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THE FIRST EVER permanent exhibition on the Irish flag is to open at the GPO Witness History Visitor Centre in Dublin this month.
The exhibition, installed by the Thomas F Meagher Foundation, will be dedicated by the Ceann Comhairle Sean O’Fearghail on 23 February to commemorate the 170th anniversary of the first flying of the flag.
The Thomas F Meagher Foundation, which was co-founded by Church of Ireland Reverend Michael Cavanagh and Fianna Fáil Senator Mark Daly, promotes “pride in and respect for the Irish flag and its meaning for peace”.
Thomas F Meagher first flew the tricolour at the Wolfe Tone Club in Waterford in 1848.
He said the white of the flag in the centre signified a “lasting truce between orange and green”.
The foundation was a partner in the Government’s 1916 centenary celebrations, which included the project of presenting the flag to the country’s schools – carried out by the Defence Forces.
As part of the celebrations, a number of high-profile Irish figures are to attend the dedication ceremony in the GPO, included sports stars Henry Shefflin, John Hayes, Packie Bonner and Stephanie Roche.
In addition, Senator Daly has invited President John F Kennedy’s grand nephew, Congressman Joe Kennedy, to attend the ceremony.
Congressman Kennedy was chosen to deliver the Democratic response to the President’s State of the Union address earlier this week.
The congressman is an honorary board member of the Thomas F Meagher Foundation, with Senator Daly stating that the Kennedy connection with the Irish flag is “long and enduring”.
Congressman Kennedy’s grand-uncle, the late Senator Ted Kennedy, was presented with Thomas F Meagher’s battle sword by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern when he addressed a joint session of the US Congress in 2008.
While in 1963, the late President John F Kennedy presented the battle flag of Thomas F Meagher’s regiment, the famous ‘Fighting 69th’, to the people of Ireland when he addressed a joint sitting of the Dáil and Seanad.
The flag continues to be displayed in Leinster House to this day.
Speaking about the new exhibition, the Ceann Comhairle Sean O’Fearghail said: I feel it is truly important we mark the 170th anniversary of the first flying of the flag and what the flag really means, as a symbol of our nation and peace.
In conjunction with the permanent exhibition being unveiled this year, in 2019, a plaque from the President of Ireland, which mentions Meagher as an embodiment of the millions of Irish who contributed so much to the United States, will be unveiled in the Washington Monument.
“This is a great honour for Ireland as only five plaques have been placed in the Washington Monument in the last 70 years,” said Daly.
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How much do you know about the flag that represents the Republic of Ireland?
The Irish flag (Bratach na hÉireann) – also known as the Irish tricolor – was flown publicly for the first time during the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848, on March 7, in Waterford City, at the Wolfe Tone Confederate Club. It was flown by Thomas Francis Meagher, then a leader of the Young Irelander movement, who would go down in history as Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher of the Union Army during the American Civil War.
While here in the US Meagher is best remembered for his role as a General in the Union Army and Governor of what is now Montana, his impact on Irish history and patriotic pride was also immense.
When Meagher hung the tricolor in Waterford, it boldly flew for eight days and nights until it was taken down by the British.
Meagher and his fellow Young Irelanders had been inspired by the 1848 revolutions across Europe. In April of 1848, a contingent of them traveled to France to congratulate the rebels there on overthrowing King Louis Philippe I. There, Meagher was presented with an Irish tricolor woven out of French silk.
Upon returning to Ireland, he, in turn, presented it to the Irish people, explaining the symbolism of the flag’s three colors. “The white in the center signifies a lasting truce between the orange and the green,” he said, “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.”
The green represents Irish nationalism; the orange, Ireland’s Protestant minority, and the Orange Order; the white, lasting peace between the two.
For his role in the 1848 rebellion, Meagher was tried for treason and sentenced to death, but this sentence was commuted to banishment to Van Diemen’s Land in Australia. He would later escape to a new life in the United States.
While the tricolor had gained traction as a symbol for Ireland until the Easter Rising of 1916 the primary flag of Ireland was green with a harp in the center (the harp remains as Ireland’s national symbol; Ireland is the only country in the world that has a musical instrument as such). That flag was used as early as 1642, by Owen Roe O’Neill, an Irish soldier, and leader of the O’Neill dynasty.
During the Rising, both flags were flown above the GPO, the headquarters of the rebels, and the tricolor became more widely accepted.
After the Rising, it was adopted by the IRA during the Irish War of Independence (1919 – 1921), was a symbol of the Irish Free State from 1922 – 1937, and then, when the Irish constitution came into law later that year, it was confirmed as the official flag of Ireland by Article 7, which reads: “The national flag of Ireland is the tricolor of green, white and orange.”
Today, the tricolor is a symbol of Irish pride and remains an important reminder of the peace that has been achieved and the progress that has yet to be made.
Throughout 1916, which, in addition to marking the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising also marks 100 years since the tricolor emerged into the popular imagination, the Irish Defense Forces and the Thomas F. Meagher foundation are working to ensure that the history of the flag is better known.
In the lead up to the 1916 centenary, every school in Ireland received an Irish flag. In post-primary schools, the Thomas F. Meagher foundation presented the Irish flag. In primary schools, the flag was presented by a member of Ireland’s defense forces, who educated the students on the flag’s story, its meaning, and proper care.
For example, the flag must always be flown above any others on the staff, it must never be displayed in poor condition, and it must always fly with the green segment closest to the flag staff. (Reversed, the Irish flag is quite similar to the Ivory Coast flag.)