The Irish Citizen Army or ICA, was a small group of trained trade union volunteers from the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) established in Dublin for the defence of worker’s demonstrations from the police. It was formed by James Larkin, James Connolly and Jack White on 23 November 1913. Other prominent members included Seán O’Casey, Constance Markievicz, Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, P. T. Daly and Christopher Poole. In 1916, it took part in the Easter Rising – an armed insurrection aimed at ending British rule in Ireland.
The ICA has therefore long had a special place in left-republican history in Ireland. Connolly’s writings gave voice to a socialist-republican tradition that still has adherents today while the Citizen Army’s participation in the insurrection apparently confirmed that, as Connolly put it, ‘the cause of Labour is the Cause of Ireland’. The ICA were an armed workers’ force, who believed in social as well as nation liberation and they also admitted women on equal terms to men. Such, at any rate is the memory of them today.
The ICA uniform was dark green with a slouched hat and badge in the shape of the Red Hand of Ulster. As many members could not afford a uniform, they wore a blue armband, with officers wearing red ones.
Their banner was the Plough and the Stars. Connolly said the significance of the banner was that a free Ireland would control its own destiny from the plough to the stars. The symbolism of the flag was evident in its earliest inception of a plough with a sword as its blade. Taking inspiration from the bible and following the internationalist aspect of socialism it reflected the belief that war would be redundant with the rise of the Socialist International. This was flown by the Irish Citizens Army during the 1916 rising. The design changed during the 1930s to that of the blue banner, which was designed by members of the Republican Congress, and was adopted as the emblem of the Irish Labour movement, including the Irish Labour Party, though they eventually dropped it. It is also claimed by Irish republicans and has been carried alongside the Irish tricolour and Irish provincial flags at Official IRA, Provisional IRA, Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), Irish People’s Liberation Organisation (IPLO) and Continuity IRA rallies and marches.
The banner, and alternative versions of it, is also used by Republican Sinn Féin, Connolly Youth Movement, Labour Youth, Ógra Shinn Féin, Irish Republican Socialist Party and the Republican Socialist Youth Movement.
Image | Irish Citizen Army group outside Liberty Hall. Group are lined up outside ITGWU HQ under a banner proclaiming “We serve neither King nor Kaiser, but Ireland!” | Photo taken in early years of WWI | Courtesy of National Library of Ireland
Image | The original Starry Plough flag from 1914 and flown during the Easter Rising