Date Released: 22 March 2016
The Inniskillings Museum at Enniskillen Castle in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland houses the collections of two regiments raised for the defence of the town in 1689. One of these regiments was the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and in 2012 the museum made a discovery that would make a significant contribution to the 1916 Easter Rising commemorations.
A flag was found in a box that had been unopened for many decades. It was a green tabby weave wool flag measuring approximately three feet by four feet with a centrally appliquéd uncrowned harp in yellow wool and string made from cream braid. The museum label read ‘Citizen Army flag captured Easter Rising 1916’. This discovery warranted further investigation and it quickly became apparent that the museum was in possession of something very important.
On Easter Tuesday 25th April 1916 soldiers of the 3rd, 4th and 12th Reserve Battalions of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers arrived in Dublin as part of a hastily assembled Ulster Composite Battalion. By that evening the battalion had established its headquarters in Amiens Street Station. At 8am on Wednesday 26th the armed auxiliary patrol yacht Helga opened fire on Liberty Hall in preparation for an assault by the battalion. Liberty Hall, headquarters of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, had also become the headquarters of the Irish Citizen Army, and served as a munitions factory for the impending rebellion. The Proclamation was printed in Liberty Hall the night before the Rising began, and it was on the street in front of the building that the leaders of the Rising assembled before their march to the General Post Office on Easter Monday. They left the building vacant throughout Easter Week apart from the caretaker Mr Peter Ennis, a fact unknown to the British authorities who chose the building as the first to be shelled.
On Wednesday morning soldiers entered Liberty Hall after the shelling had ended at about 9am and a Royal Inniskilling Fusilier, 21 year old Acting Corporal John McAlonen of the 3rd Battalion, retrieved a green harp flag from the ruins. The flag was presented to the Inniskillings Museum by Colonel John McClintock in 1935, a year before his death. McClintock, a native of Seskinore, Co Tyrone, was the commanding officer of the 3rd Inniskillings during the Rising and was Mentioned in Despatches for distinguished conduct in Dublin during the Rising.
On Palm Sunday, 16th April 1916, a week before the Rising, James Connolly, General Secretary of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union and Commander of the Irish Citizen Army held a formal ceremony outside Liberty Hall. An uncrowned green harp flag made by shirt-maker Margaret Shannon was presented to Molly O’Reilly from Gardiner Street who was 14 years old and the youngest member of the Citizen Army. Connolly said “I hand you this flag as the sacred emblem of Ireland’s unconquered soul” and Molly, who went on to play an active part in the Rising, proudly hoisted the flag over Liberty Hall.
The raising of the flag over Liberty hall is commemorated yearly by the descendants of Margaret Shannon and Molly 0’Reilly. However the original flag was thought lost when the building was destroyed. Now, after months of analysis and research, all evidence would appear to indicate that the flag captured by the Inniskillings is the uncrowned green harp flag that James Connolly placed over Liberty Hall as a symbol of ‘Ireland free’.
“Having conserved many important Irish flags over the years, this is one of the most exciting discoveries to come to light. In construction and design the flag is clearly comparable to other surviving 1916 flags. As it has never been exposed to the light, the strength of the colours are as strong as 100 years ago and the flag would have been clearly visible along the quays” commented Rachel Phelan, Textile Conservator.
Armed with this information, the trustees and curator of the Inniskillings Museum agreed that there was demonstrable public benefit in placing the flag on loan to a suitable organisation as part of Ireland’s 1916 centenary commemorations. The weight of history guided the museum back to Liberty Hall and discussions with the present occupiers SIPTU soon revealed a common determination to conserve this irreplaceable treasure and return it to the building it was taken from exactly 100 years ago. After many weeks of meticulous conservation work, the flag was officially presented to the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins in Áras an Uachtaráin on Tuesday 22nd March 2016 and will then return to public display in Liberty Hall for Easter.
The Chairman of Trustees for the Inniskillings Museum, Mark Scott commented “It is right and fitting that this historic object should be made available to SIPTU, the direct successors to the ITGWU, for their commemoration of the part played by the union in 1916. The trustees of the museum are most grateful to SIPTU for their generosity in taking on the professional conservation and mounting of the flag.”
SIPTU General President, Jack O’Connor, said “We were delighted to learn earlier this year that the Green Flag of Ireland had been discovered by the Inniskillings Museum among the collection of items seized from Liberty Hall during the Easter Rising in 1916. The return of this iconic flag on loan from the museum is particularly welcome in this centenary year as SIPTU members across the country commemorate the role our predecessors in the Irish Transport and General Workers, including James Connolly and the men and women of the Irish Citizen Army, played in the Rising and the revolutionary period. It is a matter of immense pride for the union that the flag raised by Molly O’Reilly a week before the Rising, on the instructions of Connolly, will be presented to the President, Michael D Higgins and then taken to Liberty Hall where the events of Easter 1916 were planned and where the Proclamation was printed.”
Neil Armstrong, museum curator concluded “The Inniskillings Museum is honoured to loan this valuable artefact from its collection to SIPTU where it will reach new audiences and motivate further learning of our past. I hope the exhibiting of this Green Harp flag will set our collection in context and generate fresh perspectives as history is full of contrasts, and Easter Week 1916 is no exception. At the same time the Rising was raging in Dublin, the 7th and 8th Battalions of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers were part of the 16th (Irish) Division at the Battle of Hulluch in northern France where they were subjected to two days of German gas and artillery attacks which left 581 Irish soldiers dead.”
As the official Ireland 1916 Centenary Programme states ‘All lives are equal in value, and 2016 must be a year in which the narratives of everyone on the island of Ireland are included and heard.