Date Released: 23 March 2016
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 the 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 ITGWU, 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 will be displayed in Liberty Hall where the events of Easter 1916 were planned and where the Proclamation was printed.
As many of you know, the flag was first raised over Liberty Hall, at Connolly’s request, by a young Irish Citizen Army member, Molly O’Reilly, on Palm Sunday, April 16th 1916, the week before the planned rising. It was made by shirt maker Margaret Shannon who worked in the Liberty Hall clothing co-operative.
Only two weeks earlier, Connolly had written of the plans to raise the flag at Liberty Hall in The Workers Republic. He stated: “The Council of the Irish Citizen Army has resolved after grave and earnest deliberation, to hoist the green flag of Ireland over Liberty Hall, as over a fortress held for Ireland by the arms of Irishmen.”
Connolly knew the symbolism of the harp banner well. Its use first entered Irish recorded history during the rebellion of Owen Roe O'Neill in the 1640s but its provenance is likely to stretch back well into the Gaelic past.
On Wednesday 26th April, three days into the Rising, the flag still flew proudly from Liberty Hall. Although the building was central to the planning of the Rising, Liberty Hall was left vacant throughout Easter Week, a fact unknown to the British authorities who chose it as the first to be shelled by the gunboat Helga as it made its way up the Liffey.
After several hours of shelling, the flag was seized from the ruins of Liberty Hall by a Royal Inniskillings Fusilier, 21-year-old Acting Corporal John McAlonen. Captured as a trophy of war, it was eventually presented to the Inniskillings Museum in 1935, as we now know by McAlonen’s commanding officer, Colonel John McClintock.
We first heard in late January of this year that the flag had been discovered and that work to confirm that it was the Green Flag of Ireland, as Connolly called it, had already commenced. At the invitation of Neil Armstrong and Mark Shortt, our Head of Communications, Frank Connolly visited Enniskillen Castle and the Inniskillings museum in early February.
He was amazed to find the flag in such remarkable condition and was shown other items that were seized almost 100 years ago from Liberty Hall by the Inniskilling Fusiliers during the Rising, including the top of the Irish Citizen Army drum major’s mace and a flagstaff with the inscribed words: “Captured from the Sinn Feiners during the Irish Rebellion 1916 by the Machine Gun Detachment 3rd Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers presented to the Officers Mess by 2/Lieut. T Taylor.”
These are extraordinary discoveries and I and the national officers of the union were only too pleased to accept the offer of the loan of the Flag for a number of years and the temporary loan of the mace and flag staff for the coming Easter commemorations. We are very grateful for the generous assistance of skilled conservator, Rachel Phelan and David Kirwan of Artisan Frames, who worked against a very tight deadline to restore the flag and make it available for presentation to the President today. We would also like to thank Neil Armstrong and Mark Shortt and the other trustees of the Inniskilling Museum for agreeing terms of the loan to SIPTU of this important part of our union’s heritage and look forward to maintaining the positive relationship we have built over a few short months.
Over its proud history, indeed since its foundation in 1909 and through the turbulent and revolutionary years that soon followed, the union has always depended on its activists to maintain and build its strength in order to defend the interests of working people on this island. That is why I would like to especially welcome and thank the activists of the union invited for today’s special and memorable occasion.
Finally, I would like to thank the President, Michael D. Higgins and Sabina for hosting this occasion when the Green Flag of Ireland has been formally unveiled. It is now on its way home to Liberty Hall after an absence of a century and in time for the centenary commemoration of the Easter Rising in which Connolly, the men and women of the Irish Citizen Army and the members of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union played such a central role.