The flag of the Faroe Islands is called Merkið, meaning ”Banner”, “Ensign” or “the mark”.
The design of the flag incorporates a red Nordic cross, which is offset to the left. The red cross with a azure blue fimbriation is set on a white field. White symbolises Christianity and the creators of the flag, the foam of the sea and the pure, radiant sky of the Faroe Islands, while the old Faroese blue and red colours are reminiscent of other Scandinavian and Nordic flags; representing the Faroe Islands' bonds with other Nordic countries. The flag design follows the traditions of other Nordic flags. The flag proportion is usually 5:7.
Merkið was hoisted for the first time on June 22, 1919.
The History of the Faroese Flag
The National Flag of the Faroe Islands has a relatively recent - yet truly dramatic history.
We have no knowledge of the Faroese using any National Banner in ancient times. For centuries the only flags used were the official Danish flags; variants of the "Dannebrog" that supposedly fell from the sky over Danish forces on a battlefield in Estonia.
In the 19th century , the Faroese started using a flag with an image of a "Veðrur" - a Faroese ram. Later, another flag was used depicting a "Tjaldur" - the National Bird of Faroe Islands, known in English as the Oystercatcher.
The Ram has since the Middle Ages been depicted in the Official insignia of the Løgmaður. The Løgmaður was in ancient times the Speaker and Chief Officer of the Thing and Parliament of Faroe Islands, Løgtingið. Since 1948 and the Home Rule Act the office of Løgmaður has become the head of the Faroese Government and Prime Minister of Faroe Islands – and the official coat of arms of the Government of the Faroe Islands “Veðramerkið” consists of a Ram.
The Oystercatcher became the symbol of the Faroese National hero Nólsoyar Páll (Páll Poulsen Nolsøe), who used it in his famous allegorical ballad “Fuglakvæði” (The Birds Ballad) as the defender of the lesser birds (the people) against the birds of prey (the oppressive Danish officials).
These two flags were used around the year 1900 at meetings, public gatherings and special occasions but they were not recognised as National Ensigns.
Faroese students in Copenhagen were greatly inspired by the recognition of sovereignty and wide independence that Iceland achieved in 1918 and the coinciding recognition of the Icelandic Flag.
These students felt it inappropriate that the flag that the Faroese raised in happiness and sorrow was not Faroese. Foreigners were not informed that here dwelled the smallest Norse Nation with its own language, history and ancient borders. "Nay, another Nation's Banner held sway over us."
Therefore, they set out to create their own Faroese Flag. They used the Nordic colours, white, red and blue, and like other Nordic Countries, made use of the symbol of the cross. The result was a Red Scandinavian Cross with a Blue Fimbriation on a White Field.
This flag was presented to the Faroese Association in Copenhagen and then approved by the influential Faroese Student's Union in 1919. The same summer, student headman Jens Oliver Lisberg returned home to the Faroe Islands with the first Merkið and let it fly in his home village of Fámjin on 22 June 1919.
The same year in the Capital of Faroe Islands Tórshavn, a Youth Organisation called "Merkið" was established with the purpose of achieving recognition for the Faroese Flag. Slowly, the student flag made its way around the country. In 1920, the first boat arrived at the port of Tórshavn with the Merkið hoisted at the rear end andin 1922, the first ship came into the port of Tvøroyri with Merkið swaying full mast.
In 1923, the first larger Faroese ships started using the Merkið. Fishermen, sailing under the Faroese Flag became increasingly more numerous but some were reported to the police and fined for this and others were denied their full sailing rights by the Danish authorities.
Meanwhile on land, the number of Faroese Flags increased steadily. However, the crucial confrontation regarding the flag question came when the Danish Prime Minister demanded that it be lowered and removed on the 1000 year Anniversary Celebrations of the Althing at þingvellir in Iceland in 1930.
For many Faroese enough was enough. Protests and demonstrations emerged at the following St. Olaf's Day Celebrations, that same summer, the Løgting commemorated the 900 Year Anniversary for St. Olaf's death in battle at Stiklastaðir in Norway.
To be cautious, the Løgting used only the Danish Flag and did not include the Faroese, as many had wished. The protests then culminated in the Dannebrog being cut down from the Parliament House, dramatically halting the Official Celebrations and the Løgting was adjourned. The protesters were stopped and fined for their actions, but aharsh debate ensued in the Faroe Islands and in Denmark regarding the situation..
A year later, the Løgting resolved to erect a flagpole on the field outside the Løgting where the Faroese Flag would be hoisted when the Dannebrog was raised at the Parliament House. However, the election of another Parliamentary Speaker, the following year, resulted in the discontinued use of the Faroese Flag. Later in the 1930s, the Merkið was again raised at the Parliament House Field.
The ultimate confrontation regarding the Faroese Flag came in 1940 when Germany occupied Denmark and, in response, Britain subsequently occupied the Faroe Islands.
Many sailors did not feel safe sailing under a Danish Flag and the British occupying force was not keen on letting the Faroese sail through troubled waters under the Axis-related Danish Flag.
The majority of the Løgting demanded a Faroese Flag, but the Danish Governor insisted on a Danish one. In the middle sat the British Consul, who had the final say. For a while, he considered letting the Faroese sail under a green flag with a white cross but finally gave in to Faroese pressure, that had intensified with protest marches in the streets of Tórshavn. On 25 April 1940, the British Authorities officially recognised the Merkið as the Marine Flag of the Faroe Islands. This was announced in all major world languages on the BBC.
During the War, Faroese sailors sailed, mainly, to Iceland and Scotland and some ships even went all the way to the USA under the Merkið. On shore as well, an increasing number of people decided to use the Merkið. The Løgting resolved to remove the Parliament House flagpole and hoist only the Faroese Flag on Parliament House Field.
The question of the Faroese Flag came up in the negotiations between the Faroe Islands and Denmark regarding future relations between the two countries after the War, and with the Home Rule Act of 1948, the Danish authorities finally gave in and recognised Merkið as the Faroese Flag on land as well as at sea.
The Løgting decided in 1949 that the 25th of April would be the Faroese Flag Day. In 1955, the Flag Day became a School Holiday and today it is celebrated like other Public Holidays.
Already during the War, people of Tórshavn started celebrating 25 April as Flag Day, and since 1947 this custom has been marked by brass band music, parades and speeches. Today, Flag Day is celebrated throughout the Faroe Islands.
A Faroese Flag Act regulating the status and use of the Merkið was first enacted by the Law Thing in 1958.
The Flag Day of 25 April is, indeed, the Holiday in Faroese calendar with the most extraordinary history behind it.
(Source, Niels Juel Arge Flaggsøgan – Merkið, 2005)