Run This One Up The Flagpole

I have had several engagements on Twitter with various people concerning the juvenile goings on in Belfast City Council. It was ever thus. I wrote about the general tenor of Belfast City Council earlier.

During one of these engagements I pointed out that the red saltire on the Union Flag referred to as the Cross of St Patrick has little connection with this island and is in fact an English creation.

It is frequently trotted out as the ‘Irish’ part of the Union flag, but the St Patrick’s Cross itself was invented by George III in 1783, following his establishment of the Chivalric Order of St Patrick. It is as Irish in origin as St Patrick himself. He was by various accounts Cornish or Welsh. He also drove the snakes out of Ireland according to legend. Were there any here in the first place I dare ask?

One of my correspondents on Twitter, a DUP Councillor called Lee Henderson very helpfully advised me that the St Patrick’s Cross was used earlier on Coinage Maps to do with Ireland ergo it is an Irish symbol. A red cross on a white background? Surely some genius prior to 1783 may have already used this device to signify something. I beg to differ.

This is a DUP man arguing with me over the Irish or non-Irishness of a symbol. In the action of making this assertion is he asserting his own Irishness? In denying that it is an Irish symbol am I undermining my own Irishness? In my mind all the time is a-rattling around Seamus Heaney’s ‘Be advised my passport’s green. . .’.

But there is a particular obsession in these parts with flags. In Portstewart this summer past, the local tribe asserted their territory by hoisting a very large Union Flag right in the middle of the Diamond.

It was unnecessarily large. It was a statement. It was a “look at this big flag and take it down if you dare” Statement. There it fluttered and flew proudly all through the marching season. The flag of their Union.

A few people mumbled about that bloody flag and threatened to make a few calls to ask could it be removed when the marching season had come and long gone. Still it flew, billowing out, telling all and sundry, all the golfers and tourists and day trippers, that this was a red white and blue town. I’m sure a few of them stopped and wondered. But sure what the hell matter a few tourists, especially if they’re from the South. Don’t want them back anyway even with their Euros.

Then along came a good autumn storm from in off the sea. The sort that can blow a man off his bike; wreak havoc with the washing line; hurl your flowerpots and shrubs up the street and send bins slewing across the road.

The flag in the diamond already slightly bedraggled from the long damp summer had a bad time with the storm. It slipped one of its bindings and flew crazily in the wind, no longer flag-like but denuded, tattered, like a dishcloth on a clothesline attached with only the one peg. The edges frayed and tattered as it jerked and shuddered in the Atlantic wind. And then, when the wind died, there it hung, limp, demoralised. Spent.

The people that put it up were concerned about the statement made when erected, but when the standard fell it made an even stronger statement. There was no-one there to save its blushes. It was a frayed and torn shadow of its former self.

Eventually it disappeared. Perhaps it was put out of its misery.

And no doubt another one will appear next time, perhaps bigger and stronger. And it will billow and dip and flutter all summer. And maybe if the owners care about the flag as much as they claim to, they will take it down a bit earlier. Before it becomes nothing more than a ragged dishcloth and a symbol of dis-Union.

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