Home Office, who sent it to Northern Ireland. Belfast sent a drawing of the flag to the Home Office, who seem not to have looked at it before passing it on to the Foreign Office who sent it to the German Charge d'Affaire.
Thus the drawing of an official British flag reached the editor of the German Flag Book four years before it reached the editor of the British Flag Book.
[Public Record Office HO 45/19278]
David Prothero, 19 April 2000
Some more details about the flag of the Governor of Northern Ireland.
14th February 1923. Governor of Northern Ireland requested a flag.
14th May 1924. He repeated his request, but was told by the Home Office that he should use a Union Jack until arms had been granted to Northern Ireland.
27th May 1924. In reply to an enquiry from the Home Office, the Admiralty replied that it was a personal flag for the Governor, and they therefore claimed no jurisdiction, but would like to be informed of the design.
17th June 1924. The Home Office informed the Governor that the King had agreed to a Union Jack with the arms of Northern Ireland. A gold circle had been inserted behind the shield as otherwise the red cross of the arms was indistinguishable from the red cross of the flag.
15th August 1924. Design approved.
9th September 1924. The Admiralty suggested that the governor's flag could be flown over his official residence, over any house in which he was residing, and at any ceremony he attended in his official capacity. It would be hoisted on any HM Ship in which he embarked, within the territorial waters of Northern Ireland.
[National Archives (PRO) HO 267/5]
The Admiralty view that the flag was the personal flag for the governor and they therefore claimed no jurisdiction is unusual. I do not see that it was any more personal to the governor of Northern Ireland than was the flag of any colonial governor; it went with the appointment. The Admiralty did not agree to colonial governor's flags being flown ashore until 1941.
David Prothero, 24 February 2005
There was the Flags and Emblems Act of 1954. According to Chris Ryder in The RUC: A Force Under Fire (London: Mandarin, 1992) this act:
'outlawed the display of a flag likely to cause a breach of the peace - clearly the Irish tricolour - and made it an offence to interfere with the display of the Union flag.' (p. 82).
Jan Oskar Engene, 8 March 1996
The act of the Northern Ireland Parliament (1922-1973) was repealed by the UK Parliament sometime in the 1980s.
Roy Stilling, 8 March 1996
In the last year there has been some argument over whether the Irish tricolour could be flown with the Union Jack over the Assembly building in Belfast. It turns out an act prohibits flying of flags where they are not wanted, with similar wording to that of the 1954 Act. It makes it an offence to fly the tricolour in a unionist area or to fly the Union jack in a nationalist one.
Adam McKenna, 24 June 2001