At the turn of the Twentieth Century, with anti-Irish sentiment running high in both America and Britain, Irish Olympic athletes faced a choice of either competing as British athletes, for a crown and flag that they resented, or emigrating to America or Canada, where they were not wanted nor welcomed. The world did not yet recognize Ireland as a nation and these Irish athletes, who came to be known as The Irish Whales, became unlikely heroes as they set and broke records in track and field events between 1896 and 1924, competing under British, American and Canadian flags. Irish Whales Team[/caption] The Irish Whales were so named because they were large men, both in stature and in character. They were known for their fiery spirits, showmanship, and were the first Olympic heroes of the modern era. Pat McDonald, Simon Gillis, Con Walsh, John Flanagan. Matt McGrath, James Mitchell, Paddy Ryan and Martin Sheridan took the world by storm and did much to earn the Irish diaspora respect around the world. All told, the Irish Wales won some 25 gold medals between the Athens Olympics of 1896 and the Antwerp Olympics of 1920, mainly in the shot-put, hammer and discus events. During the 1906 Intercalated Games in Athens, the Irish Whales won the bulk of Britain's medals and the anger and resentment among the Irish athletes was starting to peak. After winning the gold medal for the hop, step and jump event Peter O'Connor ripped the Union Jack from the flagpole that had been raised above his head and replaced it with the green flag of Erin, making quite the statement to all who witnessed such a bold act of Irish patriotism. In 1908, the Summer Olympics were held in London and by then, most of the Irish Whales had joined the American Olympic team. There were countless diplomatic failures at these games, notably, the United States flag went missing and was not displayed in the Olympic stadium with the flags of all the other nations. According to Roger McGrath writer for Irish America, "As the music of Grenadier Guards filled the stadium, King Edward settled into the royal box with Queen Alexandra and Princess Victoria at his side. At the Bugler’s signal, the gate leading to the athletes’ quarters was flung open and the parade of national teams began. One by one, they marched and dipped their flags to the King of England. It was a glorious moment for the host nation. Even the hard rain that had drenched the stadium earlier in the day had stopped. God seemed to be smiling on the empire. Then came the Americans, including the world-record hammer thrower and New York City cop, Matthew J. McGrath. When they approached the royal box, the County Tipperary-born McGrath, a six-foot, two-inch, 245-pound human bull of a man, stepped beside the team’s flag bearer and is rumored to have said, “Dip that banner and you’re in hospital tonight.” Old Glory went unbowed past the King of England. The English were left in shock. London newspapers lashed the Americans with the severest criticism they could muster and called for an apology. Veteran Olympian and world-record discus thrower Martin J. Sheridan, another New York City cop, spoke of “Mighty Matt” McGrath and the other American team members when he answered the English by pointing to the flag and saying, “This flag dips to no earthly king.” The precedent had been set. To this day the United States does not dip its flag at Olympic ceremonies." The Irish Whales forever changed the Olympics, and inspired Irish and American athletes for years to come. They raised the standards of competition in track and field and gave Irish people around the world a sense of pride and encouragement that would help embolden Ireland to fight for freedom and independence. These mighty men will forever be our Irish Whales.
The Easter Rising (also known as The Easter Rebellion) began on April 24, 1916 and has remained a controversial part of Irish history for the last century. The politics behind it are complicated, and emotions still run high among the Irish and the British. The Easter Rising is one of the most important and bloodiest parts of Irish history. What of the aftermath? The British, while caught by surprise at the uprising, quickly rallied their troops and began to gain control of the situation. By Wednesday that week the British had landed more troops in Ireland, after hundreds of casualties on both sides, the Irish, realizing they were out gunned, backed down. The fifteen leaders of the rising were imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol, just outside Dublin. All fifteen were sentenced to death for treason. At the time, many Irish people were resentful of the rebels for causing so much death and destruction, as they did not fully support the cause for Irish independence. Approximately three thousand people believed to be involved in the rising either directly or indirectly were arrested, and eighteen hundred of them were sent to prison in England without a trial. These executions and imprisonments, along with months of martial law, turned the hearts of the Irish who had not originally agreed with the rebels. They began to resent anew the British rule, and began to work toward independence. In 1918 the Sinn Fein party ( whose purpose was Irish independence) won a majority of the Irish seats in parliament, then refused to sit in the UK parliament. In 1919 they met and convened an Irish parliament and declared Ireland's independence. Following this the Irish Republican Army began using guerilla tactics to fight against the British rule. In 1921 a cease-fire was called, and a treaty was signed with the British resulting in the establishment of the Irish Free State, a self-governing part of the United Kingdom. Six Northern Irish states remained as part of the UK, and remain still today despite the twenty-six states who officially declared independence on Easter Monday, April 18, 1949. Today in Ireland and England, there are still factions at war with one another. In the one hundred years since the beginning of the fight for independence, Ireland has changed and yet remains the same. Emotions run high on both sides, while some view the original fifteen as heroes, others see them as terrorists and treasonists. It remains to be seen if the two countries can completely come together, and fully lay down arms. For more information on the Easter Rising, check out the following websites: http://www.history.com/topics/british-history/easter-rising http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/ireland-1845-to-1922/the-1916-easter-rising/
Ireland has multiple flags, each with a different meaning and significance. The Tricolor Irish flag, the Gold harp on green background, and the four provinces are especially rich in history and significance. The most recognizable is the Tricolor, with its bright colors and rich history. It was first flown by Thomas Francis Meagher during the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848, on March 7 in Waterford City. “The white in the center signifies a lasting truce between the orange and the green,” he said, “and I trust that beneath its folds the hands of the Irish Protestant and the Irish Catholic may be clasped, in generous and heroic brotherhood.” -Thomas Francis Meagher. Originally given to Meagher by the French, it flew over the Wolfe Tone Confederate Club in Waterford, Ireland. For more information on Thomas Francis Meagher and the tricolor, view this article on Celtic Life International. Probably the second most recognizable flag is the green flag featuring a gold harp with the phrase "Erin go Bragh" (Ireland forever) written on it. Before the tricolor was adopted, it was used as the national flag. The harp is the symbol of Ireland, with the "Maid of Erin", a mythical woman forming part of the harp.Another perhaps lesser known flag is the four provinces flag. It has a representation of each of the four provinces of Ireland, with each symbol being the heraldic symbol of the prominent family of each province. Leinster has a silver stringed golden harp (symbol of Brian Boru), Munster is three gold crowns on a blue background, which is thought to represent the three most prominent families of that region (O’Briens (Thomond), of the Butlers (Ormond), and the Fitzgeralds (Desmond). Connaght is the image of the arm and sword (O’Connors) with the black eagle perhaps representing the Browns, the origins of this symbol are particularly vague. Ulster is represented by a red cross on yellow background (de Burgos), with the red hand in the center (O’Neills of Tyrone). For more detailed information read this article on Clancorrigan.ca Irish history is rich and full of exciting symbols, the Irish flags represent not only the patriotism of Ireland, but also the history of its wars and national strife. To purchase any of these flags, visit our brick and mortar store. Or call us at: (816)640-2881 and we'll ship you one!