A widely recognised symbol in Ireland associated with left-wing nationalism and the labour movement, its cultural and political relevance influenced the title of Seán O’Casey’s play The Plough and The Stars. Arguably, the symbol, along with the Tricolour and the Proclamation of Idependence, has become one of the key visual signifiers of the Irish revolutionary period from 1913 — 23.
Developed as a banner for the left-wing paramilitary group the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) during a time of political unrest in Ireland. The symbol was flown over the occupied GPO building in Dublin during the Easter Rising in 1916 but use of the symbol diminished as the ICA adopted a stance of 'neutrality' during the Irish Civil War.1 However, the symbol was subsequently adopted by other Irish republican groups and is still seen at nationalist events today.
The original design, unveiled at an ICA event in 1914, consisted of the seven stars of the constellation Ursa Major — known in Ireland as The Plough — displayed on top of a plough with a sword for a coulter. Symbolically, this represented that a free socialist Ireland would control its own destiny from the plough to the stars.2 Later versions would adopt the five-pointed star, explicitly linking the symbol to international socialist iconography.
During the 1930s, a simplified version was developed by the Republican Congress, which displayed seven stars on a blue background without the plough.3 This version has become a popular Irish republican symbol and is still displayed by both mainstream and dissident nationalist groups, including as part of the logo of the youth wing of Sinn Féin (Ógra Shinn Féin).