Following the Irish Rebellion of 1798, which pits the “green” United Irishmen against the Orange Order who are traditionally loyal to the British Crown, the ideal of making peace between both traditions in a self-governed Ireland is first mooted.
The oldest known reference to the use of green, white, and orange as a nationalist emblem dates from September 1830 when the colours are used for rosettes and badges. Since that historical period the use of the tricolour becomes the preferred mark of a republic in national flags. However, widespread recognition is not accorded to the flag until 1848.
Presented to Meagher as a gift in 1848 by a small group of French women symathetic to the Irish cause, the flag flies proudly as Meagher addresses the Waterford crowd gathered on the street below who are celebrating news of the French Revolution. Speeches made at that time by Meagher suggest that it is regarded as an innovation and not as the revival of an older flag.
From March 1848 Irish tricolours appear side-by-side with French “tricolores” at meetings held all over the country. John Mitchel, referring to the provisional Irish banner which Meagher had presented at a meeting in Dublin on April 15, 1848, says, “I hope to see that flag one day waving as our national banner.”
Although the tricolour is not forgotten as a symbol of a free Ireland, it is rarely used between 1848 and 1916. Even up to the eve of the 1916 Easter Rising, the green flag featuring a harp holds undisputed sway. Neither the colours nor the arrangement of the early tricolours are standardised. All of the 1848 tricolours show green, white, and orange, but orange is sometimes put next to the staff and, in at least one flag, the order is orange, green and white.
In 1883, a Parnellite tricolour of yellow, white, and green, arranged horizontally, is proposed. Down to modern times, yellow has occasionally been used instead of orange but such substitution tarnish’s the tricolour’s fundamental symbolism.
The flag is adopted by the rebels in the 1916 Easter Rising rebels and raised above the General Post Office in Dublin. This marks the first time that the tricolour is regarded as the national flag. It is subsequently adopted by the Irish Republic during the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921). Its use is continued by the Irish Free State (1922–1937) and is later given constitutional status under the 1937 Constitution of Ireland. The tricolour is used by nationalists on both sides of the border as the national flag of the whole island of Ireland since 1916.