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Ireland’s Flag- What the Colors Represent

Jeremy O'Donnell-Getty Images
Jeremy O’Donnell-Getty Images

My family name on my maternal grandmother’s side is ‘Minogue’ and we come from O’Callaghans Mills, County Clare, Ireland. While she lived in her father’s home, my grandma was absolutely was forbidden to wear green because of religious tensions in our family.

My great-great grandfather, Michael T. Minogue, came from a very, very loyal Irish Catholic family and when he decided to switch to the Protestant faith, his family wanted nothing to do with him. They outcast him and they outcast those who were his flesh and blood.

Michael’s hurt from being ostracized trickled down to my great-grandfather and he put his foot down and forbid his three children, all daughters, to wear green in any capacity while they lived under his roof. The reason for banning the wearing of green is because the green color in the Irish flag represents the Catholic faith and my great-grandfather was very bitter about being shunned from the family over his father’s religious decision.

If you take a look at the Irish flag, you’ll see that there are three colors. The orange color in the flag represents Irish Protestants, the green represents Irish Catholics as well as the Republican cause, and the white in the flag represents the hope for peace between Catholics and Protestants.

If you’re like most people, you probably associate Catholicism with Ireland, but as of March 2011, there are more Protestants in the country (something I bet my ancestors never imagined would happen). According to the University of Ulster/Conflict, the March 2011 census there are 817,385 Catholics and 875,717 Protestants in the country. So as you can see, the gap is exceptionally narrow with a difference of just under 60,000 more Protestants in Ireland than there are Catholics.

Getting back to the flag of Ireland, the color orange in the flag represents William of Orange, the King of England, Scotland, and of Ireland who defeated King James II, a Roman Catholic, in the Battle of the Boyne which took place near Dublin in 1690. William’s battle victory is what secured Protestant dominance over the island.

Green is the color that represents the Irish Catholic nationalists of the south and while it has a small something to do with shamrocks and lush landscape, green also symbolizes revolution. An earlier version, the unofficial Irish flag (you’ve probably seen it, the gold harp on a green background) is what Ireland used from 1798 until the early twentieth century as a symbol of nationalism.

According to History Ireland, the green, white, and orange flag was first shown to the public on March 7, 1848, by the militant nationalist Thomas Francis Meagher. People wanted to know why the colors of their flag were changed, and Thomas explained:  “The white in the center signifies a lasting truce between the “Orange” and the “Green,” and I trust that beneath its folds the hands of the Irish Protestant and the Irish Catholic may be clasped in generous and heroic brotherhood.”

[via InfoPlease/University of Ulster/Conflict/History Ireland/BBC/CRW Flags/Civil War Home]

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