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Ireland: county colours

Last modified: 2009-05-24 by rob raeside
Keywords: ireland | county colours |
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Origin of the county colours

There are two types of county flags which must be distinguished: firstly the flags which are commonly used by private individuals as a symbol of the county; secondly, flags which are used by the county councils (elected bodies which are responsible for local services such as water supply, public lighting, garbage collection, repair of minor roads, libraries, swimming pools, parks, etc.), not as a symbol of the county, but of the council itself.

The flags in popular use are based on the colours of the county teams in Gaelic football and hurling - the most popular spectator sports. As these flags are entirely unofficial, the designs vary: one sees the colours arranged as horizontal stripes, quarters, lozenges, etc., but vertical stripes are the most common. These flags have outgrown their sporting origins and are now widely used on festive occasions, flown alongside the European Union, national and provincial flags at shopping centres, hotels, etc. However, in the six counties that constitute Northern Ireland, use of the county colours is confined to nationalist areas - the counties in Northern Ireland have been abolished for administrative purposes and the sports from which the county colours derive are not generally supported by unionists.
Vincent Morley
, 4 December 1996

When I visited souvenir shop in Dublin in May 2005 I saw flags of all the counties showing mostly bicolors with a county shield and the county name written in Gaelic written above and in English below. Here is an example:

[Presidential standard] image by Nozomi Kariyasu, 17 January 2009

The flag proportion is 1: 2, the same as the national flag.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 17 January 2009

My experience in Co. Kerry in the southwest of Ireland is that only undefaced county colors have been used. Now it's been a few years since I was back but that was the case. The last time I was back in Ireland, I witnessed a couple of things:
1. Outside of a Quinnsworth in Tralee, two flagpoles were flying the Irish tricolor and Kerry County colors, green and gold (one flag on each pole)
2. A car-repair garage in Tralee displayed the Irish national flag along with six county colors representing the six counties in the province of Munster: Clare, Tipperary, Limerick, Kerry, Cork and Waterford. (Munster itself was not represented.)
Brian Ellis, 18 January 2009

I haven't seen the specific designs [at]. Some of the shields are clearly wrong. For example, in the case of Dublin (second row, third from left) the raven formerly appeared on the arms of Dublin County Council which was abolished some years ago, but the shield which is sometimes to be found on the Dublin county colours is always that of Dublin city - three burning castles on a blue field. Similarly, while the shield that is normally used for Armagh does include a gold harp on a blue field it is never reduced to just those elements (which in fact are the arms of Ireland). However, it is true that shields are sometimes displayed on county colours. The shields on the page at do, I think, accurately show the ones that are in common use. Another page on the same site shows defaced county colours of a pattern that that I have seen: In my opinion, these are in deplorable taste: not only are the shields crudely drawn but the lettering is inexcusable. None the less, they really do exist. Fortunately, plain unadorned county flags without shields or inscriptions are still the ones most commonly seen.
Vincent Morley, 18 January 2009

Caveat: county flags using the national tricolour

In Ireland a type of flag showing the national tricolour with the county arms in the central white stripe can be found being sold.  This flag is bogus - no county uses this design for its county flag. A similar phenomenon exists with Mexican state flags.
António Martins
, 3 June 2002