History & OriginsThe exact origin of St Patrick's Cross are uncertain. The earliest documented reference to it is in the official description of the badge of the Most Illustrious Order of Saint Patrick that Lord Temple, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, forwarded to his superiors in London in January 1783:
The Order of Saint Patrick was created in 1783. While the Order technically still exists, no knight of St Patrick has been created since 1936, and the last surviving knight, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, died in 1974."And the said Badge shall be of Gold surrounded with a Wreath of Shamrock or Trefoil, within which shall be a Circle of Gold, containing the Motto of our said Order in Letters of Gold Viz. QUIS SEPARABIT? together with the date 1783, being the year in which our said Order was founded, and encircling the Cross of St Patrick Gules..."
Regalia of a Knight of St Patrick
The use of the saltire in association with St Patrick was controversial because it differed from the usual crosses by custom worn on St Patrick's Day. In particular, the previous crosses associated with Saint Patrick were not X-shaped. Some contemporary responses to the badge of the order complained that an X-shaped cross was the Cross of St Andrew, patron of Scotland, although modern Vexillology allows only a blue-and-white design to be so called.
Many subsequent commentators have assumed that the saltire was simply taken from the medieval arms of the FitzGeralds (or Geraldines), who were Dukes of Leinster. The Dukes of Leinster dominated the political and social scene of eighteenth century Dublin, from their ducal palace of Leinster House (later to become the seat of the Irish parliament and senate, the Oireachtas) William FitzGerald, 2nd Duke of Leinster was the premier peer in the Irish House of Lords and a founder member of the Order of Saint Patrick. On the other hand, Michael Casey suggests that Lord Temple, pressed for time, had based the Order's insignia on those of the Order of the Garter, and simply rotated its George's Cross through 45 degrees.
A variety of sources show saltires in use earlier than 1783 in Ireland and in an Irish context, although there is no suggestion that they are linked to St Patrick. The earliest known evidence of the existence of the red saltire occurs in a map of "Hirlandia" by John Goghe dated 1576. The arms at the head of this map are the St George's cross impaled on the crowned harp, but the red saltire is prominent in the arms of the Earl of Kildare and the other Geraldine families placed over their respective spheres of influence. The red saltire flag is flown at the masthead of a ship, which is engaged in action in the St George's Channel with another ship flying the St George's cross. The St George's flag flies upon Cornwall, Wales and Isle of Man but the red Saltire does not appear on Ireland itself,though it is placed upon the adjacent Mulls of Galloway and Kintyre in Scotland.English and German picture maps of the battle of Kinsale of 1601/2 show the combined Irish–Spanish forces under a red saltire. This is presumed to be the Cross of Burgundy, the war flag of the House of Burgundy that ruled Spain, rather than an Irish flag, however the Cross of Burgundy is barbed where the saltire is not:
A 1612 seal of Trinity College Dublin shows uncoloured cross and saltire flags. These have been taken to represent England and Ireland respectively. On the assumption that they were the flags of st George and Patrick they were further adapted in the modern arms of the college:
Contemporary reports of the ensigns of the Irish Catholic Confederation during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms state that each had a canton with a red saltire on a gold field. A 1645 picture map of the Siege of Duncannon shows Preston's Confederates under a saltire. The Irish Brigade raised by the Earl of Antrim and led by Alasdair Mac Colla had a gold flag featuring a crucifix and upper left canton with red saltire.
The flag used by the King's Own Regiment in the Kingdom of Ireland, established in 1653, shows a red saltire on a "taffey" yellow background. The origins of the regimental colours remain a mystery.
However the red saltire does not appear in all references to an Irish flag.
The Graydon MS. Flag Book of 1686 which belonged to Pepys does not contain the red saltire, but gives as the flag of Ireland the green flag with St George's cross and the harp:
Under the Commonwealth and Protectorate period of Oliver Cromwell, when England and Scotland were represented by their crosses, Ireland was represented by the harp. The protectorate jack from this period is most interesting from its inclusion of the harp rather than the cross of St Patrick used in the modern flag:A red saltire also appears on the flag of Berwick's regiment in the Irish Brigade of the French army:
Several atlases and flag books in the late 17th and 18th centuries show a red-saltire–on–white flag for Ireland; including Paulus van der Dussen's (c.1690), and Le Neptune françois, a marine atlas published in Amsterdam in 1693, where it is depicted with the legends Ierse above and Irlandois below — Dutch and French for "Irish". Jan Blaeu's 1650s atlas has a saltire on white for Ireland, which is hand-coloured red in some copies.
A 1785 newspaper report from Waterford states about ships leaving for the colonies that:
"Upwards of forty vessels are now in our harbour, victualling for Newfoundland, of which number thirteen are of our own nation, who wear the St Patrick's flag (the field of which is white, with a St Patrick's cross, and an harp in one quarter.)"
Saint Patrick's DayToday St Patrick's Cross is mostly used in conjucntion with other symbols on other flags, rather than as the origional flag itself. The most widespread probably being in the Union Flag of the United Kingdom. It is however still used by itself in some roles. It is used by the (Anglican) Church of Ireland.
Saint Patrick's Flag is sometimes seen during Saint Patrick's Day parades in Northern Ireland and Britain. Flags were handed out by Down District Council before the Downpatrick parade, near Patrick's burial place at Down Cathedral, in an attempt to create a parade that has cross community support. This was slightly derailed by members of one political party refusing to use it, and carrying the Irish Republic flag instead. last year both the council flag and St Patrick's cross were used:
In Great Britain, Saint Patrick's Flag was flown in place of the Irish tricolour at the 2009 parade in Croydon, prompting complaints from some councillors. It was flown on some years on Patrick's Day by Bradford City Council, which subsequently reverted to flying the Irish tricolour. In Northern Ireland St Patrick's Cross is not Flown from central government building who fly the Union Flag on designated days, one of which is St Patricks Day. In the Republic of Ireland the national flag is used.
Use as Northern Ireland Flag
Despite representing all of Ireland, St Patrick's Cross has in recent years been used as a de-facto Northern Ireland Flag. The Ulster Banner not having offical status since 1973. St Patrick's Cross seems to be used increasingly as an alternative, which seems natural as it is NI's representation in the Union Flag, and is seen as less controversial in NI than other flags. At the 1935 celebrations in London for George V's silver jubilee, "The cross of St George representing England and Wales, and the saltires of St Andrew and St Patrick, representing Scotland and Ireland" were flown separately and used in combination. At the time the Irish Free State was a separate Dominion within the British Commonwealth. In 1986, government policy during state visits to London was to fly the crosses of George, Andrew and Patrick and the Welsh Dragon..
The Royal Barge Gloriana during the 2012 Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant flew flags for the four "home nations" of the United Kingdom, including the Saint Patrick's Cross for Northern Ireland:
The all-island bodies for men's and ladies' bowls compete internationally under the Saint Patrick's flag.
The politician David McNarry has suggested the saltire should be allowed in Northern Irish number plates analogous to the flags allowed on English, Scottish, and Welsh plates.
The Union Flag (and the EU flag but it is seldom used if ever) is the only flag that has official status in Northern Ireland, and St Patrick's Cross has no official status in either Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland.
NI Sport organisations such as hockey, fencing and archery often use the St Patrick's Cross for the national Youth team as an alternative to the Ulster Banner which is used by most of the adult teams.
In late 2013 during possible talks for a new NI flag, St Patricks cross was suggested and got limited support although the overwhelming view was for no change.
Regardless of the uncertainty over its origins, the red saltire, or saltire gules on a white field was used in the arms and badges adopted by various organisations, its been adopted into badges and arms of organisations, towns and citties north and south as well as Irish organisations outside of Ireland. As already mentioned The arms of Trinity College Dublin show two flags, a red cross on white and a red saltire on white, which Hayes-McCoy and Galloway interpret as representing England and Ireland respectively.The arms were granted by Arthur Vicars in 1901, based on a 1612 seal showing uncoloured cross and saltire flags. The arms of Cork city show red-saltire flags on the two towers, though not on versions prior to 1800. Coleraine Borough Council includes Saint Patrick's Saltire, as Patrick is said to have given Coleraine its name. The saltire also appears in the coat of arms of the Co. Mayo town of Westport to commemorate the visit of St Patrick to the nearby mountain,Croagh Patrick. It also appears on the arms of Co. Fermanagh. A red saltire also appears on the arms of County Kildare, but this is probably because of the association of Kildare with the Fitzgerald Clan. The arms of Belfast City depicts a ship flying St Patrick's Cross.
Coat of arms of Coleraine and Cork.
