100 years ago: Finland declares independence

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The white and blue Nordic Cross flag was not yet Finland’s national flag when the country declared its independence on 6 December 1917. The white-blue Finnish flag was adopted by law on 29 May 1918. In the winter of 1917-1918 Finland’s temporary flag was a red heraldic banner with the Finnish coat of arms.   

Top left: National flag of Finland since 1918

A white flag with a blue Nordic Cross has been the Finnish national flag for almost a century. The colour combination white-blue became popular in the 19th Century and were already established as the, albeit inofficial, national colours of Finland at the time of the country’s declaration of independence in December 1917.

However, red and yellow, the colours from Finland’s coat of arms, also played an important role in the Finnish flag debate in the winter of 1917-1918. The Finnish Civil War January–May 1918 between the conservative Whites and the socialist Reds made it impossible to solve the flag issue. Following the White victory, the Finnish Parliament decided on a national flag featuring white and blue rather than red and yellow

Bottom left: Temporary national flag 1917-1918

When Finland declared its independence on 6 December 1917, it was a banner of the coat of arms of Finland that was hoisted on the flagpole of the Finnish government, the Senate.

Finland’s arms stem from around 1580 and feature a yellow lion on a red background surrounded by white roses. The lion treads on a sabre while raising a sword over its head. (Expressed in proper heraldic terms, the blazon of the arms of Finland is as follows: Gules, a lion rampant crowned Or, trampling a sabre in base proper, his dexter foreleg in the form of a man’s arm vambraced and embowed Argent, garnished Or, bearing aloft a sword proper, nine roses Argent.)

A banner of these arms, “the Lion Flag”, was proposed by the Senate’s Flag Commission on 8 December 1917 and it was used as a temporary national flag during the winter of 1917-1918.

Bottom right: Provisional merchant flag in the spring of 1918

The Senate decided to adopt a provisional civil ensign to be used by the merchant navy on 27 February 1918. It was a red flag with a yellow Nordic Cross fimbrated by thin lines of white and blue. This design combined the competing red-yellow and white-blue, but it played no lasting role in Finnish flag history. In May 1918 “the Blue Cross Flag” became the new official national flag for use on land and at sea.

A Nordic Cross flag in the colours of the Finnish coat of arms, red with a yellow cross, is used by the Swedish speaking minority in Finland. This flag is very similar to the flag used by Scanians in Southern Sweden; also a red flag with a yellow cross.

Top right: State flag of Finland 1918-1920

The first official Finnish state flag, adopted on 29 May 1918, had the crowned coat of arms of Finland in the middle of the blue cross. The grand ducal crown was removed on 12 February 1920. Finland was a Grand Duchy in personal union with Russia from 1809 until the abdication of the last Emperor of Russia, Nicholas II, in 1917. Officially, Finland has been a republic since the Constitution Act of 1919.

 

Read also: Finns fly the flag at night to celebrate Finland’s centenary.

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Finns fly the flag at night to celebrate Finland’s centenary

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If you illuminate it properly, you’re allowed to fly the Finnish flag from the evening of December 5 and through Independence Day on December 6. Normally, flying the flag in the middle of the night is not allowed in Finland. But an exception to the rule will be made this year as the country celebrates 100 years of independence.    

In Finland, it’s prohibited by law to fly the flag during the dark hours. Being a country in the Northern Hemisphere, the northernmost part of the country lying north of the Arctic Circle, Finland has to live with plenty of dark hours in December.

On December 6, Finland’s Independence Day, the sun rises in the capital city of Helsinki at about 9 am and it sets approximately 6 hours later. In Northern Finland, Rovaniemi (the village known as Santa Claus’ Village) enjoys only three hours of daylight at this time of year.

So, in order for the national flag to play a more prominent role in the festivities marking the 100-year anniversary of Finland’s independence, the Finnish Ministry of the Interior has announced that the Finnish flag, if properly lit, can be hoisted during the dark hours from Tuesday evening at 6 pm until Wednesday evening at 10 pm.

