Flag of Northern Ireland
United Kingdom.svg
Designed by

Northern Ireland has no official flag. The only "official" flag is the Union Jack.

Other flags[]

Other flags were designed.

The Ulster Banner[]

Flag of Northern Ireland
Flag of Northern Ireland.svg
Adopted 1953-1973
1973-today (unofficial)
Designed by Thomas Sadleir
Proportions 1:2

The Ulster Banner was the official flag from 1953 to 1973. It was designed in by Thomas Sadleir 1923 as the banner for the Royal Coat of Arms of Northern Ireland, and was first used by the Northern Irish government for the event of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. When the Northern Irish government was prorogued and then replaced by direct rule from Westminster in 1973, usage by government organisations became naturally restricted to local councils, while unofficial usage continued as normal.

The flag of Ulster[]

Flag of Northern Ireland
Flag of Ulster.svg
Adopted (unknown)
Designed by Walter de Burgh
Proportions 1:2

The flag of Ulster is a historic banner based on the coat of arms of Ulster, used to represent Ulster, one of the four provinces of Ireland. It consists of a red cross on a gold background with a red hand on a white shield in the centre. The flag of Ulster came about when Walter de Burgh, 1st Earl of Ulster became earl of the Earldom of Ulster in 1264. He merged the de Burgh family heraldry, which was a red cross on a yellow background with that of the Red Hand of Ulster of the Irish over-kingdom of Ulaid, which the earldom encompassed.

The de Burgh heraldry is said to have come about after Hubert de Burgh, 1st Earl of Kent had fought in the Third Crusade but had no coat of arms himself. He carried a gold coloured shield into battle. Following a battle, King Richard the Lionheart of England gave de Burgh a coat of arms by dipping his finger into the blood of a Saracen slain at the feet of de Burgh and marked a red cross onto de Burgh's shield; stating "for your bravery, this shall be your crest".

The origin of the Red Hand of Ulster however is shrouded in mystery, with a popular legend saying that in the race to claim the kingship of Ulster, the first man to lay his hand on the province would have claim to it. This led one man to chop off his hand and throw it over his comrades.

There was dispute throughout the early modern period over which Irish clan had the right to it. Either the Magennises who were the ruling dynasty of the Uí Echach Cobo, part of the original Ulaid, or the O'Neill's, the ruling dynasty of the Cenél nEógain, who after 1317 claimed the kingship of Ulaid for the first time. Eventually in 1908 the then head of the O'Neill clan admitted that it originally belonged to the Magennises.

There is often debate as to if a dexter (right) or sinister (left) hand is to be used on the flag. Whilst usually a right hand is used on the flag, several organisations such as the former 36th (Ulster) Division that also used a left hand. The symbols also appear in heraldry for some of the counties of Ulster. The counties of Antrim, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone all use a right red hand in their coats of arms. County Louth also use a right hand but theirs is skin coloured as it symbolises the hand of God rather than the red hand of Ulster.

Saint Patrick's Saltire[]

Flag of Northern Ireland
Flag of St. Patrick's Cross.svg
Adopted (unknown)
Designed by Saint Patrick
Proportions 1:2

Saint Patrick's Saltire or Saint Patrick's Cross is a red saltire (X-shaped cross) on a white field. In heraldic language, it may be blazoned "argent, a saltire gules". The Saint Patrick's Flag (Bratach Naomh Pádraig) is a flag composed of Saint Patrick's Saltire. The origin of the saltire is disputed. Its association with Saint Patrick dates from the 1780s, when the Anglo-Irish Order of Saint Patrick adopted it as an emblem. This was a British chivalric order established in 1783 by George III. It has been suggested that it derives from the arms of the powerful Geraldine or FitzGerald dynasty.[dubious – discuss] Most Irish nationalists and others reject its use to represent Ireland as a "British invention" "for a people who had never used it".

