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Ireland: Starry plough

Last modified: 2001-07-05 by
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[Starry plough] by Vincent Morley

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In 1913 police in Dublin attacked a demonstration by striking workers, killing two people. Trade union leaders then formed a paramilitary organisation, the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) with the intention of providing protection for labour demonstrations. The ICA developed into an armed and uniformed force and in 1914 it adopted the starry plough as its flag - the shade of bluish green used in the flag matched the colour of the ICA's uniform. In 1916 the ICA took part in the rebellion of that year. The original starry plough was captured by British forces but was returned to Ireland in 1966 on the fiftieth anniversary of the rebellion and is now preserved in the National Museum of ireland, Dublin.

In 1934 the largest trade union, the ITGWU, introduced a simplified version of the starry plough with a sky-blue field, and it rapidly gained acceptance as the flag of the Irish trade union movement and of the movement's political wing, the Labour Party. This flag continues to be used at trade union conferences and marches. Because of the ICA's participation in the rebellion of 1916, the flag is used by republican paramilitary groups. Versions of the starry plough have also been used by a variety of socialist groups. The Labour Party continued to use the 1934 flag until the late 1970s when the field was changed from blue to red. In the late 1980s the red starry plough was in turn replaced by a white flag showing a red rose - an emblem used by many other European socialist parties.

Vincent Morley, 18 March 1997

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