“Flying the flag through the night is only allowed if the flag can be illuminated so that the blue is blue and the white is white,” Mika Mäkinen, Communications Director of the Ministry of the Interior, said in an interview.

“No street lighting or car lights are sufficient,” Mr. Mäkinen made it perfectly clear. “There should be proper lights if the flag is to be flown all night long.”

The ministry has also announced that a large Finnish flag will be hoisted in front of the City Hall in Helsinki’s Market Square (Kauppatori in Finnish, Salutorget in Swedish). It will fly day and night for a year to celebrate the centenary of Finland’s independence and the flag will be illuminated during the dark hours.

“It’s a bit odd that the only flag you see in this central square in Helsinki is the blue and yellow flag on the Swedish Embassy. Now we’ll get a more beautiful flag in that place,” Communications Director Mäkinen explained.

Finland declared its full independence on December 6, 1917. Since 1809 the country had been a Grand Duchy in personal union with Russia. But when Emperor Nicholas II abdicated during the March Revolution of 1917, Finland no longer had a Grand Duke. After the October Revolution later that year, members of the Finnish Government travelled to Saint Petersburg (then Petrograd) to secure the acceptance of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. In January of 1918, Russia as well as other European countries formally recognized Finland’s independence. Finland has been a parliamentary republic since 1919.

 

Read the original interview and news story in Finnish here and in Swedish here. Read also about Finnish flag history: 100 years ago: Finland declares independence.

The Prince of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg dies at 82

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Prince Richard, brother-in-law of Queen Margrethe II of Denmark and head of the Sayn-Wittgenstein family, passed away on Monday 13 March 2017. His funeral service will be held on Tuesday 21 March, in the Evangelische Stadtkirche Bad Berleburg. 

Richard zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg was the third son-in-law of King Frederik IX of Denmark. He married Princess Benedikte in 1968 at Fredensborg Palace, Denmark. Her younger sister Anne-Marie had married Constantine II, King of the Hellenes, in 1964 in Athens, Greece. In 1967, the older sister Margrethe, heiress to the Danish throne, married Henri de Laborde de Monpezat who became Prince Henrik of Denmark.

Richard was a man of humour, and of temper, totally devoid of the stiff upper lip and the jetset lifestyle so often associated with royalty. He met his future wife at the wedding of Princess Beatrix and Prince Claus in the Netherlands in 1966. “In the royal corner,” as he once explained. From birth, Prince Richard belonged to that inner circle of closely related princely houses of Europe, but he never liked the pomp and circumstance and would rather wake up early to a day of hard work in the forest.

His main occupation in life was the Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg inheritance, one of the largest private estates in Germany. Prince Richard took that responsibility seriously. “One would hate to be the weakest link in a long chain,” he said. The Prince has been praised for his work in wildlife conservation. He was an accomplished hunter and angler. And he was a central figure in local life in the town of Bad Berleburg. His family’s presence in the area goes back 800 years.

Prince Richard was a male line descendant of the medieval Counts of Sponheim. The chequered arms of the House of Sponheim were however not used by that branch which inherited the County of Sayn in the 13th Century. In stead, the arms of Sayn (Gules, a lion guardant Or) became the central element of the family’s heraldic achievements.

The County of Wittgenstein, where Bad Berleburg is located, was added in the 14th Century. Its arms (Argent, two pallets Sable) are the same as those of the medieval Counts of Battenberg and, in modern times, the Mountbatten family: the Marquesses of Milford Haven, the Marquess of Carisbrooke, the Earls Mountbatten of Burma and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

In 1792, the reigning count in Berleburg was raised to princely rank by the Holy Roman Emperor. The Principality of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg in the Rothaar Mountains on the border between Westphalia and Hesse was one of the many tiny German states that didn’t survive the Napoleonic Wars. Until the fall of the monarchy in 1918, the head of the family sat in the Prussian House of Lords.

