The Flags of the UK and Ireland
As you travel around the British Isles, you may see many different flags that you will perhaps be unfamiliar with. This short article may help to clarify what those flags are and what they represent. More and more flags are being used both nationaly and as a means of local identity and county flags are now becoming very common.
We have included any existing county flags on the individual county pages which you can access using this link: Counties of Britain
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
The British Union Flag is commonly called the 'Union Jack' and is it represents the flags of the kingdoms of England and Wales, Scotland and of Northern Ireland. The design reflects the 1801 Act of Union between Britain and Ireland (the Welsh flag was not incorporated into the British Union Flag as it was seen at that time to be a province of England).
The flag should always be flown with broader white diagonal in the higher position, nearest the top of the flagpole. If it is ever flown upside down, with the broader white stripe at the base, it is usually taken as a sign of distress or emergency.
The Arms of The United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland
The four main nations of the British Isles are:
Part of the United Kingdom, England is the only country that does not currently have its own Parliament. The flag of England displays the Cross of St. George, which is a red cross on a white background and was first adopted as the English national flag by Richard the Lion heart around 1300. St George was not English but his heroic slaying of the Dragon was a symbolic act that resonated with the ideals of the time. The cross forms the central cross of the Union flag.
The national flower of England is the Rose and is used, by the England Rugby team as their badge.
The Arms of England. The patron saint of England is St. George and England's national day is St. George's Day which is held on the 23rd of April.
Once a separate Kingdom, Scotland has been part of the United Kingdom since 1707. The flag of Scotland is the St. Andrew's Cross which displays the x-shaped saltaire cross on which St. Andrew was crucified and it has been Scotland's national symbol since circa 1170. It is represented by the white cross on a blue background on the Union flag. King James I merged it with the national flag of England in 1606 when the two kingdoms were united. It has become very popular in Scotland and is also used by the Scottish National Party.
Scotland has another flag which depicts a red lion rampant on a gold background, as depicted on the Arms of Scotland. This flag is the Royal Standard of the Kings of Scotland and is now only used officially on special state occasions to honour the presence of the Royal Family, although you may well see it displayed by supporters at football and rugby matches..
The Arms of Scotland. The national flower of Scotland is the Thistle and the Patron saint is St. Andrew. Some of his bones are said to have been brought to St Andrews in Fife during the 4th century. St. Andrew's Day, is held on 30th of November.
Ireland has been an independent country since 1922 when it won its freedom from Britain after a long and bloody struggle. It is not part of the United Kingdom. Ireland's flag, also known as the Tricolour, has its origins in the French Revolution and the French flag. It was presented to the Nationalists by a group of French women who supported the bid for freedom from English rule.
The design was to signify the peace (white) between Nationalists (green) and Unionists (orange). It was first flown in Dublin during the 1916 Easter Rising, and has been used by Ireland's Nationalists and Republicans North and South of the border ever since.
The Arms of the Republic of Ireland is a gold harp on a blue background. The national Flower of Ireland is the shamrock, which was also called the "seamroy" by the Celts, was a sacred plant in ancient Ireland because it symbolized the rebirth of spring and later the Holy Trinity by the Christians. The Irish Patron Saint is St Patrick and is celebrated on March 17th.
Wales is a Principality that is part of the United Kingdom. It has been governed by England since it was conquered in 1282 when it last native ruler was killed. The Welsh flag has two equal horizontal stripes, white above green, and a large red dragon which became the symbol of the Welsh nation through its adoption by the Tudor Kings.
The arms of the Prince of Wales are based on those of Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, the last native Prince of Wales. The Patron saint is St. David who was the founder and first abbot-bishop of St. David's, a small city in the county of Pembrokeshire. The national day is celebrated on the 1st of March. The national Flower is the Daffodil or the Leek which has been displayed as a Welsh emblem since at least 1536 although the daffodil is now the more popular of the two flower emblems.
The smaller nations:
Many people do not realise that as well as the four main nations of the British Isles, there are a number of smaller sovereign states that each have their own flags and identities. Most of these smaller states are dependant territories on one of the larger countries or are Crown territories. Each of them has its own parliament and varying degrees of fiscal autonomy.
The six counties of Northern Ireland remained under British control after the independence of the Irish Republic in 1922. The Northern Ireland Flag. This flag is based upon the St. George's Cross with the Crown, the Star of David, and the Red Hand of Ulster.
Northern Ireland is the smallest of the Home Nations of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and there is no official Flag of Northern Ireland, as the 'Red Hand Flag' was abolished in 1972. Unionists tend to use the Union flag and sometimes the Red Hand Flag, while Nationalists generally use the Flag of Ireland.
The Channel Isles
The island Bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey are not part of the United Kingdom and represent the last remnants of the medieval Dukedom of Normandy, which held sway in both France and England. The islands are Crown protectorates but separate states from the rest of the United Kingdom, with their own Governments.
The Jersey flag is White with a diagonal red cross extending to the corners of the flag and in the upper quadrant, surmounted by a Gold crown, a red shield with the three lions of England in Gold.
The Arms of the Bailiwick of Jersey which is not a part of the UK, but is rather a separate possession of the Crown, comparable to the Isle of Man. It is not a part of the European Union either.
The Guernsey flag white with the red cross of Saint George (patron saint of England) and a Gold equal-armed cross of William the Conqueror superimposed on the Saint George cross.
The Arms of the Bailiwick of Guernsey which also includes Alderney, Sark, Herm, Jethou, Brecqhou, Burhou and other islets
The flag of Alderney is white with a St George Cross and the badge of the island in the middle. The badge is a green disc bearing a crowned lion rampant holding a sprig of leaves.
Arms of the Island of Aldeney which is part of the bailiwick of Guernsey. The States of Alderney is the legislature of the island, and it has a voice in the States of Guernsey as well.
The flag of Sark which is the flag of the Seigneur of Sark, is white with a red St George cross and a red square containing two gold lions. This is similar to the arms of Normandy, not far from Sark.
Sark is part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey and was until very recently considered to be the last feudal state in Europe. The Seigneur of Sark is the head of the feudal government of the Isle of Sark. Many of the laws, particularly those related to inheritance and the rule of the Seigneur, are little changed since they were enacted in 1565.
Arms of the Island of Sark. Sark's constitution has been democratised in recent years. More power is now in the hands of the elected members of the legislature, the Chief Pleas.
The Isle of Man
The Isle of Man is a Crown Protectorate but a separate state in it's own right and not part of the United Kingdom. The Manx Symbol is the Three Legs of Man, first officially used in the early 14th century on the Manx Sword of State. The legs, clad in armour and bearing spurs, run in a clockwise direction and bear the Latin motto 'Quocunque Jeceris Stabit' or 'Whichever way you throw it, it will stand'.
The Arms of The Island Of Man, the Three armoured legs, also feature on the Manx Coat of Arms, flanked by a Peregrine Falcon and a Raven. The source of the legs emblem is based on the legend of the Island God Manannan, who is said to have set fire to the Legs in a fit of rage and hurled them down the hill in a burning wheel.
It is becoming more and more popular to have flags for the various counties of the United Kingdom. Some of these are ancient flags that have been used for hundreds of years but there are now an increasing number of county flags that are recent creations. These flags add colour to the landscape and create a sense of identity for local people who are proud of their county and its traditions.