Enniscorthy celebrates 175 years flying the Tricolour

By Dan Walsh

A public ceremonial event takes place on Vinegar Hill on Tuesday at 4pm to mark events on March 7th, 1848, where a demonstration was held in Enniscorthy to celebrate the success of the French Revolution in Paris.

The ceremony is focussed on the Tricolour and a more elaborate ceremony took place in Waterford city last Sunday where the main speaker was An Taoiseach, Leo Vardakar T.D., who said the flag was integral to our national identity and it espouses ideals of peace, inclusion and unity, which are “so important in determining how we view and relate to one another on our island, in Europe and on the international stage.”

In recent days I have been asked a number of times wearing my local historians’ hat to explain the connection between the Tricolour and Enniscorthy. Here are the results of my research.

Tricolour in St. Aidan’s Cathedral since 1961.

HISTORY; The Tricolour was brought from Paris in 1848 by a deputation sent to convey the greetings of the Irish Confederation to the new French Government after the overthrow of the monarchy that year. Thomas Francis Meagher and William Smith O’Brien were members of that deputation.

A reception in Dublin on April 15th, 1848, is regarded as the introduction of the first Tricolour to Ireland, however, Enniscorthy can claim that the Tricolour was displayed in the town six weeks before its presentation by Meagher to the Dublin meeting.

On March 7th, 1848, a demonstration was held in Enniscorthy to celebrate the success of the French Revolution in Paris.

The following quotation is from the contemporary newspaper ‘The Freeman’s Journal’: “The men of Wexford have heard of the downfall of French tyranny with lively and heartfelt satisfaction. A spontaneous movement to celebrate this great triumph of freedom was made in this town on yesterday evening. Vinegar Hill had its brow crowned by brilliant illumination which was visible from Mount Leinster to St. George’s Channel and was hailed by tens of thousands of ‘true men’ as an omen of hope for fatherland. Our town was also lighted by bonfires in the Market Square and other quarters and enlivened by the temperance bands which played through the streets attended by an immense crowd at the head of whom was carried a Tricolour flag (the colours, green, orange and white) which was frequently saluted by loud and rapturous acclamation.”

Inscription on the plaque in St. Aidan’s Cathedral.

From John Mitchel’s newspaper, ‘The United Irishman’ (dated March 11th, 1848) comes the following quote; “Enniscorthy from seven o’clock to ten o’clock on Tuesday night, we had the amateur band parading the town, playing national airs followed by not less than 3,000 persons, carrying an Irish Tricolour – orange, green and white – and a half-dozen pitch barrels. Six or eight of the latter were burned on Vinegar Hill; the night being very dark they had a splendid effect from that venerated eminence.”

Meagher had arrived from Dublin the previous night accompanied by John Blake Dillon. They ordered a car to bring them to Ballinkeele House where Smith O’Brien was staying since the previous day. John Maher of Ballinkeele House had become a member of the Irish Confederation on March 23rd, 1848. While the car was getting ready the two men sat before the fire in Rudd’s Hotel (also known as Nuzum’s Hotel, Bennett’s Hotel and the Portsmouth Arms Hotel, which was demolished in 1976).

We also know that a flag of orange and green was carried at the great Amnesty Meeting held in Abbey Square, Enniscorthy, on October 17th, 1869, to urge the release of the Fenian prisoners.

In another newspaper report dated June 9th,1867, “A Fenian flag was discovered floating from the old windmill on Vinegar Hill. It was taken possession of by the police.”

Carried into battle by the Wexford insurgents of 1798 and banned as an emblem of rebellion through the 19th century, the Green, White and Orange emerged as the National Flag in 1916.

Enniscorthy was one of the few towns outside of Dublin to join in the Insurrection of Easter Week, 1916. The Irish Volunteers in Enniscorthy had their headquarters in the Athenaeum Hall on Castle Street. A Tricolour of green, white and orange was raised over the building and suitable military honours were accorded to it. No other flag was raised over the building.

Enniscorthy’s association with the National Flag was fittingly commemorated on Easter Sunday, 1961, when the townspeople presented the Tricolour to St. Aidan’s Cathedral. The colours were blessed by Bishop Staunton and accepted by his Lordship where they now hang above a plaque.

(SOURCE; Article by Micheál Toibín first published in The Past; The Organ of Uí Cinnsealaigh Historical Society, No. 7, 1964, printed by The Echo Printing Company, Mill Park Road, Enniscorthy).

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