The arms of Sayn and Wittgenstein can be seen together with the arms of the lordships of Homburg (Gules, a castle twice towered Argent, windows and port Sable) and Freusburg (Sable, on a bend sinister Argent three boar’s heads Sable) on the family’s armorial banner which was lowered to half mast on Berleburg Castle at the news of the Prince’s death.

Prince Richard’s only son, Gustav, is the new Prince of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg. Prince Gustav is named after his paternal grandfather Prince Gustav Albrecht who was reported missing in action in Russia in 1944 during World War II. In the 1960s the prospect of the Danish king getting a German son-in-law was disliked by many Danes. It was decided that any children of Prince Richard and Princess Benedikte would only succeed to the throne on the condition that they were raised in Denmark and became Danish citizens.

It is one of Prince Richard’s achievements that his nationality became a non-issue. As a young child he had lived in Sweden with his widowed mother who was a member of the Fouché d’Otrante family, Swedish nobles descended from Napoleon’s Minister of Police. So, Prince Richard had learned Swedish. Later in life he also spoke Danish, albeit in his own charming, “mixed Scandinavian” version. He was the German prince who put a friendly face on Germany at a time when it was needed.

Return of the Empress

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Ten years ago, Empress Maria Feodorovna found her final resting place in the Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The golden standard of the Russian Empresses covered her coffin on its journey from Denmark where she died in exile almost 78 years earlier.

Empress Maria Feodorovna died far from her beloved Russia in her villa north of Copenhagen, Denmark, on 13 October 1928, 80 years old. She was the widow of Alexander III, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias. In 1919 she was forced to leave Russia following the Communist revolution.

Maria Feodorovna first set foot on Russian soil in September 1866 at the age of 18. She arrived in Saint Petersburg on board a Danish warship as the bride-to-be of the young Tsarevich Alexander Alexandrovich who later became Emperor Alexander III. She had already converted to the Russian Orthodox Church and very early on she came to regard Russia as her home.

Following the assassination in 1881 of Emperor Alexander II, Alexander III ascended the thrown. He and Maria Feodorovna were crowned in 1883 at the Kremlin, Moscow. The couple had six children. Their happy marriage ended in 1894 when Alexander III died at the age of 49.

Maria Feodorovna became much loved in Russia and played the role of Empress Dowager to perfection. Her eldest son became Nicholas II, the last Russian Emperor.

Before marrying in Russia the Empress was known as Princess Dagmar of Denmark. She came from a large and close-knit family. King Christian IX of Denmark was her father. King George I of Greece was her brother. King Christian X of Denmark and Iceland and King Haakon VII of Norway were her nephews. Her sister Alexandra was the wife of Edward VII, King of Great Britain and Ireland, Emperor of India.

It was thanks to a British warship that Maria Feodorovna was able to get out of revolutionary Russia alive. During her stay in Crimea she had received the news of the murders of her sons, Nicholas and Michael, and of her daughter-in-law and her five grandchildren. For the rest of her life she refused to accept that they had been brutally killed by the Communists.

In 2006 after many years of planning it was finally possible to transfer the body of Empress Maria Feodorovna to Russia. She had been temporarily interred in the Cathedral of Roskilde, the main burial site for the Danish royal family. On 23 September 2006 a service there marked the beginning of the Empress’ last journey. Again, a Danish warship sailed her to Saint Petersburg.

On 28 September 2006 Maria Feodorovna was interred in the Peter and Paul Fortress on the River Neva in the former capital of the Russian Empire, next to the grave of her husband and in close proximity to the graves of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.

Fittingly, the Empress of Russia’s Standard covered the coffin on her last sea voyage. This flag is a swallow-tailed version of the Imperial Russian Naval Standard adopted by Emperor Peter the Great and changed very little over the years:

On a background of gold, a black double-headed eagle, crowned with three Imperial crowns, on its chest an inescutcheon, red with the mounted Saint George slaying a black dragon, surrounded by the collar of the Order of Saint Andrew. In its beaks and and claws the eagle holds four nautical charts showing the “four seas of Russia” – the Baltic Sea, the White Sea, the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.

