The original Starry Plough flag was first adopted by James Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army in April 1914. The original design had the symbol of a gold ploughshare with a sword as its cutting edge and the seven stars of the Ursa Major constellation superimposed upon it, with a green background. This flag is also carried by the Irish Republican Socialist Movement although the various factions of the Official IRA used it quite prominently as a de facto logo in the not so distant past. The original Starry Plough was designed as the military ‘colours’ or standard of the Irish Citizen Army and this explains its slightly oversized appearance when reproduced on conventional flag dimensions. In recent times the Provisional Sinn Fein splinter group Éirigi have to a certain extent re-claimed the ICA version of the Starry Plough flag.
The modern-day Starry Plough design with its striking seven white stars on blue background made its first appearance during the 1930s as the emblem of the Republican Congress. The Republican Congress of the 1930s was a Left-wing Republican political construct created by Peadar O’Donnell and others in the hope of placing Irish Republicanism on a more overtly Leftist trajectory. Since then, the modern day Starry Plough has been intrinsically and rightly linked to Irish Republican Socialism.
Various Irish Trades Unions have adopted both versions of the Starry Plough or incorporated them into their emblems over the years. The Irish Labour Party at one stage used it as their party logo, on a brownish-red background but have since ditched it, along with any pretence at being remotely a Socialist party after habitually paddling in the murky waters of coalition government with Fine Gael, a party who spawned Ireland’s only significant fascist movement, the Blueshirts.
The Communist Party of Ireland’s youth wing, the Connolly Youth Movement, have used the Starry Plough in their banners. One of the most iconic images from the early ‘Troubles’, showed militant Belfast Official IRA leader, Joe McCann, armed with an M1 Carbine, with the Starry Plough flag flying beside him at the battle of Inglis’ Bakery in the Markets area of Belfast.
The Workers Party use the early Starry Plough design (which is also known as the Plough and Stars) in their party logo and for some time that version of the flag was closely associated with the Stickies [members of the Official IRA after the Provisional IRA split from it – JG]. However, over this past two decades the original Starry Plough flag has been carried by the Irish Republican Socialist Movement during demonstrations and in Colour Parties, along with the modern Republican Congress version of the flag – the instantly recognisable 7 stars on blue background.
All contemporary Irish Republican organisations, including Provisional Sinn Fein, Republican Sinn Fein, Saoradh, the 32 County Sovereignty Movement and others carry the Starry Plough flag during parades, although it is more for traditional symbolic purposes than any real political commitment to Connolly’s Marxism. During a Free State army commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising, one of their colour parties carried the original Starry Plough standard of Connolly’s Marxist militia, the Irish Citizen Army. One may very well ask what connection the Free State armed forces could ever claim to have to the Revolutionary Socialist flag of a worker’s militia, the ICA.
In recent years a version of the Republican Congress Starry Plough with a red background has become increasingly popular, especially after its very public appearance at the funeral of veteran Derry Republican Socialist, Seamus ‘Chang’ Coyle. Although it is unlikely that the red background ‘Plough will ever replace the more established designs, it certainly complements them. With a border poll becoming an increasingly popular issue in Ireland and Irish reunification a serious possibility, the Starry Plough flag may well take on an even increased significance as the rallying standard of the Irish working class, as envisioned by James Connolly and Seamus Costello.
I’m curious about the existence of the IRSP/INLA, three of whose members died on hunger strike in 1981. Why would you join this party and its “military wing,” and not Sinn Fein/PIRA? The latter claims political legitimacy from the Easter Rising of 1916, the Second Dial, and opposition to the Anglo-Irish Treaty/Irish Free State. I understand the historic importance of James Connolly and the ICA, but making Irish republicanism more “socialist” was what caused the PIRA to split from the “Stickies” – it was ultimately a distraction from the real business of a united, 32-county republic of Ireland.
I wonder what sort of feuding went on between the PIRA and INLA…