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Ireland: Willie Condon's Fenian Flag of 1867

Last modified: 2011-09-24 by rob raeside
Keywords: ireland | willie condon | fenian flag |
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[Willie Condon's Fenian Flag of 1867] image by David Lawrence, 2 August 2011

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1867. A Unique Fenian Flag, carried in parades and demonstrations from the 1860s to the 1920s
Medium: woven silk with restored gold lettering
Dimensions:97 by 135cm, 38 by 53in.

Willie Condon's Fenian Flag of 1867
[copyright permission for extracts given by Ian Whyte, Whyte & Sons Auctioneers Ltd., Dublin]

This was in another auction recently - it was sold for €52000 at Whytes in Dublin on 13 / 11 / 10.

Dated to 1867, ' A Unique Fenian Flag' that was carried in parades and demonstrations from the 1860s to the 1920s, 97 x 135cm, 38 x 53 inches, made of woven silk with restored gold lettering. It is from the Galtee Mountain area of East Limerick and North Cork and was commissioned and used by Willie Condon (1840-1908) from Anglesboro near Mitchelstown. It was a feature at skirmishes, raids, meetings and demonstrations from the 1860s right through the Land League campaigns of the 1880s and onwards.

"The flag consists of woven silk on which there is a frame of double lines of black and gold coloured thread piping. The original design has a sunburst at left, with lettering in gold – GOD SAVE vertically and to the left of a large gold harp and IRELAND vertically to the right and ANGLESBORO ’67 in gold at the base, with gold trefoil shamrocks at each corner. The original lettering was worn away when Hannah Condon restored it in the 1950s with gold painted card lettering and decorations The Sunburst symbol was used by Irish nationalists from the first half of the nineteenth century and although the green flag with a gold harp was the preferred banner, the following lines, penned in 1843, foresaw the combined use of the Sunburst and the Harp on green:
That the ‘harp on the green’ our land flag should be,
And the sun through clouds bursting, our flag at sea.
The green-borne harp o’er yon battery gleams,
From the frigate’s topgallant the ‘sunburst’ streams.

Willie Condon was born in the Mitchelstown area and settled in Anglesboro, County Limerick, where he married “a Quane woman of mountain foot”. He befriended John O’Mahony of nearby Kilbehenny and joined the Fenian Brotherhood which O’Mahony had founded in 1858 from exile in America. It is believed he was involved in the battle with Crown forces at Kilclooney Woods where a 100 strong group of Fenians was intercepted on the way to Limerick under Peter O’Neill Crowley, who was killed in the engagement.

It is thought that Condon had the flag made to commemorate the Fenian Rising and it was used at a demonstration on the first anniversary in 1868. It was put to regular use thereafter, especially during the Land League campaign which Willie Condon joined with great enthusiasm and was very active in the Anglesboro, Ballylanders and Mitchelstown districts. On one occasion in 1881, carrying the flag, he led 250 men armed with spades from Anglesboro to Ballylanders to free his imprisoned comrade William Manahan, who had been jailed under the Coercion Act. On another occasion Clifford Lloyd, a military officer based in Mitchelstown in the 1880s, wrote1 of an attempted impounding of cattle for non payment of rent and rates which was intercepted by a huge crowd led by Willie Condon. Even though Lloyd’s raiding party was well armed “the sight of such an enormous crowd led by Willie Condon with the Fenian Flag fluttering in the breeze, convinced the raiding party that discretion was the better part of valour” (2)

In other encounters with the Crown Condon had roads blocked with stone walls, and he led his “Galtee Mountain Boys” under the Fenian Flag to Mitchelstown on 9 September 1887 to join a 15,000 strong protest over the appearance in a Coercion Court there of John Mandeville and William O’Brien. The crowd were attacked by police but they had to beat a hasty retreat to the barracks from where they shot dead two of Condon’s men. The battle cry “Remember Mitchelstown” dates from that time. In 1906 Willie Condon was a member of the committee that erected a statue to Mandeville in the square at Mitchelstown. When he died in 1908 over 25,000 people attended his funeral and a large Celtic Cross monument was erected over his grave at Kilgulane Cemetery. This is an extremely important flag of the Fenian Brotherhood, that was carried with fierce pride by Willie Condon and his “Galtee Mountain Boys” (3) for over fifty years, and was kept safe from the Black and Tans during the War of Independence by his daughter Hannah, who was commander of the Cumann na mBan in the area. After the war it was carried by Willie Condon’s descendant at annual commemorations of the Fenian Rising, the Mitchelstown shootings, and Willie Condon’s anniversary, up to the early 1970s, until it was feared it might get damaged so it was kept since in a frame in a descendant’s home.

(1) Charles Dalton Clifford Lloyd Ireland Under The Land League – A Narrative of Personal Experiences, William Blackwood, Edinburgh & London, 1892
(2) Kilfinane Coshlea Historical Society Historical Journal Volume 5, 2009, pp 55-59
(3) Hannah Condon Cleary wrote the famous song The Galtee Mountain Boys, the first verse of which goes:
Hurrah, they came, brave Galtee Men,
The village people cried,
As into Ballylanders the mountain men they hied.
They marched into the village street
And faced down Clifford Lloyd
With Willie Condon at their head
The Galtee mountain pride.

and it ends:

Alas, he sleeps that humble chief
In Kilgulane’s lonely grave
That hero brave who fought his way
To emancipate the slave.
His memory will be honoured
And a monument will rise
To tell the fame of Condon bold

With acknowledgement to Whyte’s Fine Art & Collectibles Auctioneers & Valuers –
David Lawrence, 2 August 2011