Ireland (the island) presents an inconsistent face to the world. At all-Ireland sporting events a variety of symbolism is in use, while most countries make do with only one or (sometimes) two distinct flags. Confusion between Ireland the island and Ireland the sovereign state results in the alienation of many Unionists from all-island sporting organizations. This has led to many sports adopting more inclusive symbolisms, however these have been done on an ad-hoc basis and suffer from a lack of consistency and design impact. The result is a confusing assortment of State, organizational and unofficial flags being flown, producing a fragmented brand and a divided community of supporters.
A similar problem with anthems led to the commissioning of the song “Ireland’s Call” by the IRFU, which has since been adopted by other sporting organizations, thus becoming a de-facto “sporting anthem”. We are therefore motivated to design an analogous “sporting banner”, with a view to unifying the disparate symbolisms currently in use and presenting a distinctive, common brand.
- Must represent the island of Ireland across multiple sporting disciplines
- Should avoid divisive or controversial design elements
- Should be distinct from existing flags, Irish or otherwise
- Must be bold and readily identifiable from a distance
- Must be able to command broad allegiance
- Should be based on existing symbology
Most of these can be found on Wikipedia.
- IRFU flag
Pro: already in use, uncontroversial (2,5)
Con: poor design quality (4), non-universal (1)
- Irish Hockey flag
As IRFU, marginally cleaner design
- Irish Cricket flag
As IRFU, but even worse design
- The four-provinces flag
Pro: widely recognizable, already in use (1,2,5), explicitly represents island of Ireland
Con: confused design, lack of Unionist engagement
Pro: in use, recognisable
Con: politically divisive
- Geraldine (“St. Patrick’s”) cross
Pro: simple, bold design
Con: obscure, lack of Republican engagement
- Harp on green field
Pro: simple, bold design
Con: already in use as flag of Leinster
- Harp on blue field
Pro: simple, bold design
Con: already in use as RoI presidential standard
The above can be broken down into the following pool of design elements:
- Green field
Most commonly used element – uncontroversial and universally recognizable.
- Blue field (“St. Patrick’s Blue”)
Less common, somewhat archaic alternative to the above
- Flags of the Four Provinces, in combination
Explicitly all-Ireland (possible negative connotations for some Unionists)
Ironically, the presence of (supposedly Protestant) orange on much Irish symbolism serves to alienate Protestants, whereas green is broadly acceptable.
Commonly found as secondary element
Uncontroversial, easily recognizable
- Red saltire
Originally arms of FitzGerald, repurposed as ersatz “St. Patrick’s cross” in 19th C. Slight bias towards unionists (and Blueshirts) but also found in establishment contexts across Ireland
The starting point of our preferred solution is to explicitly draw parallels with “Ireland’s Call”, as the banner and the song are intended to solve similar problems and be used on the same occasions. Linking the banner with the song also helps to underline its design brief as sporting rather than political symbolism.
The lyrical theme of “Ireland’s Call” is one of teammates from the four provinces standing together to face their opponents with pride – the second verse is devoted entirely to poetic descriptions of those four provinces. It would seem natural then to start with the Four Provinces flag (pool element 3), however it suffers from serious design flaws – by combining four complex, disparate designs, one ends up with a whole that is graphically much less than the sum of its parts.
This is not an insurmountable problem – many flags balance the competing requirements of symbolic inclusivity and graphic simplicity by defacing a bold primary design with a complex coat of arms – the flag of Croatia is particularly apposite. We have therefore chosen to include the Four Provinces symbolism in the form of a shield defacing the main flag.
The primary element of the main design was chosen to be a green field (pool element 1) – although St Patrick’s blue (element 2) has an older pedigree, green is more readily associated with Ireland, particularly in sporting contexts where Ireland competes in a green strip. At this stage, we could construct a design similar to the current hockey flag, but such a flag lacks any bold design elements and therefore appears bland and is hard to identify from afar (brief point 4). As brief point 4 is arguably the entire purpose of having a flag, we cannot disregard it.
Orange (element 4) is reminiscent of the republican flag, and therefore too politically charged for our purposes. We have already chosen to deface our flag with a design that includes a harp (element 6). Shamrocks (element 7) would not stand out against the field unless rendered in an unnatural colour. The only element left in our design pool is the Geraldine cross (element 8), but by a stroke of luck it fulfills our requirements perfectly – it is bold and distinctive; the red saltire is nowhere else seen against a green field; and any perceived pro-Unionist bias may be regarded as an appropriate counterweight to any perceived pro-Nationalist bias of the Four Provinces shield.
When the final design is assembled, the Four Provinces stand powerfully at the centre (“shoulder to shoulder”) while the red saltire (with customary white fringing) appears to radiate gloriously outwards. Together these themes draw multiple parallels between song and banner, hence our suggestion that a nickname be lifted directly from the lyrics of Ireland’s Call in order to emphasise a unity of purpose.
To minimize stylistic clashes (and printing costs!) we have reduced the colour palette down to a set of six commonly used bolds. Connacht forgive us.
Although the design is straightforward (green + red saltire + four provinces), bonus symbolism can be milked if one is motivated. The green, white and red colour scheme is partway between the green-white-orange of Nationalists and the red-white-blue of Unionists. The white fringing can be regarded as a white saltire in its own right, a Dissenter counterpart to the red saltire of Anglicans and Gaelic green. The four green triangles visible between the arms of the saltire can be read as a secondary symbol of the four provinces.
By using pre-existing all-Ireland symbols in the design (to wit, various defacements of a green field; red saltire; Four Provinces flag), we also unify those symbols in a coherent brand, so that familiarity with the sporting banner automatically implies familiarity with the components when taken individually. The introduction at an event of even a small number of sporting banners amongst a population of Four Provinces, St Patrick’s crosses and official IRFU flags (say) would likely have a disproportionate effect on brand image, with the other three flags appearing (to the uninitiated) to be special cases of the sporting banner. Thus the combined effect is one of a single brand with complementary strands, rather than an assortment of disconnected brands. This brand is further reinforced by tying it into the lyrics of Ireland’s Call – the aim being that the audio and visual symbols should each invoke a mental image of the other.
vert a saltire gules fimbriated argent, centred an escutcheon quarterly; 1st or a cross gules centred an escutcheon of pretence argent, a dexter hand gules; 2nd azure three crowns or; 3rd per pale first argent a dexter half eagle displayed sable, second azure a sinister arm embowed fessways holding a sword all argent; 4th vert a harp or
16×28 units green field (1:sqrt(3))
red saltire width 2u, white fringing width 1u
shield 6.5x8u, centered, black border 0.2u
four equal area quadrants
centred on quadripoint
upper quadrants square aspect
clockwise from top left: Ulster,Munster,Leinster,Connacht
U cross width 1/8 shield width
U shield 1/4×3/8 s.w.
U hand height 1/4 s.w.
M crowns 3/16×3/16 s.w.
L harp height 7/16 s.w.
L harp turned so strings vertical (to avoid curve of shield)
C eagle height 7/16 s.w.
Pantone (CMYK) palette:
gold: 116C (0,16,100,0)
red: 186C (0,100,81,4)
blue: 281C (100,72,0,32)
green: 364C (65,0,100,42)
The files presented in this post contain some public domain elements from wikimedia commons. All other designs and design elements in this post are hereby released into the public domain.