A St Paddy's Day for all…

A GENEROUS response in the Andytown News to the news that Belfast City Council is to support the St Patrick’s Day carnival. There is also an acknowledgement that nationalists “will be reasonable and magnanimous when it comes to those aspects of the St Patrick’s Day celebrations that many unionists genuinely have trouble with”. For non-nationalists, that would, in many cases, include the flying of the Irish flag. Just recently, Dr John Nagle of Queen’s University’s Institute of Irish Studies examined attitudes in Northern Ireland towards St Patrick’s Day. Some of the responses he got are below.

A Presbyterian student summed up a typical Unionist view of celebrations in Belfast:

I went into Belfast city centre and I wish I had not. Lots of drinking and drunk people making fools of themselves, annoying children blowing whistles and lots of Irish flags being waved. I felt scared to look at anyone in the wrong way for fear of being attacked. I would like to see future events where Unionists could be made feel welcome. As it stands at the minute St. Patricks Day in Belfast is nothing more than a republican festival.

A Protestant, Irish Nationalist who went to the celebrations at Belfast City Hall with his children articulated a similar position:

In Belfast it has been taken over by bigots and used for dark political purposes. It should be made to appeal more to Irish Protestants as well. If they would fly more St Patricks flags and less Tricolours it might help protestants realize they are Irish too!

A Unionist put the case in blunt terms:

I feel like a Jew at a Nazi parade. I am excluded from Saint Patrick’s day as I am a Protestant. It has got more republican than ever. Why does Belfast city council not hold a celebration for all religions in N. Ireland.

A self-declared Unionist mused on the changes he had seen over the years:

In the 1960s St. Patrick’s Day was an excuse for everyone (both. Protestant and. Catholic) to enjoy a night out in a pub/club where Irish stew was served.. Today in Northern Ireland it is another opportunity for people (of both shades of opinion) to express their political views. I would like to see the day as a genuine “Festival” but since Patrick is the national saint of Ireland
he is therefore always likely to be associated with Ireland’s national flag. The flag is in turn an anathema to so many that I do not foresee a situation when a true cross-community festival could ever exist.

There’s a big challenge for the City Hall to meet between now and next March, particularly over issues like flags. Will the Council perhaps use the guidelines employed in Downpatrick, which has managed to hold a pretty successful St Patrick’s Day event that is enjoyed by all sections of the community there?

If they can meet the challenge, it will surely be A Good Thing, because St Paddy is one of the few shared symbols we have in Northern Ireland. As Dr Nagle noted in his article:

As Northern Ireland searches to find a truly inclusive Northern Irish identity – perhaps in a hyphenated British-Irish form – the need to find relevant festivities and neutral spaces to celebrate this identity is critically important. Given the exclusive, often sectarian characteristic nature of visible public celebrations in the north of Ireland (Orange Order parades, Irish Republican commemorations), the inherent political and religious neutrality of St. Patrick, and his life precedes the centuries old struggle over British rule in Ireland) provides real potential for mobilising space and all communities to share and celebrate a common identity.

  • beano; EverythingUlster.com

    “If they would fly more St Patricks flags and less Tricolours it might help protestants realize they are Irish too!”

    I’d like to think so but somehow I won’t hold my breath. That’s not to say I wouldn’t give it a go, but I just don’t think this is the sort of thing that can be changed overnight.

    In the past 85 years Irishness (especially in Northern Ireland) has been twisted and mutilated to become something that is inherently anti-British. It would seem that the Republic is slowly edging away from that, but the same sort of progress hasn’t been made here yet. I’d imagine many if not most people on both sides of the divide see being British and Irish as mutually exclusive.

  • The Beach Tree

    Unfortunately Beano I agree with much of what you say, particularly on the mutual exclusivity of modern britishness and irishness in Northern Ireland.

    However, even if that is the case, and remains the case, mutually exclusive does not have to mean mutually antagonistic. I don’t want to see no tricolours, and mutual emblems of no loyalty, if that does not really describe the people they apply to – thats community-relations speak, and it patently doesn’t work – I’d rather that we be honest about the exclusivity, but tackled ferociously the mutual antagonism – to the point where tricolors, union flags, NI banners, Gold Harp flags, Flax plant banners and St patricks crosses could all be found together, flying happily, with no-one remotely caring wjhat anyone else waves, and enjoying the sheer colour of the events.

    Put it this way beano – you’ll never seperate some of my neighbours from their love for, and complete affiliation with, the tricolour. It’s frankly damn all to do with being ANTI-british, or ANTI-anything. It’s purely about being PRO-irish. It’s their antipathy to the Union flag which is ANTI-british. that, i believe, is open to remedy.

