Saturday 21 September 2019

The banner taken from Countess Markievicz's home as a 1916 war trophy

royal collection housed in london museum

IN a corner of the Imperial War Museum's acclaimed new WWI exhibition in London, there is a small, emerald green banner, with Gaelic script picked out in time-tarnished gold thread.

Look closer, under the words, "Na Fianna Eireann" and you will see the motif of a pike piercing a sunburst, over the legend "Glaine ár gcroí, Neart ár ngéag, Agus beart de réir ár mbriathar".

And to the right, there is a card, informing visitors that this artefact was; "Lent By Her Majesty The Queen".

The story of how this banner of Na Fianna, the republican youth movement founded in 1909, ended up in a south London museum began in the immediate aftermath of the Easter Rising, when soldiers went to a modest suburban home in Rathmines, Dublin.

A detachment of 3rd Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles had been detailed to search Surrey House, home of Constance Markievicz, who had just commanded the rebels fighting in St Stephen's Green.

As the soldiers were searching through her home, Markievicz was in a cell in Kilmainham. On May 6th, when her sister Eva Gore-Booth and their friend Esther Roper went to Surrey House, they found that it had been ransacked and occupied by the Royal Irish.

Amongst the items taken by the soldiers was a green and gold banner of the Republican youth movement, founded by the countess in 1909 and headquartered out of her home in Rathmines.

The banner was a war trophy, taken by the Royal Irish Rifles, which eventually found its way into the royal collection. The Irish words under the sunburst may have puzzled officers and royals alike, it translates loosely as: "The purity of our hearts, the strength of our limbs, our commitment to our vow".

Some, especially in Sligo with its strong links to Countess Markievicz, believe this lost banner should now come home.

For the moment, it hangs in a small glass case in the museum's WWI galleries, a reminder of the time when, as 200,000 Irishmen were fighting in Europe, Turkey and the Middle East, some of their fellow countrymen were involved in a different fight at home. Joe O'Shea

Irish Independent

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