flag waving

I’ve been planning on heading to an exhibition on flags, but have been either unusually busy or asleep. Of course, it’s over now and I’ve missed it. Life getting in the way of life.


No, really, flags?

Well, one. Sort of. The exhibition was The Union Flag: Change and Diversity.

The combination of the jubilee and the forthcoming olympics has meant that it has been possible to buy any amount of items branded with the union flag. Cups, tshirts, cushions, stationery, bedding, jewellery, partyware. Think of the item and you can be sure that somebody has stuck a flag on it. I’m wondering about who’s been buying it all? Do the buying patterns in Northern Ireland vary from Great Britain?

I grew up in a contested society, where flags carried a lot of weight. They demarked an area, showed control, inspired fear. Nobody waved a flag without knowing that was making a statement about who they were, who they wanted to be, and who they very definitely were not.

In Northern Ireland the union flag and the tricolour have been loaded with meaning. My family avoided flags. If pushed we’d be Irish (northern), but not enough to fight about either aspect of that. Anyway, the passports were British.

Flags said too much. The sort of saying that could get you killed. We avoided flags. All the flags. All the colour schemes. It has taken me a lifetime to wear a navy dress with a red and white scarf. It looks fine, and I am aware that the screaming of “wearing red, white and blue” is only in my head. I’m working on it.

The exhibition I missed demonstrated how surprisingly fluid the concept of a flag can be. Our society is still far from normal, and flags may still be an issue. We have a way to go. But there are small steps. There’s less fear. The passport is Irish now.

Girl2 was at a birthday party during the jubilee weekend. Lots of little folk singing and dancing and eating and laughing. None of them noticing how their Polish hosts had decorated the house for the event. Nobody blinked at jubilee party plates, napkins and bunting.

In the meantime, my head exploded.

flags picture from culturenorthernireland.org


26 thoughts on “flag waving

  1. I have a had a post brewing about this for ages, it really unnerves me. If I get a chance I’ll throw in my tuppence. In a moment kf weakness, I did buy a 50p union jack for my kids and Ive been appalled at myself since:-)

  2. I will have to write a post about this too. Here I am in USA waiting for 4th July where a different flag gets waved – maybe about independence and a union but not an issue, just the flag. My head ‘explodes inside’ to use your great phrase don’t they know that flags hurt, I just cannot cannot wave a flag for joy, the way I grew up same place you did, too much of a statement. Heavens above we are all people everywhere. Great post Speccy, thanks

    1. There’s just no way that, even a few years ago, small folk from this community would have been at a party surrounded by union jacks. It took a Polish family to do it, and it’s wonderful/ fascinating that the children didn’t see anything odd.

  3. What an important perspective you share, Fiona! I can certainly understand how you’d feel about all the current flag-waving. We have some controversies here, too, simply unique to where we live. People get in brawls here in California over Mexican-Americans who wave the flag of Mexico. Divisions are clearly established over flag waving and I’ve seen some really awful, nasty behaviors post 9-11 completely accompanied by literal and figurative flag waving. It changed the way I felt about our flag. It became weaponized. You’ve touched upon a very serious subject and one worth considering. I can understand your head exploding! Debra

  4. I’m from Northern Ireland too so I totally get where you’re coming from about the flags! I had a conversation with another NI escapee recently and we were both in agreement that it was quite unnerving to suddenly see Union Jacks everywhere after years of it being such a politically loaded symbol where we were from.

  5. We were in South Africa when apartheid was abolished. The old flag had to go because it was a symbol of an oppressive regime. I cannot see it even now without being reminded of a bad time.

  6. People get so worked up about flags and all their supposed implications. I wish they’d get as worked up about poverty or child abuse.

  7. I wish flags weren’t such emotional touchstones for people (waving or shunning), but sadly, they are. I agree with Nick above. People could invest that energy in so many other positive endeavors.

  8. I have often thought of the changes that must be happening in Northern Ireland as time goes on. This was quite insightful.

    Canada switched from the Union Flag in 1965. Switching to the ‘maple leaf’ carried little weight till the amendments to the British North America Act by way of the Constitution Act which has within it the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, all of which was passed 1982. Now some thirty years after, it seems to mesh. We’re not a nation of flag wavers per say, but that passport, now that is the flag and pride rolled into one.

    1. Hudson, how interesting! I’ve only ever known the maple leaf flag, and didn’t know about the Constitution Act, which seems amazingly recent!

  9. Powerful, stuff. Here in the US, the flag-waving started in horrifying earnest right after 9/11. THAT scared me more than buildings coming down or being hit by rockets. Still does. Our nation continues scaring me–people who don’t/can’t think are waving the flag, spouting someone else’s conservative propaganda.

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