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Regimental Colours at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral

May 26, 2014  Posted in: Cathedral History, Lives Remembered Regimental colours

In the 18th and 19th centuries large portions of the British Army were made up of Irish men. It has been estimated that anything up to 30-40% of the army which defeated Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo was Irish. During the second half of the 19th century the percentage of Irish who made up the army dropped significantly. Following the founding of the Free State in the early 20th century these numbers fell further and many of the Irish regiments in the British Army were disbanded over time. In order to remember the men who had died while serving in these regiments the colours (flags) of the regiment are traditionally hung within a church.
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral began receiving regimental colours in the 1850s and these represented Regiments who had fought in the Napoleonic wars. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries more flags were laid up (added) in the Cathedral and this tradition continues today.

“Soldiers do not die, they simply fade away”

When remembering soldiers lost to war this tradition or saying is given physical representation in the Cathedral. Regimental Colours, hung from the walls, are left to decay slowly over time. Eventually these flags will fall from the flag poles at which point they are placed in a display case and mounted on the walls.
To conserve or not?
Debate continues to the present day over whether or not to break with tradition and conserve the colours (flags). One point of view suggests that these flags are part of Irish history and should be conserved for future generations to enjoy. The opposite view is that these flags were hung and left to decay originally in order to serve the purpose of remembering fallen soldiers and this tradition should be honoured.


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