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SEP 29, 2015

A Brief History on the Harp and Green Flag of Ireland

Up until the late 19th century, Ireland was unique for having a musical instrument, the harp, as its national emblem. From antiquity, the harp was a focal point of Irish society, with harpists enjoying an elevated position amongst other musicians and in wider society until the 17th century. At this point, traditional musicians had to obtain a magistrate’s permission to travel or were outlawed from doing so. But with the evolution of Gaelic society, traditional harpers had to travel from home to home in order to earn a living.

There are Christian manuscripts from the 8th and 9th centuries illustrated with harps as a way to portray the Biblical King David and the prestige of the musician in society. In 1534, the crowed harp started to appear on the Anglo-Irish groat (equivalent to 4p) and half-groat coin. From about this year onwards, a golden harp on a blue background started to appear at various royal occasions, such as Elizabeth I’s 1583 charter to Dublin. At her funeral in 1603, a banner with the harp featured at her funeral. Her successor, James I then incorporated it into the royal arms and standard of Britain, where it remains to this day.

In 1642, Eoghan Rua O Neill’s rebellion started carrying the harp on a green background to symbolise Ireland, which it did until the present tri-colour appeared between 1916 and 1919. The harp had its identity of signifying Ireland in 1798 ingrained further by the Society of United Irishmen with their rebellion. This time, the Cap of Liberty, a recurring motif in classical art and linked to the French Revolution, replaced the British crown. Later, Robert Emmet used a similar flag and the motto, “Erin go Bragh” (Ireland Forever) in 1803 in an attempt to continue the United Irishmen’s Revolution.

Over recent centuries, the Green Flag, showing a golden harp on a green background, was commonly known as the national flag of Ireland. Movements including the Fenians, the Repeal Association, the Home Rule movement and more, all used variations of the Green Flag. As well as this, many national folk songs from this time celebrate the Green Flag and Ireland. In 1922, the Irish Free State was inspired by France and the French Revolution, and created the Irish Tricolour which still displays the green of Ireland. Through its continued use, it has replaced the Green Flag as the national flag of Ireland.

Created on 29th September 2015
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