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Former government ensign, Northern Ireland, UK

Last modified: 2013-12-02 by rob raeside
Keywords: northern ireland | government ensign |
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[Former government ensign] image by António Martins-Tuválkin

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Description of the flag

According to Carr (1961), p. 67, Northern Ireland had a Blue Ensign for government vessels, that was defaced with a white disc bearing the letters "GNI" (for "Government of Northern Ireland") in large black capitals.

Roy Stilling, 27 September 1999

Flaggenbuch shows this flag with red letters and describes it as the ensign and jack for vessels used by the Government of Northern Ireland.

Ivan Sache, 10 October 1999

I've just rechecked Carr (1961), p.67 and I note he doesn't explicitly say the colour of the letters. However, the accompanying black-and-white illustration shows the letters in heavy black type, and the convention used in that book is that where a black-and-white illustration contains black, it represents black in the original flag. If the letters were another colour they'd be shown in outline. I have found inaccuracies in Carr before, so I'm not saying he's right, just that I think that's what he's implying.

Roy Stilling, 12 October 1999

The flag was introduced in 1929 and withdrawn, I guess, in 1973 when the Northern Ireland Parliament was abolished. The letters G N I were in red.

In 1935 the Admiralty contacted the Home Office to ask if the drawing, in the German Flag Book, of a Government of Northern Ireland Blue Ensign was correct. The Home Office denied all knowledge of the flag and suggested that it might be the flag of the Great North of Ireland Railway. Later it was found that the flag had been agreed in 1929.

Officials of the new government in Belfast were not familiar with the procedures that had been followed by the previous Anglo-Irish government in Dublin and had sent the request for a Blue Ensign to the wrong department. The request finally reached the correct office, but because it had not gone through the proper channels, was not recorded by the Home Office nor by the department in the Admiralty responsible for producing the Flag Book.

The German Embassy in London had enquired about the flag of Northern Ireland vessels in 1932, pointing out that it was not shown in the British Flag Book, and asking if it was a Blue Ensign with the badge of the Governor in the fly. The enquiry had gone to the Foreign Office, who passed it to the Home Office, who sent it to Northern Ireland. Belfast sent a drawing of the flag to the Home Office, who seem not to have looked at it before passing it on to the Foreign Office who sent it to the German Charge d'Affaire.

Thus the drawing of an official British flag reached the editor of the German Flag Book four years before it reached the editor of the British Flag Book.
[Public Record Office HO 45/19278]

David Prothero, 19 April 2000

Timeline for the changes to the flag

Some more details about the flag of the Governor of Northern Ireland.

14th February 1923. Governor of Northern Ireland requested a flag.

14th May 1924. He repeated his request, but was told by the Home Office that he should use a Union Jack until arms had been granted to Northern Ireland.

27th May 1924. In reply to an enquiry from the Home Office, the Admiralty replied that it was a personal flag for the Governor, and they therefore claimed no jurisdiction, but would like to be informed of the design.

17th June 1924. The Home Office informed the Governor that the King had agreed to a Union Jack with the arms of Northern Ireland. A gold circle had been inserted behind the shield as otherwise the red cross of the arms was indistinguishable from the red cross of the flag.

15th August 1924. Design approved.

9th September 1924. The Admiralty suggested that the governor's flag could be flown over his official residence, over any house in which he was residing, and at any ceremony he attended in his official capacity. It would be hoisted on any HM Ship in which he embarked, within the territorial waters of Northern Ireland.
[National Archives (PRO) HO 267/5]

The Admiralty view that the flag was the personal flag for the governor and they therefore claimed no jurisdiction is unusual. I do not see that it was any more personal to the governor of Northern Ireland than was the flag of any colonial governor; it went with the appointment. The Admiralty did not agree to colonial governor's flags being flown ashore until 1941.

David Prothero, 24 February 2005