FLAG RETURNS TO LIBERTY HALL AFTER 100 YEARS
On Easter Tuesday 25th April 1916 soldiers of the 3rd, 4th and 12th Reserve Battalions of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers arrived in Dublin as part of a hastily assembled Ulster Composite Battalion to quell the Easter Rising. By that evening the battalion had established its headquarters in Amiens Street Station. At 8am on Wednesday 26th the armed auxiliary patrol yacht Helga opened fire on Liberty Hall in preparation for an assault by the battalion. Liberty Hall, headquarters of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, had also become the headquarters of the Irish Citizen Army, and served as a munitions factory for the impending rebellion. The Proclamation was printed in Liberty Hall the night before the Rising began, and it was on the street in front of the building that the leaders of the Rising assembled before their march to the General Post Office on Easter Monday.
Soldiers entered Liberty Hall on the Wednesday morning, and a Royal Inniskilling Fusilier, 21 year old Acting Corporal John McAlonen of the 3rd Battalion, retrieved a flag from the ruins.
It was made from green tabby weave wool with a centrally appliquéd uncrowned harp in yellow wool and string made from cream braid, and was presented to the Inniskillings Museum by Colonel John McClintock in 1935, a year before his death. McClintock, a native of Seskinore in County Tyrone, was the commanding officer of the 3rd Inniskillings during the Rising and was Mentioned in Despatches for distinguished conduct in Dublin during the Rising.
Now, after months of analysis and research, all evidence would appear to indicate that this flag is the uncrowned green harp flag that James Connolly placed over Liberty Hall on Palm Sunday, 16th April 1916, a week before the Rising. It is well documented that James Connolly, General Secretary of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union and Commander of the Irish Citizen Army held a formal ceremony outside Liberty Hall that day and an uncrowned green harp flag made by shirt-maker Margaret Shannon was presented to 14-year old Molly O’Reilly from Gardiner Street who was the youngest member of the Citizen Army. Connolly said “I hand you this flag as the sacred emblem of Ireland’s unconquered soul” and Molly, who went on to play an active part in the Rising, proudly hoisted the flag over Liberty Hall.
The weight of history guided the Inniskillings Museum back to Liberty Hall and discussions with the present occupiers, the trade union SIPTU, soon revealed a common determination to conserve the flag and return it to the building it was taken from exactly 100 years ago.
“Having conserved many important Irish flags over the years, this is one of the most exciting discoveries to come to light. In construction and design the flag is clearly comparable to other surviving 1916 flags. As it has never been exposed to the light, the strength of the colours are as strong as 100 years ago and the flag would have been clearly visible along the quays” commented Rachel Phelan, Textile Conservator.
Neil Armstrong, museum curator concluded “The Inniskillings Museum is honoured to loan this irreplaceable artefact from its collection to SIPTU where it will reach new audiences and motivate further learning of our past. I hope the exhibiting of the flag will set our collection in context and generate fresh perspectives as history is full of contrasts, and Easter Week 1916 is no exception. At the same time the Rising was raging in Dublin, the 7th and 8th Battalions of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers were part of the 16th (Irish) Division at the Battle of Hulluch in northern France where they were subjected to two days of German gas and artillery attacks which left 581 Irish soldiers dead.”
After many weeks of meticulous conservation work, the flag was officially presented to the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins in Áras an Uachtaráin on Tuesday 22nd March 2016 and will then return on loan to public display in Liberty Hall for Easter.