Sunday 18 September 2016

Flagging energy

It could happen to anyone. When Young Bolivar and I pulled into the centre of Cork last Saturday, the car in front of us sported a green and red flag with a central crest. I nudged YB and asked him to sing his national anthem [he can live in Ireland because he has a Portuguese = EU passport]. But he demurred a) because he didn't know the words and b) it wasn't the Portuguese flag.  And indeed it wasn't: when the traffic sped up, the flag de-limped and exposed itself as belonging to a proud family from Mayo. But you can see how a mistake might be made.

Today is An Event on the Irish sporting calendar: 'tis the All-Ireland GAA Football final.  As ot happens between Mayo [see above] and Dublin the favorites. Almost all the Irish counties North and South of the borrrrder have two colour flags, which makes it dead easy to run-up a few flags cheap if you have two bolts of correct colour cloth and a sewing-machine. That stems from the foundation of the Gaelic Athletic Association in Hayes Hotel, Thurles on 1st of November 1884. The early members of this sport and chauvinism bund were small farmers, laborers, and small town workers who didn't have a lot of money; so cheap flags mattered.

The exceptions to the two-colour convention are but three:
  1. Co. Kildare has a plain white flag and are thence nicknamed the Lillywhites. Having a pure white flag is not original to Co. Kildare. It was used by the Ancien Régime of France until it was replaced by the tricolour with the revolution. The pure white flag has subsequently been used by the Taliban and for the first year in power in The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
  2. Co. Offaly, which is really King's County, where my people are buried, has a tricolour, which is green white and gold: effectively the same as the National flag making it, quite frankly, a weird choice.
  3. Co Carlow, where I now reside, also sports a tricolour. I have floated the hypothesis that Carlow is so crap at the GAA because nobody can relate to their over-complex flag.
Okay quiz time:
Q1. which of the two tricolors [L]is the county flag of Carlow and which is the national flag of Mali? Do you know the national anthem of Mali. Dang! or is either Guinea, or Guinea Bissau, or Senegal or Ghana, or  Benin. All of them run through green yellow and red variations.
Q2. And while we're about it, is the flag represented [L] the county flag of Offaly or Flag of the Republic of Ireland or neither or both . . . or the flag of La République de Côte d'Ivoire? Would the national anthem help?

You could wonder at a certain lack of imagination is choosing the county colours in the 1880s and 1890s. More than half of the counties are represented by just four colour combos
  1. Blue & Gold: Roscommon, Longford [which even share a border], Wicklow, Clare and Tipp. Some pretend to be different by saying it's Saffron or Primrose and Blue, but that's just pedantry.
  2. Blue & White: Waterford Up the Déise! Cavan, Laois and Monaghan.
  3. Yellow & Green: Leitrim, Meath, Kerry, Donegal. Yes, yes everyone calls it Green and Gold, but that's just gilding the lillow.
  4. Red & White: Derry, Tyrone, Cork, Louth.
The flag I like, on its own merits, is that of Co Down which is a bold red and black. There is a lot of flexibility in how these GAA flags are displayed: horizontal or checkerboard are often seen at matches as well as appropriately coloured hats, scarves, ribbons and face-paint. Red and Black have, since at least the Spanish Civil War of 80 years ago, been strongly associated with Anarchism but I've heard no rumours that the plain good people of Down are about to occupy Tesco in Newry and give all the food to the poor people or eject the county councillors from wherever they meet. If any GAA board votes to change the county colours to cerise and magenta, I shall sell up and move there.

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