PAN - CELTIC FLAGS
the Celtic culture (barely) survived only in the peripheral areas of the British
Isles and in the French Brittany. These are the areas to this day more Celtic in
nature. But throughout the northwestern Iberia (Spanish Galicia and Asturias and
the Portuguese Trás os Montes), Celtic roots survived intensely in traditions
This area is a sort of second league in the ranking of "Celticness", despite
having a Latin language (four of them, actually: Galician, Portuguese,
Asturo-Leonese and Castillan). The flag above would be a flag of the first
league, those areas with not only Celtic culture, but also Celtic language.
The use of Pan-Celtic flags is during meetings, such as Celtic festivals, for
inter-Celtic groups, such as the Celtic congress, or perhaps for people of all
or many of the six Celtic nations descent. The one on the left is based on
Celtic symbols. It has on the border in each corner Celtic knotwork. This,
obviously, represents Celtic culture. In the center is a large Celtic cross.
This represents the separate Christianities of the Six nations: Anglicanism
(Ireland, Scotland, Wales), Catholicism (Ireland, Brittany), Methodism
(Cornwall, Wales), and Presbyterianism (Scotland), and also Celtic Christianity.
The six six-pointed stars represent the six Celtic nations. The knot in the
center represents Christianity (the Trinity).
The colors have several meanings. White means purity and justice. The dark blue
of the knotwork border and the cross represents the sea which separates all of
the nations. The red star represents the Isle of Man, the dark green, Ireland,
the blue, Scotland, the white, Cornwall, the light green, Wales, and the black,
Brittany. The six pointed stars each represent the six Celtic nations.
A gold harp on a green field was the traditional Green Flag of Ireland before
the tricolour became popular.
The evolution of the heraldic harp can be traced in Irish coinage. The harp
first appeared on coins in the reign of Henry VIII. From the reign of Henry VIII
to that of Elizabeth I the forepillar of the harp was plain. In the coinages of
James I and Charles I it had an animal head. The naked female torso first
appeared in the coinage of Charles II (appropriately enough perhaps) and was a
permanent feature from then until 1822 when the Irish currency was abolished.
The harp adopted as the state emblem on the formation of the Irish Free State is
a medieval instrument, the Brian Boru harp, which is preserved in Trinity
College Dublin. Use of this particular harp is reserved to the state so all
private bodies are obliged to use harps of other designs.
THE IRISH TRICOLOR
The oldest known reference to the use of the three colours (green, white and
orange) as a nationalist emblem dates from September 1830 when tricolour
cockades were worn at a meeting held to celebrate the French revolution of that
year - a revolution which restored the use of the French tricolour. The colours
were also used in the same period for rosettes and badges, and on the banners of
trade guilds. There is also one reference to the use of a flag 'striped with
orange and green alternately'. However, the earliest attested use of a tricolour
flag was in 1848 when it was adopted by the Young Ireland movement under the
influence of another French revolution. Speeches made at that time by the Young
Ireland leader Thomas Francis Meagher suggest that it was regarded as an
innovation and not as the revival of an older flag.
Origin of the Royal Banner of Scotland
who succeeded his father, Malcolm IV in 1165, was known as William the Lion, but
there is no positive evidence that the lion rampant had become "the Arms of
Dominion of Scotland" before 1222, when it appeared in the seal of his son,
Fox-Davies in A Complete Guide to Heraldry confirms both statements and later
quotes Chalmers' "Caledonia" saying, "the lion may possibly have been derived
from the arms of the old Earls of Northumberland and Huntingdon, from whom some
of the Scottish kings were descended". Fox-Davies also mentions a legendary
explanation by Nisbet according to which, "the lion has been carried on the
armorial ensign of Scotland since the first founding of the monarchy by King
Fergus I -- a very mythical personage (...) about 300 B.C.".
William the Lion (1143-1214) is generally credited with adopting this symbol,
although records of this are uncertain. It was referred to as the "Lion of
Justice" and the "Lion of Bravery".
1222: first known use under Alexander II, on a seal. It also appears on a seal
of Alexander III. The design was surprisingly complex for its time - possibly
the double tressure fleury counter fleury is related to the French fleur de lys,
although that is not known until 1223 in France. Before this time, the Scottish
royal standard bore a dragon (known in 1138). Nisbet quotes the use of the lion
rampant by Fergus I in 300 BC, although there is no extant evidence for this.
