A Flag For Sutherland

In April 2017, just over a year after its neighbour Caithness registered its own county flag and following encouragement on social media from interested parties such as the Association of British Counties, county residents met to initiate a county flag competition for Sutherland. Details of the competition were released in September 2017, school pupils and young people across the county were expected to play a major role.

The gathering where the competition was formulated

Sutherland flag

took place at the former Sutherland District Council chamber, above the public library in Dornoch, comprised the county’s Lord Lieutenant Dr Monica Main, five of her deputy Lord Lieutenants; Major General Patrick Marriott; Lieutenant Colonel Colin Gilmour; Sheila Stewart; Kim Tulloch; and David Grant; plus Graeme Smart from Kinlochbervie High School, Frances Gunn, Tongue, community volunteer development officer and Garry Cameron, ward manager for East Sutherland and Edderton. The group was given a presentation by the Flag Institute’s Community Vexillologist, Philip Tibbetts, seen at the centre of the group in the above photo, who told the meeting,

“A flag brings pride to communities and has real benefits. It has become incredibly popular in Caithness in a short space of time.”

describing how the Caithness flag was now flying at several public buildings and how it now features on items such as car stickers, lapel pins, bunting and T-shirts and appears on the kits of local sports teams.

He guided the meeting through the process of officially registering a flag with the Court of the Lord Lyon which is expected to take from six to nine months to complete.

The Lord Lieutenant then formed a steering group comprising representatives of various local groups to oversee and progress the scheme.  Deputy Lord Lieutenant Patrick Marriott said the flag “would be a unifier”, while his colleague David Grant commented: “Hopefully it will engage a lot of people across Sutherland.”

One noted local emblem which may feature in competition entries is the design of the three gold stars on a red background which orginated as the arms borne by Hugh de Moray Earl of Sutherland.

Earl Sutherland.png

Sharing a family origin with the Earls of Moray the arms resemble those used by that family, both bearing three lighter coloured stars on a darker background, in this case gold on red, in the former white on blue. The Moray arms, having been linked with the locality for many centuries, were subsequently incorporated into the arms awarded to the former Sutherland County Council


and then again into the arms borne by its successor administration, the Sutherland District Council


and an armorial banner formed from the arms borne by Hugh de Moray Earl of Sutherland


has been suggested as a possible local flag, although as these arms are still privately owned they could not be deployed in this manner. Possibly however, a flag design which incorporated the stars in like fashion as the council arms, might be an option, as the ancient local linkage of this pattern makes it an obvious basis for a flag for the county.

The earlier council arms include a black raven in token of the area’s Scandinavian heritage which it shares with its neighbour Caithness where a raven is also found on the county’s iconography. The county’s name derives from its one time designation as part of the viking Jarldom of Sudrland (South-land), the medieval predecessor of the region. The second set of civic arms reworks the original pattern, featuring two ravens, aside a blue horseshoe, taken from the arms of Dornoch


, the county town, where it recalls the victory of William, Thane or Earl of Sutherland, over the Danes and Norwegians at the battle of Embo circa 1259. Legend holds William slew the Danish General with a horse’s leg he had picked up on the battlefield! The locality was subsequently named “Dorneich”, the Gaelic for a horse’s foot or hoof!

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