Dr. Sheldon Cooper’s Apartment Flag

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“The apartment flag is a golden lion rampant on a field of azure,” Sheldon tells Leonard when the two roommates first meet revealing that he is a true flag fanatic but also showing off his knowledge of official heraldic terminology. Long live the nerds!

The hit American sitcom The Big Bang Theory and especially the character of Sheldon Cooper, played by actor Jim Parsons, may have a few fans among the world’s flag enthusiasts.

Fun With Flags is Sheldon’s recurring internet vlog about flags, introduced in the sitcom’s fifth season. Memorable moments include Sheldon dressed up as Betsy Ross, the woman widely credited with making the first US flag in 1776, or Sheldon in lederhosen waving a Bavarian flag, his girlfriend Amy, played by actress Mayim Bialik, standing next to him in a full-body pretzel costume.

A low point in the history of Fun With Flags is when Sheldon does a two hour 4th of July spectacular setting up 4000 dominos to make the American flag and Amy doesn’t succeed in recording the hole thing. When Sheldon and Amy break up their relationship for a time, he comments: “Speaking of ending relationships, when British Honduras became Belize, they designed a new flag with a tree on it, and I would like to hang myself from that tree.”

Sheldon not only references flag facts when expressing despair and explaining relationship troubles, he also use them to lift other people’s spirit. Yet another Sheldon Cooper flag quote: “Here is something that might cheer you up: The flag of the Isle of Man is nothing but three legs sharing a weird pair of underpants, so … you think you got problems.”

Sheldon’s apartment flag can best be described as a sort of banner of arms. It’s blue (azure means blue in heraldry) and it has in the middle a yellow standing lion with its forepaws raised (this is what rampant means in heraldry).

In the episode of the sitcom’s third season when Sheldon’s apartment flag is first seen, he also tells Leonard, played by actor Johnny Galecki, that if the flag is displayed upside down it means “apartment in distress”. Odd as it may seem, this rule could be said to mirror a rare practice known for example in the Philippines: The Philippino national flag is hoisted upside down when the country is in a state of war.

In the wide, varied and fascinating world of flags there are flags for almost anything and anyone. There are flags for countries, organisations, institutions, government bodies, companies and individuals. There are flags for towns, cities, counties, states and nations. There are flags for causes and ideologies, flags for private persons and positions of authority, flags for ships and for sports and flags that only exist in fiction.

Thanks to The Big Bang Theory I have been introduced to the concept of flags for apartments. My only regret writing this is that I haven’t thought of how my apartment flag should look. Have you?

Faroe Islands: Processions, Flags and Viking Games

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Today on July 28th, the eve of Saint Olav’s day, the national feast of the Faroe Islands is celebrated with the traditional boat race in the harbour of Tórshavn. For a couple of days at the hight of summer the beautiful Faroese flag is flown everywhere and by everyone on the 18 isles in the North Atlantic.

July 29th is the feast day of Saint Olav, king of Norway. He was killed in the battle of Stiklestad on that date in the year 1030 and was canonized shortly after. Saint Olav’s shrine in the cathedral of Nidaros in Trondheim, Norway attracted large numbers of pilgrims in the middle ages. His feast day is still celebrated by catholics and protestants in Norway and elsewhere.

The Faroe Islands were part of the Norwegian Realm. Following the 1814 Treaty of Kiel Norway entered into union with Sweden. Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands remained with Denmark. The two latter countries are still part of the Danish Realm. Many Faroe Islanders want their home rule replaced with full independence.

The flag of the Faroe Islands was designed and hoisted for the first time in 1919. Since April 25th, 1940 the use of it is official. The flag’s name in Faroese is Merkið, meaning ‘the flag’ or ‘the mark’. It was other Nordic cross flags like the flag of Norway and the flag of Denmark, Dannebrog, which inspired the designer Jens Oliver Lisberg.

