Irish-American Interior Design: The Tricolor

Remember: Green goes to the left, or it’s the flag of the Ivory Coast.

The Irish flag perhaps isn’t the most appropriate decorative motif for this blog; it is explicitly Irish, rather than Irish-American, but it’s a standard when people want to add some Irish to their interior decoration, and so seems about as good a place as any to start. It’s a fine flag anyway — clean and boldly designed and optimistic. I won’t offer up a complete history, but here is a thumbnail version: The three colors of the flag are green, white, and orange, with the green representing the Gaelic history of Ireland, the orange representing the (mostly) Protestant British settlers, named after William of Orange. And the white represents the hope for peace between the two groups. The flag was presented by a group of French women in 1848 and first gained widespread usage after the Easter Rising of 1916. The tricolor is the national flag of the Republic of Ireland, but has also widely been adopted by nationalists in Northern Ireland.

Irish-Americans weren’t universally keen on the new flag at first — there was an older one, a harp on a field of green, and the Irish American Weekly complained bitterly about plans to replace it in 1913, writing, “It is as much to Ireland as the [blue, white, and red] tricolor is to France or the Stars and Stripes to America.” But the Irish National Bureau was flying the flag in Washington DC in 1919, and in 1920, when Irish political leader √Čamon de Valera came to New York to start a loan drive for the Irish Republic, supportive New Yorkers thronged the street waving the tricolor. The same year, St. Patrick’s Day marchers participating in a parade on New York’s Fifth Avenue waved the Tricolor, and ever since it has been a symbol of American solidarity with Ireland.

Irish-American homes often demonstrate this by waving two flags outside their homes: the tricolor and the stars and stripes. But flags are a more flexible design motif than this, although I would caution people not to be as free with it as people often are with the Union Jack, which, thanks to its graphic boldness, seems to be something that people feel that can slap on anywhere. Try to be respectful.

Framed Irish flag: Simple and understated.

Most simply, it is possible to put an actual flag indoors. There are a lot Irish flags cheaply made from nylon or polyester, but they look it, so I recommend a flag made from cotton. It is possible to find vintage Irish tricolors at online auction sites, like eBay, and if you find one that is historically or personally significant, that’s especially nice. I recommend getting the flag framed or put in a display case, which are widely available online.

But there are a lot of other ways to represent the flag as a design motif. It’s particularly easy just now to find a rustic or primitive representation of the flag, often painted on weathered wood, all of them having a sort of rugged beauty to them. There are a lot of them on Etsy — here is just one example:

Rustic tricolor.

If you really like the flag, you might consider gathering a selection of flags, framing them, and making a gallery wall out of them. I don’t have an example of this with the Tricolor, but I do have a version with the Union Jack:

Flag gallery wall.

Here’s another idea, this time using an American flag: Place several flags behind several distressed windows and hang them on the wall, giving the impression of a giant flag flying just outside:

So much flag.

It’s also nice to use the Tricolor as an accent, as with this Irish flag knit throw pillow by Jennifer Wilby:

Even your furniture? Yes, even your furniture.

For some, all of this is going to be a bit too direct. For those who prefer to include their Tricolor in a subtler way, there are all sorts of options. Let’s say you’re a boxing fan: You could create a wall dedicated to great Irish and Irish-American boxers, and include a pair of Everlast boxing gloves with the flag emblazoned on it:

The official boxing glove of the great donnybrook.

Or if you’re a music fan, you might get a Tricolor-themed guitar. Better still, get a great Irish guitarist to play it for a bit and sign it, and then you’ll have your very own miniature Irish version of the Hard Rock Cafe.

The Edge is the obvious choice.

Perhaps the subtlest way to work a Tricolor into your decorating scheme is to order and frame a historic Irish-American photo that has an Irish flag in it somewhere, such as this image of the New York City Police Department’s Emerald Society marching up Fifth Avenue:

There is at least one flag in this image.

You could make a little game of it for houseguests: I have 25 Tricolor flags hidden in this house — if you can find all of them, you win a prize.

What sort of prize? I don’t know. I suppose if they win you could give them a flag.

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Max Sparber

Max Sparber is a playwright, journalist, and history detective in Omaha, Nebraska.