    You could, though, if effort were used, wean them from their hostility to the union flag – so that both flags would become eventually nothing more than benign expressions of citizenship and personal identity. Flying one need not be dismissing the other. But Unionists will also certainly have to get over the “our flag and ONLY our flag” mentality that a very large number seem to have implicitely or explicitly.

  • Gonzo

    That’s the crux of the unionist argument though: “You lot signed up for the Good Friday Agreement, which means you accept – until the people decide otherwise – that Northern Ireland is part of the UK. The Union flag is the national flag, the Irish tricolour is not – and so the Union flag has special privileges.”

    It’s a logical position, but it clearly antagonises nationalists. Flags are not a logical issue anyway. They are emotional symbols, which makes finding an acceptable solution to everyone tough.

    Is this not why common symbols might not be useful. Obviously, not everyone will buy into it, but even as a convenience – to prevent constant political paralysis over symbolic issues, for example – to have a set of shared symbols might be practical.

  • The Beach Tree

    Well given that the GFA is essentially dead in the water because Unionists can no longer accept it, its a bit rich to try and rely on it, particularly to rely on a reading of it that is frankly, quite so lopsided in terms of logic.

    I don’t see how accepting that the ‘national flag’ has special privileges flows logically from accepting for the time being Westminster jurusdiction in Northern Ireland – what priviliges a flag has are purely a matter of legislation, and flag legislation in the UK is no more privileged than legislation on toilet seats.

    I don’t remember the GFA saying anything prescriptive on flags – and unless it did, then any issue of ‘privileged position of antional flag’ is an issue for flags legislation, not the GFA. The acceptance of UK sovereignty over Northern Ireland for the time being does NOT mean acceptance of certain symbols automatically, or special rights for those symbols – many unionists simply wish it did, and act accordingly. And any privileges the flag does have comes from flag legislation, NOT the GFA, and its perfectly within the rights of nationalists to attack that legislation without attacking the GFA.

  • lib2016

    Since when did the unionist population have a veto on what the population as a whole have decided by referendum?

    Both governments have repeatedly said that the GFA is the way forward. The unionists may be able to delay the workings of the Assembly but ways will be found to implement democracy here.

  • Alan McDonald

    Beach Tree is right; the GFA doesn’t mention flags.

    It does say in Section 6. Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity that All participants acknowledge the sensitivity of the use of symbols and emblems for public purposes, and the need in particular … to ensure that such symbols and emblems are used in a manner which promotes mutual respect rather than division.

  • The Beach Tree

    thanks Alan.

    I would argue that the position outlined by Gonzo actually clearly runs completely AGFAINST the GFA in that sense. It shows no ‘mutual respect’ for the tricolor, and demands ‘complete’ respect for the union flag alone, not mutual respect.

  • Paul

    “Flying the flag” in N.I. has very little to do with celebrating a culture or nationality and is almost entirely designed to intimidate or rile. Never mind “mutual respect”, even the people who fly the damn things don’t genuinely respect them.

  • Gonzo

    The Beach Tree

    Bear in mind I didn’t outline MY position.

  • Christopher Stalford

    I think it is worthwhile outlining just what Belfast City Council agreed to on Monday night.

    The event planned for St. Patricks Day, will be a BELFAST CITY COUNCIL event. Tne City Council is the only organsier named in the decision. The City Council has not agreed to work with/for the St. Patricks Day Carnival Committee in the proposed event.

    The Carnival Committee is a controversial group, which has in the past demonstrated that it is totally incapable of organising an event that could command cross-community support. The council will be looking at various groups and projects to commemorate St. Patricks Day.

  • Keith M

    This is a bit of common sense and shows the Belfast City Council finally doing something for which it is paid. THe event has been hijacked in the past. St. Patrick’s Day should be a cross community event, as Patrick is the man who brought christianity to the island. Any flags used should be neutral.

    The bigger issue of flags is however quite separate. Northern Ireland needs a new flag. The old flag has become associated with one community only and the new flag should be respected by both communities. The PSNI badge (with almost every conceivable symol) or the logo of the assembly (using the flex symbol) shows that this can be done. There should be an international competition to design a new flag with local politicians and community leaders choosing the winner.

  • The Beach Tree


    Duly noted.

  • T.Ruth

    St.Patrick was an evangelical,Bible based Christian who preached a pure Gospel in Ireland-actually in Ulster, long before the Roman Catholic church had any authority or real presence in Ireland.
    it is nauseating for Christians to see his memory so defiled by people pushing a Republican agenda and using the occasion to over indul;ge in green beer,republican rhetoric and tricolour waving.
    I would like the Orange order and other loyal orders to celebrate the day by marching to the centre of their town or city or village and holding a dignified religious service to remind the world that St.Patrick was first and foremost a man dedicated to followibg Christ and supporting the supreme authority of the Bible.
    Imagine the Parades Commission trying to ban St.Patrick’s Day parades in Ireland. How about it “brethren?”