On the Faroe Islands the feast of Saint Olav, Ólavsøka, lasts for several days with lots of music, flags and festivities, a service in the cathedral of Tórshavn and the official opening of parliament. It is common for Faroese children to sing or play an instrument and faith plays an important role in society as do sporting traditions which go back as far as Viking times and spark strong local pride and competitiveness.

On July 28th, the evening before Saint Olav’s day, one of the annual national boat races takes place in Tórshavn. Boys and girls, men and women from all over the islands compete in traditional wooden boats in classes of 5, 6, 8 and 10 rowers. Winning an Ólavsøka first price is of course very prestigious as a sign of excellence in strength and team work.

Both on the 28th and the 29th there is a procession in Tórshavn. Children, sports associations, choirs, marching bands, people riding horses, elected officials and clergy, all take part in these processions. On the second day it is the members of the Faroese parliament, Løgtingið, who walk in procession between the cathedral and the parliament house, Tinghúsið.

Except maybe for the abundance of people wearing traditional costumes the one common feature in all these events are the hundreds of white-blue-red Faroese flags in the streets and on the harbour quays.

Happy Saint Olav’s feast! Góða Ólavsøku!

Tour de France: A Festival of Regional Flags

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The French national Tricolore and French regional flags are inseparable parts of France’s famous bicycle race. On the route and in the finish line areas thousands of flags are flown by tourists, fans and compatriots of the riders.

The world’s biggest bicycling race is the Tour de France: Three weeks and 3,500 kilometres of dramatic, demanding and sometimes quite dangerous bicycling up and down the beautiful French countryside from the fair farmland in the north to the the steep mountain roads of the Alps, the Pyrenees and the Massif Central in the south.

The first race was in 1903. Today, many years and many doping scandals later, the Tour de France is still loved and watched by millions around the world. It draws fans and tourists from all over the world to France every summer.

This year’s winner, Christopher Froom, who also won the yellow jersey in 2013 and 2015, was born in Kenya of British parents and has represented Kenya and the United Kingdom in professional cycling. In 2016, too, he and his UK based Team Sky had a loyal following in France made visible with lots of UK flags.

Traditionally the flags of Belgium and Flanders have been waved prominently in the history of the Tour de France. This year the Flemish Belgian Thomas de Gendt came second in the mountains classification. The number one mountain climber in 2016 is Rafał Majka of Poland. His red and white polka dot jersey matches the flag of Poland perfectly.

The flag of Slovakia goes together with the green jersey. Five times the Slovak Peter Sagan has won the prestigious points classification. He and the runner-up, Marcel Kittel of Germany, as well as Michael Matthews of Australia, who is third in the points classification, are sure to find supporters en route waving their national flags.

Columbian flags along the roads of France indicate the staunch support for Columbians Quintana and Pantano. And Norwegian flags fill the traditional “Norwegian corner” just across from the golden statue of Joan of Arc on the final stage of the Tour, in Rue de Rivoli in Paris.

Not only national flags are in widespread use by spectators during the Tour de France, French regional flags are too. Flags of regions and historical provinces as well as flags of national minorities can be seen on the roads and in towns and villages which are part of the race’s route.

Compared to other big European countries like Germany and Spain, France is more centralized politically and linguistically. The historical provinces may not be very well known and the contemporary regions may play a lesser role in the life of the French Republic, but regional identity is manifested by the use of sub-national flags by locals, tourists and bicycling fans.

The red-white-green Basque flag is widely displayed, not just in the Basque lands of the western Pyrenees. The same goes for the black and white flag of Brittany. The Catalans of the Pyrénées-Orientales department use the horizontal red stripes. The very similar, but vertical red stripes of Provence have Catalan roots too: A count of Barcelona married the heiress of Provence in the 12th Century.

