How It Was Made – The Flag of The Irish Republic

Written and read by Eamonn Kiely (2018)

For a few years a group of volunteers in Rothe House Kilkenny have been archiving long stored and somewhat neglected documents. As a member of the group, I was lucky to come across one in good handwriting and signed by two witnesses. It was in the form of a statement and rather professionally done. The first part of my brief talk is that statement as made by Maire O’Neill.

“It was in Sutton House, Leinster Rd, Rathmines, on the Thursday preceeding Easter 1916 that the Countess Markievich said she was going to make a flag. This surprised me somewhat and we observed that with the shops closing, no material was likely to be got quickly for the purpose. But the Countess was a very determined woman when she wanted something done, and in this case she acted with her characteristic energy. She momentarily pulled her skirt above her knee as if to examine her petticoat, then she hastened upstairs to the room she had given for the use of Laurence Ginnel MP, when he was in Dublin. She returned quickly with the counterpane of a bed, green in colour and spread this out on the floor where she examined it. Then, using a scissors, she cut it as desired and spread the part to be used as flag out on top of the baby grand piano. As we helped to get it ready, her dog kept barging in, for he wanted to share in everything; and finally he tore a piece of the material – leaving the small gap which still shows on it.

The Countess wanted the words, Republic of Ireland, on the flag, and the question arose of how this might be done. Going upstairs again, she brought down some gold paint; and the question then arose of how to put it on, and whether the material would retain what was painted on it. This was solved by mixing the gold with mustard. The Countess herself was a very good artist, and musician, and it was she who did the painting on the emblem.

Signed Máire Ó Néill 18th April 1966

Witness:- Róisín Mackay (daughter) BSc Eng

The recorder or stenographer was Maelseachlainn, a pen name for Christopher O’Loughlin, a Callan native. He reports that the statement was read carefully to Maire Ó Neill at Dublin Airport where she approved and signed it, on 18th April 1966. The writer notes that on examining the flag at the National Museum, Dublin on the 19th April 1966 he found that the actual wording on it is Irish Republic, not Republic of Ireland. He notes that such an innocent error is understandable in view of the long interval between the creation of the flag and the making of the statement – 50 years.

Maelseachlainn, who was meticulous in his note taking, says Máire Ó Néill became Mrs T Mackey. She was widowed since 1936. Her husband was one of the famous Limerick hurling family and was editor of the Economist. Maelseachlainn first met Máire Ó Néill at the unveiling of the Thomas Davis statue in College Green.

Editor’s note – The House on Leinster Rd Rathmines in my time from 1966 onwards was Surrey House not Sutton House (EK), another innocent error proving there was no conspiracy to deceive as hinted at in an article by Frank McNally in his Irishman’s Diary of 5 Sep 2015 of The Irish Times.

The flag captured by the British in 1916 was returned by British Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1966.