The power of a flag

David Lynch


David Lynch

The power of a flag

It was all about flags last week. Both home and abroad. And by abroad I mean the southern hemisphere of this island - Cork. And by home I mean Kilcurry.

This country - above and below the border - has a remarkable obsession with pieces of coloured fabric attached to a flag pole.

Now, of course, it is the meaning and connotation of the flag, not primarily the physical property itself, that matters in most cases.

Out the road in Kilcurry, the national flag was reported to have been stolen from the local primary school - the same flag which was presented to the school by members of the Defence Forces prior to the recent 1916 centenary celebrations.

It is a despicable act on many levels. That flag is a symbol of our own independence and a representation of all the people of our country - Green for Republicans, Orange for Unionists and White for the hope of an everlasting peace between the two sides.

The fact that there has been a suggestion that the flag might have been taken by a bunch of eejits for use during the upcoming European Championships in France, only adds to the embarrassment and sense of stupidity of the people involved.

Down in Cork - widely known as the Rebel County of course - there was some consternation over their GAA fans' use of the 'Rebel Indian' variation of the Confederate flag on the terraces of the countries GAA grounds. With the suggestion that the flag's use has very clear racial overtones stretching back to it's use by the Confederate Army back in the American Civil War in 1862-65.

We have all seen the 'Stars and Bars' rebel flag on the terraces of Croke Park over the years whenever Cork were playing, and never once could the suggestion of racism or an intent - whether knowingly or not - to cause hurt to another race be realistically leveled against those same fans. The flag is a part of the tradition of Cork GAA because of it's very 'Rebel' meaning, not anything race related.

However Sport Against Racism Ireland (SARI), last week called on the GAA to ask Cork fans to desist from using this particular flag.

Their suggestion that it is a 'flag of hatred' can certainly be upheld and it can be directly linked to the segregation of black people in America and by proxy around the world. Nobody would disagree, however, that the flag in its role with some Cork GAA fans owes nothing to racism or hatred. It is a flag to symbolise the county's strong and proud sense of itself and it's independence. Should the use of any symbol(s) be perhaps viewed on the basis of each individual context these days?

A possible retort to this, however, would be to use, say a swastika in an entirely separate context from it's overwhelmingly negative Fascist connotation and see what would happen. It would, understandably, cause a scandal, and a vehemently strong public reaction would soon follow.

But lets also remember that the swastika was originally used as a symbol to promote 'well-being' and 'good fortune' and is still a sacred symbol in both Hinduism and Buddhism to this very day. The Nazi's and fascism in general subsequently corrupted it and turned it into the very symbol of evil.

Both the implicit and explicit meaning of anything, whether it be a flag or a piece of art, is vitally important in how the message is both received and understood.

Flags may be fabric, but they are religious-esque relics for our modern, secular states and are thusly revered.

Late last year, during a similar national flag presentation to a school in town, this newspaper received a wonderful aerial photograph of all the pupils, along with the members of the Irish Defence Forces standing, facing up towards the camera, with the Irish flag flying proudly in the background on the roof of the school building. It is a wonderful photograph and shows the real sense of pride these children and their teachers had on the occasion.

Just hours before we were to go to print the following Monday afternoon I received a frantic phone call from the school asking if we could 'Photoshop' out the flag in the background.

I was taken aback initially, until I was told the reason - it is essentially sacrilege for any member of the Defence Forces to turn his or her back on their national flag.

The power of a flag cannot be overstated enough. This country knows only too well the gravity and lasting impact of that statement.