James VI quartered the arms of the United Kingdom after the Union of the Crowns
(1605), using the lion rampant, the three English lions, fleur de lys and harp.
The lion rampant is much used in the arms of nobles in Scotland (e.g., Lord
1998: Queen Elizabeth began to use a Scottish Royal standard in Scotland.
The Scottish Saltaire (St. Andrew's Flag)
One legend, (very much a story but of interest nonetheless), concerns the fact
that it is believed by generations of Scotsmen that our national flag, the white
saltire on a blue ground, the oldest flag in the British Commonwealth,
originated in a battle fought, a little more than a mile from present day Markle,
in the Parish of Prestonkirk in East Lothian, in the Dark Ages between the Picts
and Scots on one side and the Angles of Northumbria on the other. There are
various versions of the tale but it is generally agreed around the time of the
8th century, an army of Picts and Scots under King Hungus found themselves
surrounded by a force of Angles under their leader Athelstan. King Hungus prayed
earnestly for deliverance to God and the saints and that night St Andrew
appeared to the King and promised them victory. Next day, when battle was
joined, the vision of the white saltire (the diagonal cross on which the Apostle
had been martyred) was seen by all in the blue sky. This so encouraged the Picts
and Scots and affrighted their adversaries that a victory was won. King
Athelstan was slain at the crossing of the burn, still known to this day as
Athelstaneford. The story continues that this all was seen as a 'Miracle' and
may have been the origin of the name "Markle"! In the nearby East Lothian
village of Athelstaneford, a flag heritage centre commemorates and discusses the
development of the legendary white cross on the blue background.
ISLE of MAN
national flag of Man is a plain red field with the "trinacria" emblem in the
centre. This is a banner of the arms which date back to the 13th century and are
believed to be connected with Sicily, where a similar device was used in the
Norman period. Traditionally, the symbol is associated with the Legend of the
Three Magic Legs.
Origin of the Triskelion
According to the World Encyclopedia of Flags, by A. Znamierovski, 1999: 'The
triskelion (from the Greek "three-legged") is one of the oldest symbols known to
mankind. The earliest representations of it were found in prehistoric rock
carvings in northern Italy. It also appears on Greek vases and coins from the
6th and 8th centuries BC., and was revered by Norse and Sicilian peoples. The
Sicilian version has a representation of the head of Medusa in the center. The
Manx people believe that the triskelion came from Scandinavia. According to
Norse mythology, the triskelion was a symbol of the movement of the sun through
In "Emblemes et symboles des Bretons et des Celtes" (Coop Breizh, 1998), Divy
Kervella explores in depth the possible meaning of the triskell. It is the
symbol of triplicity in unity, one of the basis of the Celtic religion, and
probably originally a solar symbol. Triplicity in the Celtic civilisation is
the staff of the Celtic pantheon: Lugh, Daghda (Taran), and Ogme ;
the unique goddess who has three aspects: daughter, wife, and mother ;
the division of the society in three classes: priestly class, ruling and martial
class, and productive class (craftsmen, farmers, fishers ...)
the philosophical conceptions of the world based on number 3: the three circles
of existence, the bardic triads...
The triskell is also often said to represent the three dynamics elements: water,
air, and fire, or the wave of sea, the breath of wind, and the flame of fire.
One of these elements is sometimes replaced by the furrow of the earth. A more
complex interpretation says that the centre of the triskell is the static earth,
which receives life from the three dynamic elements. The spiral could symbolize
life, dynamics and enthusiasm, as opposed to everything straight and spellbound.
The representation of the triskell must be dextrogyrous (turning to the right).
A senstrogyrous (turning to the left) triskell would have a maleficent, or at
least hostile meaning. Traditional Breton dances and processions always turn to
the right. The war dances of the ancient Celts started by turning to the left to
show hostility, and ended by turning to the right, as a sign of victory.
The triskell is close to the hevoud, another Celtic symbol and the Basque
lauburu, and is probably of pre-Celtic origin (for instance on the cairn of Bru
na Boinne in Ireland).
