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Frequently asked questions:

Why is County Clare often called 'The Banner County'?

The custom of carrying banners goes back a long way in County Clare. There is little doubt but that the Dal gCais carried banners at the battle of Clontarf in 1014 or that the Clare Dragoons carried banners at Fontenoy in 1745 and in the many battles fought by the Clare Regiments on the continent during the eighteenth century. However, the name 'the banner county' would appear to be of far more recent origin. In the last century as population of the county became more politicized the custom of carrying banners to political meetings became widespread. Thus many banners welcomed Daniel O'Connell at the Clare election of 1828 and the freeholders of the county marched behind banners to the Ennis courthouse to cast their votes for O'Connell on that occasion.

In Ennis most trade guilds had their own banners: bakers, butchers, brogue makers, coopers, nailers, dyers, masons, harness makers, cartwrights, stone cutters etc. all competed to produce the most handsome of banners. At the inaugeration of the O'Connell monument in Ennis in 1865 thirteen different guilds carried banners, each representing the attributes of their particular trade. That this represented a long tradition in the town is not in doubt since, on that occasion, the brogue makers' guild carried a flag that had first been unfurled in 1726.

My own great grandfather, Brian Daly, was the custodian of the Ennis coopers' banner and parts of the banner are still retained by the family. The coopers' banner was not of the two pole variety that one usually sees today but was carried on a long single pole, topped by a small barrel; the banner itself hung down like a picture from a horizontal staff stretched across the top of the pole. I can recall as a child seeing the banner which was then much injured by time; it was a rusted red colour and carried the inscription 'Hearts of Oak'. This banner along with many others were carried along the streets to greet the various dignitaries that visited the town in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Politicians like Parnell and de Valera were greeted by hosts of banners. It is easy to see then in the political excitement of the times how the county acquired the name 'the banner county'. The reason the name stuck with Clare, I would suggest, was that custom of greeting politicians with banners, particularly at election time, survived longer in Clare than in other counties. The Parnellite and de Valera eras coincided with the rise of the GAA and the name soon transferred to the county's hurling and football teams.

Brian O'Dalaigh

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