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1914 – 2014: 100 years of the Starry Plough January 1, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish History, Irish Politics, The Left.


An event that shouldn’t go unnoticed today is the 100th anniversary of the Starry Plough, traditional symbol of Irish Republican Socialism. You’ll find it nestling at the top of this page in the header image towards the left and it is indeed drawn from the Starry Plough constellation. Originally unveiled as the symbol of the Irish Citizen’s Army, although in that iteration with the stars set on a green field, the more well-known ‘modern’ version is a product of the Republican Congress where the stars are more clearly stylised and set on a blue field.

The wiki entry references the fact that it was used at the funeral of Tony Gregory.

It’s a rather beautiful and quite unique in the sense that it is an indigenous symbol of Irish starry-ploughocialism.


1. Sarah Palin-Drome - January 1, 2014

Excuse me Sweetie – it’s not exactly unique. I think you’ll find that the Big Dipper features on our Alaskan state flag


EWI - January 1, 2014

Do you know any other symbols of Irish socialism?


WorldbyStorm - January 1, 2014

“quite unique in that it is an indigenous symbol of Irish socialism

Re the Alaskan state flag. A distinctly different design and developed 13 years later in 1927 – as the wiki page linked to above notes.



2. Sarah Palin-Drome - January 1, 2014

I guess the most iconic image of Irish labor/(socialism?) is Oisín Kelly’s Larkin monument – either that, or the photo on which it is based (taken on Larkin’s return from the Land of the Free in 1923).


WorldbyStorm - January 1, 2014

That’s very possibly true. What’s remarkable is how little currency the starry plough has as a symbol. Recently discussing it with a group of MA students in a visual area I was struck by the fact that only one of them – from the North – had ever heard of it directly, though there was a sort of kind of knowledge that there might be a link with O’Casey. Now they could be uniquely ignorant, but I tend to think not.

It’s also telling that it has no official status at state level, despite its use in 1916 by the ICA. Fair enough, states tend to only have one primary emblem (though there is the Presidential Flag – again generally unknown) but no usage at all, even in a subsidiary way.


Johnny Forty Coats - January 1, 2014

It’s certainly true that other pre-independence symbols are employed by the state. The green flag (used by the United Irishmen, the Repeal movement, and the Home Rule movement) is now the naval service jack. The sunburst of the Fenians and Fianna Éireann is now used on a variety of military colours (interestingly, it is also combined with the hammer and sickle in the emblem of the CPI).

On the other hand, would we really want to see the Starry Plough being adopted by the state under present conditions? Personally, I’d rather have it available as a symbol of opposition.

If the flag isn’t better known, that’s just another symptom of the marginalisation of the Irish left.


Joe Mooney - January 1, 2014

A rather appropriate one is now on permanent ‘display’ in East Wall , Dublin.



3. Michael Carley - January 1, 2014

Would the Red Hand not count as an indigenous symbol of (or appropriated for the use of) the Irish Left?


WorldbyStorm - January 1, 2014

It could… it could…


Dr.Nightdub - January 1, 2014

The original UVF also used it so its identification with the irish left wouldn’t be as automatic


Michael Carley - January 1, 2014

Quite true, but I’m still surprised how often it does pop up as a consciously left-wing, or labour-movement, symbol.


Joe - January 3, 2014

It (the red hand) was the symbol of the ITGWU – on their badge and banners.
I’ve heard two versions of why it was used.
The first version is that the plan was to alternate the four provincial symbols every few years – Ulster, Connacht, Munster, Leinster. They started with the Ulster symbol and then forgot about the plan and stuck with it.
The second version I heard was from a chap called Foran. He said that the Red Hand is part of the Foran clan coat of arms. And yer man Foran, who was a leader of the ITGWU along with Larkin back in the day, put the Red Hand into the ITGWU badge and banners – I suppose because he could.


Michael Carley - January 3, 2014

According to Yeates’ history of the lockout, badges were issued to union members to denote that they had paid their subs. Since subs were paid quarterly, groups of four symbols were used on each year’s badges. When the lockout started, the symbols used were the emblems of the provinces, and the red hand was the the one for the current quarter.


4. Ciarán - January 1, 2014

The Free State Labour Party went into overdrive last year trying to claim the Starry Plough as their own.


Starry Plough


5. Sarah Palin-Drome - January 1, 2014

Hi y’all! Promise I’ll soon butt out of your discussion. Just to say that our Big Dipper was the symbol of your Free State Labour Party until 1991, when my good friend Dick Spring decided ‘to replace it with the symbol of European socialism, the red rose’ with a view to ‘modernising and refreshing the organisation,’ (according to your Irish Times, 24 January 1991). That must be how he got all those extra seats in the ‘Spring Tide’ of 1992


WorldbyStorm - January 1, 2014

Actually the LP used a different version of the SP. This was a white starry plough set on a serrated red flag, which was in use from the 1970s onwards. But, one significant caveat is that it was not applied uniformly except on certain documents issued by the party centrally – for example, at constituency level a range of symbols were used including the traditional white on blue starry plough and even the social democratic rose.

That last symbol was first used centrally during the Divorce referendum (in a rose and fist configuration) in 1986. And a bespoke rose/fist version was introduced by the party later that year but only used sporadically. At the election the next year a significant amount of election literature used the rose.

Ironically the version I presume you’re referring to was swiped wholesale from the Swedish SDP in 1990 and used thereafter until the version designed for the DL/LP merger at the end of that decade. The only addition was the typeface chosen to accompany it.


6. Brian Hanley - January 3, 2014

The Starry Plough that flew over the Imperial Hotel in 1916 is on display at the National Museum, Collins Barracks. At a recent seminar on the Citizen Army, one of the staff Rachel Phelan, explained the various tests that they have carried out to demonstrate that the flag they have is indeed THE flag. I was surprised at how extensive they were, including having facsimiles fired on by Lewis and Vickers machine guns to see what type of weapon caused the bullet holes in the flag. Anyway if you want to see the flag it’s on display.


Joe - January 3, 2014

Janey. Brilliant! Firing Vickers guns at facsimile flags. Who said museum curators have boring jobs!


EWI - February 6, 2015

It wasn’t the curators, but members of the DF, who fired the test bursts. Sorry 😉


7. Spailpín - February 6, 2015

In all my time reading this blog I actually never noticed the SP on the top left hand corner until today while re-reading this page!!


WorldbyStorm - February 6, 2015

Hah, you’re not the first! It’s a broad church here but republican socialism of various flavours is an outlook shared by many.


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