Ulster Flag: The ex-official Flag of Northern Ireland



The Ulster Flag- Fast Facts

  • Other names for the same flag:The Ulster Banner or Ulster Flag (Six Counties) or Red Hand of Ulster
  • it was the official flag of Northern Ireland between 1921 and 1972.
  • It was designed by Sir Gerald Woods Wollaston (1874-1957).
  • It is still used extensively but unofficially by Protestants.


Ulster Flag

What are the symbols of the Red Hand of Ulster?

  • The white background and the red cross of Saint George is the most obvious feature.

    It is also the flag of England and the basis of the flag of the county of Georgia in the Caucasus. In medieval times is was the flag of the Republic of Genoa.

  • The crown was intended to symbolise the loyalty of Ulster royalists to the British Monarchy.
  • The star. Its symbolism is disputed. Some claim it is the Star of David and might be witness to a belief among some Protestants that they are descendants of the tribes of Israel.

    Others claim the six points of the star represent the six provinces that constitute Northern Ireland.

  • Red Hand of Ulster. Its origins are obscure.

    Some Protestants connect it to Genesis 38:28-30. Judah's wife had twins, Zerah and Perez.

    As the twins were about to be born Zerah put his hand out first and the midwife tied a red thread to indicate that he was the firstborn and thus entitled to the birsthrights.

    However, Zerah pulled his hand back and Perez was born first.



Red Hand Ulster Mural Belfast Mythology of the Red Hand in the Ulster Banner

The Red Hand, we are told, was the symbol of the Celtic sun god Labraid of the Red Hand.

Another account tells of a time when Ulster was without a king. A boat race was arranged with the stipulation that the one whose hand would be the first to touch the shore of Ulster would win the crown.

One contestant loved Ulster so much that he determined to be the next king. Seing, however, that he was losing the race, he cut off his hand and threw it to shore thus fulfilling the conditions and winning the race and crown.

Hence the red hand symbol.

Another myth tells of an Ulsterman who dipped his hand in red wax to protest high taxes in Belfast.


Myths aside, the Red Hand has been a heraldic symbol of Ulster and of one of its chief and most ancient families, the O'Neills.

By the way, we have met a member of the O'Neill family in the summer of 2008!




Return from the Ulster Flagto Northern Ireland Tourism Homepage


Return from Ulster Flag to the Official Flag of Northern Ireland