The Occitanian cross, yellow on red, is a popular symbol on flags in the former regions of Midi-Pyrénées and Languedoc-Roussillon which were merged this year. In a wider cultural and linguistical sense Occitania covers almost all of southern France.

I the departments of Savoie and Haute-Savoie the Savoyard cross, white on red, is equally, if not more, popular. On a windy mountain top this flag can easily be mistaken for the flag of Denmark, also a white cross on red. Danish camping tourists and cycling enthusiast have been known for bringing the Dannebrog to Savoy and other holiday destinations.

France’s cities and landscapes are certainly worth exploring at the hight of summer, whether or not you do it by bike, or bring your own flag.

 

Read also: Tour de France 2017.

UEFA Euro 2016: Germany in Black and White

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Germany’s “National Eleven” don’t play in the national colours of black, red and gold. Instead the successful and popular team play in black and white. It has been so for more than a hundred years. The tradition and the colours date back to the time of the Kingdom of Prussia and its ruling family, the House of Hohenzollern. 

The German national football team is one of the world’s best: Four times winner of the FIFA World Cup, three times winner of the UEFA European Championship. Today they play Italy for a place in the UEFA Euro 2016 semifinals.

More than a 100 years ago, at the beginning of the 20th Century, the colours of the German national football team were established as white and black. (This tradition was only broken by the German Democratic Republic; from 1952 to 1990 the East German team played in white and blue.)

Black and white were the colours of Prussia and its royal family. In 1871 Prussia led the formation of the German Empire, and the King of Prussia became the federal head of state with the title of German Emperor.

The Royal House of Prussia, also known as the Hohenzollerns, trace their roots back almost a thousand years to the 11th Century. From the 15th Century onwards they ruled in Berlin and Brandenburg, later expanding both east and west. In 1701 the Kingdom of Prussia was established when Frederick I was crowned in Königsberg, the modern day Russian city of Kaliningrad.

The coat of arms of the Hohenzollern dynasty was quartered white and black. The coat of arms of Prussia was white with a black eagle. Both inspired the black and white flags of the provinces of East and West Prussia as well as the flag of the Kingdom of Prussia. From 1892 to 1918 the Prussian state flag was a horizontal tricolour of black-white-black; in the broader middle stripe a black eagle with the royal cypher of King Frederick I on its breast held the Royal Prussian crown, sceptre and orb in its claws.

Prussia was the dominant constituent country in the German Empire of 1871. The black-white-red tricolour adopted by the Empire as its national flag combined the black and white of Prussia with the red and white of the Hanseatic cities.

The royal colours of Germany’s football team were continued after the fall of the monarchy in 1918 at end of World War I. The Prussian state, with its black-white flag, also survived and was still the largest state in Germany under the republican Weimar Constitution. In 1947, though, Prussia was dissolved by the Allied Control Council following 12 years of Nazi dictatorship and a devastating war.

After World War II Germans regained some of their damaged national pride as the national football team of the young Federal Republic of Germany won the FIFA World Cup of 1954. “The Miracle of Bern” ended with a 3-2 win over Hungary in the final.

This day and age too many references to the historic state of Prussia and to the family of Germany’s last emperor may not be helpful. But it is still a great honour to wear the black and white colours of the Hohenzollern kings of Prussia on the football field. Nothing less than the best is expected of Germany’s team by millions of football fans.

UEFA Euro 2016: The Royal Roots of Italy’s Blue

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The colour of the Italian football team is blue. The origin of that can be found in the thousand-year-old history of the Savoy Family, the former Royal House of Italy, and in a medieval battle between Christian princes and the Ottoman Turks.

Four times the Italian national football team has won the FIFA World Cup. This evening Italy plays Spain for a place in the UEFA European Championship quarter-finals. The Spanish national team will be playing in the colours of their flag as is usual for most sporting nations. Contrary to this practice, the football kit of the Italian national team is not in the colours of the Italian flag, the red-white-green tricolour.