After its adoption by the Order of Saint Patrick, it began to be used by other institutions. When the 1800 Act of Union joined the Kingdom of Ireland with the Kingdom of Great Britain, the saltire was added to the British flag to form the Union Flag still used by the United Kingdom. The saltire has occasionally served unofficially to represent Northern Ireland.


The flag is described, as the banner of the coat of Arms, thusly: Argent a cross gules, overall on a six pointed star of the field ensigned by an Imperial crown proper a dexter hand couped at the wrist of the second.

The flag was based on the Ulster flag (top right), with the yellow field changed to a field of white in respect of the flag of St Patrick (bottom right).

The crown was included on the flag to represent the British monarchy, a six-pointed star was included to represent each of the six counties in Northern Ireland, and an old symbol, the Red Hand of Ulster (traditionally a symbol of the O'Neill dynasty of Ulster) was included for historical reasons. The Red Hand is inside the star, and a crown sits atop the star.


The flag was a design created by Thomas Sadlier in 1923 for the banner of the Royal Coat of Arms, which were granted to Northern Ireland in 1924. Northern Ireland itself had only come into being in 1921, as a result of the Irish Free State seceding from the United Kingdom. As the Royal Warrant was granted to the Northern Irish government, the coat of arms for Northern Ireland stopped being used. The flag continues to be used by sports bodies and other organisations, as well as by a substantial number of Northern Ireland's citizens.

The flag is also called the Ulster Banner, the Ulster Flag (erroneously - see below) or the Red Hand Flag.


Northern Ireland as a state was not particularly accepted by some opponents of the Union, and so symbols representing the state were also rejected - including the flag of Northern Ireland. Opponents of the use of the flag suggest various reasons for its non-acceptance. These include the following:

  • Represents a political entity which is not supported or accepted (Irish Republicans and some nationalists)
  • Represents the British monarchy with the crown symbol above the Red Hand - objected to by republicans in the traditional sense of the word
  • Looks too much like the flag of England
  • Looks too much like the Ulster flag which might imply that Northern Ireland equates to Ulster or vice-versa

There have also been suggestions that the six-pointed star which encloses the Red Hand is too much like the Star of David (as used in the flag of Israel).

When civil strife (known as the Troubles) broke out at the end of the 1960s, the community became much more polarised on the issues of ethnic and ideological identities. Generally speaking, people brought up as Roman Catholic (particularly Irish Republicans) tended toward opposition of symbology for Northern Ireland, and favoured symbology from the Republic of Ireland. Those who were brought up as Protestant (particularly Ulster Loyalists) tended toward support of and usage of Northern Irish (and other British) symbols. Sometimes the usage of this flag, and other symbols by Loyalists, was over-the-top. Likewise, usage of symbols from the Republic of Ireland and symbols representing separation from the Union and the island of Ireland as a unified individual state became over-the-top and use of flags came to delineate political and religious territory in many parts of Northern Ireland.

For this reason, the flag of Northern Ireland is rejected by a substantial minority of people who live there.

However, the flag has not stopped being 'official'. The flag of Northern Ireland has always had the same 'official status' as the flag of England and (until the symbol was recently ratified in the Scottish parliament) the flag of Scotland and the Union Jack. Only the flag of Wales has had official legislation at the sovereign level which makes that flag 'official'.

That being said, the flag of Northern Ireland is not used by the British government in official events: instead, the monarchy or the Westminster government will use the Union Jack.

The Union Jack, however, is not the 'official flag of Northern Ireland'. The Union Jack represents the whole of the United Kingdom and does not represent Northern Ireland specifically, as an individual entity. To date, only the current flag of Northern Ireland represents Northern Ireland individually.

Due to the rejection of the flag in some quarters, other organisations are cautious about using it, and there have been some advocates for the design of a new flag. Any new ideas will be rejected by hardline Republicans automatically because of the nature of their political beliefs. New flag designs may also be a hard sell to hardline Loyalists also, who are rigidly attached to the current flag.


See also[]

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