THE RED DRAGON FLAG
Ddraig Goch (the red dragon) is the national flag of Wales, and has been
officially recognised as such since the 1950s. The white-over-green field is in
the livery colours of the Tudors, the Welsh dynasty that once sat on the English
Conventional wisdom is that the 'draco' standards of the Romans were adopted by
the Britons, probably as a metal (possibly real gold) head with a windsock type
of body made of silk. In the mouth was a whistling type device that would make
sounds as it was waved with vigor. Supposedly used by King Arthur, certainly
used by the Wessex lords in the 700s, the emblem has been used by Britons right
up to the present time.
Today the dragon is the most prominent Welsh symbol. It is an ancient symbol,
already prominent across England and Wales in the years after the departure of
the Romans. With the invasions of the Angles and Saxons, the ancient Britons and
their dragon symbol was pushed back towards Wales. The dragon has always been a
symbol of a people, not an individual.
Here is a brief summary of what Perrin in British Flags and Giles-Scott in The
Romance of Heraldry have written about the dragon.
A dragon was the standard of a Roman cohort which was a tenth of a legion. After
the Romans left Britain it was used by both the Britons and the Saxons. A golden
dragon was the principal war standard of the Saxons of Wessex, and was carried
by them at the battle of Burford in 752. In the eleventh century battles the
king positioned himself between his personal standard, which was the rallying
point and the dragon standard which was carried by a standard bearer chosen for
his strength and prowess. After the battle of Hastings the dragon standard was
adopted by the Normans. No record of its use in Scotland after the battle of the
Standard in 1138,where it was borne as the Scottish royal standard. A dragon
standard was taken on the Third Crusade by Richard I in 1191. A dragon was borne
by the English army at the battle of Lewes in 1216 and later Henry III had a
dragon standard made to be placed in the re-built Abbey at Westminster. Used by
Edward I, Edward III at the battle of Crécy 1346, Henry V at the battle of
Agincourt 1415, and at the battle of Bosworth in 1485, after which it was
carried in state to St Paul's Cathedral. Henry VII displayed the red dragon of
Cadwallader, from whom he claimed descent, on the Tudor colours of white and
green. Until this time it was probably golden. The supporters of the English
royal arms were a lion and a dragon, but the latter was replaced by a unicorn
for Scotland by the Stuarts. The dragon reappeared briefly as a supporter of the
arms of the Commonwealth under Cromwell.
THE ST. PIRAN FLAG
black flag with the white cross is the banner of Saint Piran, and is now
recognized as the 'national flag' of Cornwall.
Saint Piran is the patron saint of tin-miners. Tin was formerly the most
important element in the economy of Cornwall. Is is said that Saint Piran
derived his colours from his discovery of tin, a white metal in the black ashes
of his fire. Another story tells that the colours stand for the ore and the
metal, although Cornwall was of course famous for tin long before the beginning
of the Christian era.
An article in Encyclopædia Britannica tells that the flag was carried by the
Cornish contigent at the Battle of Agincourt (1415). In a history of 1837 Saint
Piran's flag was described as the "standard of Cornwall", and another of 1880
which said that: "The white cross of St. Piran was the ancient banner of the
Source: Heraldry Society Flag Section Newsletter, Autumn 1969
flag is called the Gwenn-ha-du which means "white and black". The Bretons say
that it is the only flag in the world which doesn't have any colours, but surely
it is the only flag in the world which in a parade is carried at arm's length
over head. The dimensions are not really fixed. They vary from 9:14 cm to 8:12
m. The flag is not only used by cultural associations or autonomists but really
by everybody, and this quite often: you can even see it on town halls in the
region. Because of the absence of legislation concerning regional flags in
France the flag is also flown on sail and fishing boats. This is tolerated, but
the French flag must also be flown. The design of the ermine spots can vary but
the most frequently seen is that on the above drawings.
Over the years, the authorities considered the flag as separatist but things
have now changed and the flag can appear everywhere, even on public buildings
along with the French flag. It no longer has any political connotations. The
Gwenn-ha-du is now the flag of the Region Bretagne. It is also used in the
department of Loire-Atlantique, although this belongs to the Region Pays de la
Loire, because the territory of Loire-Atlantique is historically part of the
province of Brittany. Nantes (Naoned), its prefecture, was once one of the two
capital cities of Brittany.
