Red, White and Blue. Three colours.
Design: Cross of Saint Andrew counterchanged with the Cross of Saint Patrick and the Cross of Saint George.
Names: Union Flag, Union Jack, or Royal Union Flag.
Use: National Flag.
Are these ‘Britain’s’ True colours? Unapologetically brash and bold, the Union Flag is instantly recognisable, but what does it mean to you? When I painted my first ever Union Jack flag in the studio, it felt on par if I were to paint a giant penis on the wall, although, even then, I feel painting the union jack would be way more perverse. I never ever would have dreamed of doing this at home back in Northern Ireland, especially not in public view at least, but here no one said boo.
You see, back home in Northern Ireland, The Union flag more than just the glittery, sequins red white and blue that hangs over Carnaby street, or waves behind the Queens head on a mug in a tourist gift shop. The Union flag divides the population along sectarian lines. It represents a cultural war. Being born into a Protestant, Unionist family a blind allegiance with these colours is made. It is nearly impossible to have the right of an identity in Northern Ireland to exist without being assigned to the colours red white and blue, OR green white and orange (Tri Colour Flag) if you are a Catholic/ Nationalist. For Unionists, the flag is symbol of Northern Ireland’s non-negotiable membership of the United Kingdom . A symbol of belonging, ‘britishness’, God Save the Queen and DUP conservative, traditionalists. However, for Nationalists, the Union flag is a symbol of colonialization and oppression of Irish citizens that live in the North, representing British dominance and intimidation. The tri colour carries similar negative connotations among unionists, with allegiances to the IRA. With Brexit happening, this tokenism is only going to make hostilities worse. Its not only in Northern Ireland where the flag causes problems though. For many people it represents imperialism, colonialism, racism and patronisim. Not associations to be proud of , which makes me wonder how the Union flag exists in contemporary culture?
As a young person from Northern Ireland, how does this flag really represent ME? I feel there is a wide gap between those of an older generation who lived through conflict and those of us who are of the post Trouble generation. ‘Generation Y’ as we are referred to. The union Jack may represent all of the above, but I also associate it as a motif on mugs, tea towels, babies bibs, the Olympics, popular culture and the Spice Girls. These items may have an exclusively loyalist connotation within Northern Ireland, but they are also read for their kitsch value. Considering the relative lack of political significance of these paraphernalia, they can hardly be interpreted as having the same offensive value as previously described.
In this sense, how can this thing be taken seriously? How can a flag assert your identify? It is completely fabricated. Look around London and on its home grown turf it has almost been made a mockery of. I bet if you talk to any young person the street and ask them if they are patriotic they will probably laugh. Which makes me think is it even relevant any more?
In a poll carried out by Belfast Telegraph, nearly 70 percent of ‘Generation Y’ unanimously agreed across both religious groups that they didn’t feel the need for a flag to fly over Northern Ireland. As a new generation we are a lot more progressive, however with unionism being inherently right-wing, things such as abortion rights and same sex marriage are prohibited it all just feels a bit backward.
Perhaps its time for a change, a new flag perhaps. One that embodies and embraces multicultural communities, forward thinking, reconcilement and unity for the future. I get this is easier said that done. Unfortunately, the notion of a ‘neutral’ flag is paradoxical and a very sensitive subject in the context of Northern Ireland. Getting rid of the Union Jack removes some peoples identities, dismisses people’s culture and takes away what they believe in and what people fought and died for. But it is so very hard to be optimistic for a harmonious future when the colours red white and blue continue to remind us of the atrocities from a troubled past.
What does the Union Flag mean to you? Comment below ⇊