Arms of Belfast and Co Fermanagh
There are red saltires in the arms of the Queen's University in Ireland (est.1850, arms granted 1851; dissolved 1879) and its successor Queen's University Belfast (est.1908, arms granted 1910);and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.The Church of Ireland diocese of Connor's arms, granted in 1945, include Saint Patrick's Saltire in memory of his supposed enslavement at Slemish.
In the United States The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, whose cathedral is St Patrick's, incorporates the saltire.the 101st Infantry Regiment (organised in 1798) is a National Guard Unit from the State of Massachusetts, and was made up of citizens of Irish descent from Boston. Its arms feature a red saltire :
Arms of the Archdiocese of New York and 101st Infantry Regiment
Although not coats of arms it is also incorporated into heraldic badges particularly in police and military organizations. The Irish Guards adopted a badge based on the Order of St Patrick. The motto of that regiment is also adopted from the Irish order of chivalry. Although this badge is not worn when the regiment is in its cerimonial red tunics and bearskin caps, nor does it appear on the regimental colours. But it is worn in the beret (and caubeen for pipers) in the everyday working and combat uniform:
The centre piece in the Northern Ireland Police badge features St Patrick's Saltire. It is interesting to note this badge received approval fro all the NI political parties:
The St Patrick's Cross is also used in some of the rank badges of the PSNI, See Here.
The most widespread use of St Patrick's Saltire today is in the Flag of the United Kingdom. With the 1800 Act of Union that merged the kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland, the red saltire was incorporated into the Flag of the United Kingdom as representing Ireland. The red saltire is counter changed with the saltire of St Andrew, such that the white always follows the red clockwise. The arrangement accounts for the discontinuous look of the red diagonal lines, and has introduced a requirement to display the flag "the right way up", with the white line of St Andrew above the red of St Patrick in the upper left hand quarter next to the flagpole:
In a similar way to the Union Jack the Ulster Nation Flag, (originally and still used by Northern Ireland Independence (from both UK and Ireland) but also used by unionists today.) combines the cross of St Patrick with the Cross of St Andrew. Although this flag breaks the rules of heraldry as their is no white fimbriation:
Other flags that use St Patrick's Cross
The Saint Patrick's Saltire was on the flag proposed in 1914 of the County Down unit of Irish Volunteers. A writer in The Irish Volunteer complained that The O'Rahilly should have known the saltire was "faked for Union Jack purposes".
In 1932-33 a variation of the flag with a St Patrick's blue background was adopted as the badge and flag of the short-lived Blueshirt fascist movement. This militant group incorporated right-wing, conservative and some former-unionist elements in opposition to the then left-wing republican Fianna Fáil party:
The saltire is incorporated in the badge of the Reform Movement, a "post-nationalist" pressure group in the Republic of Ireland seeking closer ties with the United Kingdom.
he saltire appeared on the house flag of Irish Shipping Co, founded 1941, and that used by Irish Continental Line in1973–9:
It replaced the St George's Cross in 1970 on the flag of the Commissioners of Irish Lights:
Its also used in the flags of the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland in Dublin and the standard of Queens University Belfast:
Similar but unrelated flags
The red saltire on white field is common in the world of Vexiolagy but not all are St Patrick's Cross. In the system of International maritime signal flags a red saltire on a white background is the signal flag for the letter V, "VICTORY" and the message "I require assistance". This means that any attempt to use the saltire as a maritime ensign could lead to confusion. A similar situation applies to St Andrew's Saltire, the flag of Scotland which closely resembles the maritime signal flag M, "MIKE", which means "My vessel is stopped; making no way." For this reason, a campaign was launched in Scotland in November 2007 seeking official recognition to use the historic Scottish Red Ensign instead.
The flag of Jersey has unknown origins, and a link with St Patrick's saltire has been proposed. The FitzGerald family who were powerful in Ireland, were Anglo-Norman in origin and also owned land in Jersey. Alternatively, N. V. L. Rybot in 1951 suggested that Jersey's flag originated from a mistake in a 1783 flag book by Carington Bowles, which was copied by later authors. Rybot's theory is that Bowles misinterpreted Ierse (Dutch for "Irish") as meaning "Jersey" in a Dutch flag-book he used as a source. However, French Admiralty charts show that Jersey was using the red saltire before 1783:
Flag of Jersey
Regardless of whatever it's true origins are St Patrick's Cross is a historical flag of Ireland, it is one of the few all island flags, and a symbol which I think is often neglected North and South, and I would like to see more of it on St Patricks Day as it does bear the saints name (if it has any connection to him is debateable)Feel Free to Comment and happy St Patricks Day.