Instead the players’ jerseys are blue. The Italian nickname for the team is “gli Azzurri”, the Sky Blues. The specific variant of the colour used is called Savoy Blue indicating its ancient origins.

Blue was the so-called livery colour of the House of Savoy, one of the oldest royal families of Europe. It originated in the Western Alpine Region more than a thousand years ago. The early heads of the dynasty were vassals of the Holy Roman Emperor and ruled on both sides of the Alps: Savoy (Savoie) today is in France; Piedmont (Piemonte) in Northern Italy steadily grew into the Kingdom of Sardinia and united all of Italy during il Risorgimento in the 19th Century.

The House of Savoy (or Savoia in Italian) ruled the Kingdom of Italy from 1861 to 1946. After World War II Italy became a republic. But the national football team continued to play in blue, the colour of the Italian royal family.

The Savoy Blue, according to historians, dates back to 1366 when Count Amadeo VI of Savoy, il Conte Verde, fought the Muslim Turks under a sky blue flag with the image of the Virgin Mary surrounded by gold stars. Amadeo was a cousin of John V, Emperor of Constantinople, who was under attack by the Ottoman Empire. Ever since the sky blue colour has been connected to the Savoy dynasty.

Before the constitutional referendum of 1946 both the Savoy Blue and the arms of the House of Savoy, red with a white cross, were in the middle of the Italian tricolour. The Italian Republic removed the royal arms from the flag.

The Italian football team still wears the Savoy Blue and thus carries the torch for Italian history and the dreams of a football fanatic nation. As always, expectations are high. The goal is the gold, of course.

UEFA Euro 2016: Northern Ireland’s out-of-use flag still in use

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Northern Ireland is a country without a flag. Almost two decades after the Good Friday Agreement the Northern Ireland Assembly still hasn’t agreed on a flag for this part of the United Kingdom. So, when Northern Ireland’s national football team plays in the UEFA European Championship later today an old and officially defunct flag will represent them.

The flag used by international sporting organisations such as FIFA and UEFA to represent Northern Ireland is the so-called Ulster Banner. It is a white flag with a red cross and has the Red Hand of Ulster on a white six-pointed star together with the British Imperial Crown in the middle. Officially, however, this is not longer the flag of Northern Ireland.

The Ulster Banner was designed for the Government of Northern Ireland which came into being after the partition of Ireland in 1921. The island’s six northern counties remained a part of the United Kingdom. The southern part of the island were to be the independant Republic of Ireland. It adopted the green-white-orange tricolour as its flag in 1922.

The Government of Northern Ireland didn’t last through the Troubles i.e. the violent conflict between Catholic Republicans and Protestant Unionists in the second half of the 20th Century. In 1972 Northern Ireland’s parliament and government were suspended and with it its flag. The Ulster Banner has been out-of-use ever since.

Direct rule of Northern Ireland from London ended after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, but the new Northern Irish legislature hasn’t yet adopted a flag for Northern Ireland. Catholics and Republicans never accepted the Ulster Banner with its British crown and “English” colours – the flag is similar to England’s Saint George’s Cross – and they likely never will.

Therefore, until Northern Ireland decides on a commonly accepted, inclusive new flag design, the international community and Northern Ireland’s national sports teams are faced with a problem.

Flags are an integral and inescapable part of football culture. National teams, their fans, championship organizers and the media use flags all the time, everywhere and in all possible shapes and sizes. A sporting nation needs to have a flag! This is why, during this evening’s match between Northern Ireland and Wales, millions of fans and viewers from all over the world will see the Ulster Banner waving in Paris.

Officially, and maybe also out of respect for Northern Ireland’s Catholics and Republicans, it shouldn’t. But it does. Hopefully the Ulster Banner together with the green jerseys of the Northern Irish team will be seen as a unifying compromise. Green is the colour of Ireland, of Irish nationalism and of Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations.