Citizenship. A New Civic Flag for Belfast 2013. Nos 4.
When I was working on a new civic flag my logic was this . .
1. I began with a dark blue background, for without the sea both Ireland, Britain and Scotland would have been disconnected in our deep past. The sea has always been the means by which these places communicated. At that time none of these land masses would have had their present names.
Scotland was known as Alba, the west coast of Britain was known as Albion with a language similar to Welsh and Ireland had more than one name. The name “Ire-land”, the land of Ériu, came from one of three goddesses called Banba, Fodhla and Ériu (just as Britannia is a mythical figure for Britain).
2. The next image I added was a white dove representing peace but also Saint Columba or Colmcille (the Dove), the historically rightful patron saint of Scotland, as it was Colmcille who brought Christianity to the Picts who eventually became the Scots. St. Andrew doesn’t really have a practical historical connection with Scotland, other than the ecclesiastical desire to have a prominent cathedral there.
St. Patrick brought Chistianity from Britain as a slave and Columba brought Christianity from Ireland to Pictland (Scotland), as an exile, initially sent to the island of Iona, as a punishment (once used by druids).
3. As the name Scotland comes from Ireland I placed a rising diagonal line from left to right as an echo of the Scottish saltire. The diagonal represents us, as a community, climbing this hill together. The dark blue background with the white dove represent the strong and very ancient Pictish/Scottish influences, including the Ulster Plantation as well as skills brought from Scotland, including ship building, expertise brought from places like Salt Coates.
The journeys of the two saints, one going east and the other west is an echo of all the people, from ancient times, moving back and forward across the Irish Sea.
Notice too that the sea mentioned is not called the Scottish sea as the term “Irish” meant both “Scottish and Irish” up until well into the 1700’s and the beginning of permanent political union between Scotland and England (1707).
The origins of the word “Scotland” originates in a Roman term, “Scotti” for Irish raiders, pirates and slave traders, working the west coast of Britain, towards the end of the Roman empire and its connection with Britain as a province.
From Dalriada in North Antrim, came “the Scotti” who settled in Argyle and Galloway, bringing with them, their language, Irish Gaelic, that became Scottish or Scots Gaelic, still spoken in the Highlands and islands of Scotland by many Presbyterians.
Eventually the Scotti moved their kingdom of Dalriada (which, at one time spanned the Irish Sea), completely across to Argyle and Galloway from where, at Dunad, they crowned their own early Scottish kings. By the middle of the 9th century, after only 350 years the Scotti became the most powerful force in the country bringing their name to Scotland.
4. I took the dove and copied it a number of times representing us as people and the historical reality of our mixed heritage in Ulster. Very few of us can put up our hands and say “I am totally English, totally Irish, totally Scottish, Welsh or anything else”, as these words are only a label to describe where our parents have lived before us. They are not an indicator of “race”, a term becoming very out of date.
5. I coloured the doves both green and blue representing the sea and the land but also the two political tradtions, both Unionist and Nationalist, Loyalist and Republican.
The green and the blue colours overlap to show our mixed backgrounds for most of us, as I said, are mongerels with a shared heritage, in many ways.
6. I recently added two small strips of colour at either side of the civic flag. The red represents the red in the union flag but also the red hand in the ancient flag of Ulster which is red and yellow. The yellow orange reflects the colour from the Irish tri-colour, the yellow of the sun to be found in ancient Christian Celtic High Crosses, and a colour commonly worn in pre-Christian Ireland and also the more recent Orange tradition (from 1795 onward).
7. All in all I was trying to create a flag that contained strength, that reflected our Christian and even Pre-Christian heritage, going back thousands of years. A flag which is inclusive, that recognizes our collective past, our failures, our suffering, our conflicts, but which also looks to new choices like a bird, taking flight with other birds. A new collective force for the future.
8. Ireland is one of the most recently populated island in all of Europe due to the last ice age. It lay covered with ice until only about 10,000 years ago. One thing we can be sure of is that anyone who describes themselves as Irish now, has ancestors who came to Ireland from somewhere else.
The Irish and the British are also from the one core gene pool. We are in the main all “islanders” from these islands, both Britain and Ireland, and that basic fact hasn’t changed for thousands of years. (If you don’t believe me go and check out this information yourself.)
What makes us different from each other is, the cultural baggage, the sense of religion, denomination, politics, educational experience, ethnic sense we all carry around in our heads like football supporters. But this is only like the wiring of a building, it isn’t the bricks and mortar, the foundations or the very fabric, yet it does have a big effect on how the building functions.