The design seems to have been inspired by the American Stars and Stripes.
Interestingly, the arms of the Irish Marshall clan are very similar to Marchal's
or Galiza is the least well-known of the Seven Celtic Nations. Its destiny
through the last five centuries under Spain's dominion has condemned it to the
oblivion of the world, but its actual Celtic spirit has survived and it's yet
Located in the Northwest Corner of the Iberian Peninsula of Spain, this is the
land, according to the history, that King Milesius and his people traveled from
to arrive and settle in Ireland.
Galicia is green, hilly and rainy, most reminiscent of the British Isles. Like
the landscape, the people’s culture and music are distinctly Celtic in flavor.
Galicia is fresh and verdant, it has gushing rivers and a coastline more
reminiscent of Scotland than Spain. The weather is cool often misty and the land
is impregnated with an age-old magical atmosphere, which travelers can share in
cathedrals, castles, Dolmens & Hill-forts. You may even hear Galician bagpipes (Gaitas)
droning across the pasture.
Galicia is the most forgotten of the seven Celtic nations. Even so, it has some
of the oldest Celtic traditions, going back more that 2000 years. Travelling in
Galicia, one can sense this Celtic feeling coming back from the ancient times.
One does not see the calm magic of Galicia, one breathes it in: in the genuine
hospitality of the people; in the popular festas and carnivals. In the fruits
which land and sea share out generously to locals and strangers: seafood, meat,
fish and wine. Also in the restful pleasure of the parador hotels, or experience
the rural beauty in accommodation's like Monasteries, Castles, Convents, Manor
Houses (Pazos) and Country B&B’s converted into beautiful rural inns all with
there own distinct character. That is the magic of Galicia. Always attractive.
"...Galicia, a green and hilly region in the northwest corner of Spain. With an
economy historically based on fishing and farming, it has traditionally been one
of the poorest regions in Europe. Galicians speak their own language. The
culture, particularly the music, has more in common with those of Brittany,
Wales, Scotland and Ireland than Castille or Andalusia. Galicia was once
described as the world's most undiscovered Celtic country... the traditional
pilgrims route to the enchanted cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Christians
hold the site sacred and believe it to be the final resting place of St James
the Apostle. Older legends dating back to ancient Celtic times speak of another
pilgrimate that followed the stars to the Milky Way to Land's End [Fisterra].
Trascending its own mysterious origins, the pilgrimate continues to draw
countless thousands from around the world to this faraway land." -- PADDY
About the Galician Coat of Arms:
When Heraldry became widespread through Western Europe, the ancient kingdom of
Galicia was then already part of the Leonese monarchy, and its kings used to use
quite simply the talking lion. That dependence was the reason why Galicia lacked
an heraldic symbol from the 12th to the 14th Century the need to use a figure
that represented Galicia provoked the use of a eucharistic symbol in the coat of
arms by way of a covered goblet during the 15th Century, or a chalice with a
host on top in the 16th Century, and by the monstrance starting from the 17th
Century. This figure appeared due to an ancient privilege existent in the
Cathedral of Lugo be the constant exhibition of the Holy Sacrament to the
In the Renaissance the goblet lost its expressive character and in order to
insist on the message, the eucharistic bread became patented and the chalice
replaced the goblet.
The appearance of the crosses in the Galician coat of arms came from years back
coming out of the need to fill the empty space. The crosses were chosen
fundamentally for religious reasons, the first ones being made up by several
smaller crosses. There were six of them throughout the whole of the 17th century
but the one which finished off the monstrance ended up becoming independent and
the resulting seven crosses were identified by the heads of the old Kingdom of
Galicia. Nowadays it is characterised by its simplicity. The background colour
of the coat of arms has been blue since the 15th Century and today the crosses
are preferably silver. The chalice appears in gold joined to the silver host.
Amongst the exterior ornaments, special attention needs to be paid to the crown
and to the cross of Santiago. They did not appear until the 17th Century as
their use was reserved solely for Knights of the order. Nowadays only the crown
It was in 1972 when the Royal Academy of Galicia in a plenary session adopted
the definitive model of this symbol which today is considered official.
From Celebration of Celts
Anne & John Macpherson