  • Biffo

    St.Patrick was a sinner,a Romanized Celt and a Latin speaking missionary of the Roman church. He introduced Roman style Christianity to Ireland.

  • Wichser

    As the man who first brought Christianity to Ireland can someone please explain why Patrick’s memory should be celebrated…at all ?

  • bertie



  • T.Ruth

    The good doctor has written a short treatise on the subject which contradicts your view and I would recommend you have a read at it. However my own view is based on my own reading about the man and consideration of his writing,his behaviour and teaching

  • barnshee

    “would like the Orange order and other loyal orders to celebrate the day by marching to the centre of their town or city or village and holding a dignified religious service to remind the world that St.Patrick was first and foremost a man dedicated to followibg Christ and supporting the supreme authority of the Bible”

    Oooh youare naughty but I like it

  • Biffo


    “The good doctor has written a short treatise on the subject which contradicts your view and I would recommend you have a read at it. However my own view is based on my own reading about the man and consideration of his writing,his behaviour and teaching”

    I’m always open to new opinions but I wouldn’t rate the good doctor as an expert on Irish history. I dare say he’d have difficulty contradicting my view.

    If you’ve read about him yourself you’ll know he spoke Latin, you don’t get much more Romanised than that.

  • beano; EverythingUlster.com

    Who cares what language he spoke – he represented one of the earliest examples of a British invasion of Ireland and should not be celebrated. Brits out!

  • Biffo

    “..he represented one of the earliest examples of a British invasion of Ireland”

    No he didn’t he was brought here against his will.

  • hovetwo

    If you were going to develop a cross-community flag for Northern Ireland, as per Kevin M’s suggestion, you might want something that is supposed to symbolise peace between the green and orange traditions – the “Irish” tricolour!

    Of course, the tricolour has been debased by those who have turned it into a symbol of intimidation and aggression against Unionists. It only shows how symbols can be perverted.

    When Thomas Francis Meagher of the Young Ireland movement invented the tricolour in 1848 it was explicitly designed as an emblem of peace and reconciliation, not an exclusive tribal badge. As a boy scout growing up in Dublin, we were taught to fold the flag so that there would always be white between the green and orange.

    It amazes me how many people think the flag is green, white and gold – although Article 7 of the Irish Constitution quite clearly states “The national flag is the tricolour of green, white and orange.” Actually that’s all it says – it makes no reference to the underlying symbolism.

    The fact that many “nationalists” find it hard to come to terms with the orange part of “their” flag is almost as ironic as watching “unionists” set fire to it.

  • Alan McDonald


    I grew up in a predominantly Irish-Catholic section of New York City. The public school I attended (grades 1-6) had no school colors, so we had a popularity contest. The colors that won were green and gold, because they were the “colors of the Irish flag!”

    Many Irish-Americans that I have met over the years are convinced that there is no orange in the Irish flag; they think that outside stripe is just a representation of the color gold.

    For this reason (as well as others), I have always identitifed with the white stripe in the middle. I recognize that this means that, not only am I a coward, but that I will be shot at from both sides.

  • Keith M

    The constitution may only state the colours, but there are actually quite detailed laws about the flag and it’s usage, detailing everything from the aspect ratio, to the instructions on what is considered “half mast”.

    As for a new flag for Northern Ireland, maybe someone here should organise a little competition. All entries to be entered annonymously and slugerites can choose a winner!.

  • Alan McDonald

    Keith M,

    If I may have the temerity to be both non-anonymous and redundant, I propose a flag consisting of the only color coexisting in the Irish tricolor and the Union Jack: white. You could even call it the “Yes Surrender” flag.

  • foreign correspondent

    ‘Lines are drawn upon the world
    Before we get our flags unfurled
    Whichever one we pick
    It’s just a self deluding trick’

    – One World (Not Three)
    The Police

  • Alan McDonald

    If you want to see what my new flag of Northern Ireland would look like, you can compare the one at Historic Flags of the Lake Champlain and Lake George

    Area. Just scroll down to French Naval Ensign: The all white flag of La Marine

    Royale (sometimes known as the Bourbon Banner).

    On a side historical note, do you suppose that the similarity between the French naval ensign and the traditional flag of surrender is why the French got that reputation for surrendering? (I know that the flag does not explain the cheese eating part.)

  • hovetwo

    Oooops, just noticed I wrote Kevin M earlier rather than Keith M – apologies.

    Personally I also identify with the white stripe, but there must be mileage in a new flag that everyone can identify with…..?