BIRMINGHAM – A vexillologist’s ultimate dream exists at the Centenary Square in the heart of this English city.

Here, there is a display of giant pins with flags belonging to various Commonwealth Games nations and territories, where visitors may pause for a selfie and test how knowledgeable they are.

As someone who was a country-flag eraser hoarder and hustler in my primary school days, I thought this would be a walk in the park.

But as I failed to distinguish between Australia and New Zealand, and had no clue which is Norfolk Island or Solomon Islands, my hopes started to, well, flag.

My embarrassment was compounded when I saw a symbol familiar to Singaporeans, and instinctively uttered: “Three Legs Cooling Water.”

A passer-by responded: “Nope, that’s Isle of Man.”

With my face as red as the flag, I decided to cut my losses and start reading up, which led me down a rabbit hole of trivia, folklore and history.

One theory for the three counter-clockwise bent armoured legs with spurs on the Isle of Man flag is that it is an illustration of the country’s Latin motto “quocunque jeceris stabit” (wherever you throw it, it will stand). Another explanation is that they represent Manannan, a popular three-legged figure in Celtic mythology who was known as the Lord of the sea and was the protector of the Isle of Man.

Then, there is the sinking ship on the coat of arms that appears on the Bermuda flag, a depiction of a British ship with 150 colonists which was shipwrecked on shoals off Bermuda during a hurricane in 1609.

There is an even more gruesome legend to the Ulster Banner that is used by Northern Ireland as its flag at the Commonwealth Games.

As the story goes, the first man to lay his hand on the Ulster province would claim it, and so as warriors charged towards the land, Heremon O’Neill chopped off his hand and hurled it ashore to win possession.

Other flags are more peaceful by comparison, using only colours and shapes – the stars on Australia’s flag are white, while those on New Zealand’s are red.

Like Singapore’s, 75 per cent of the world’s flags have red. But did you know the Belize flag holds the record of using 12 colours? And the thoughtful reason for the red disc being placed marginally to the left on Bangladesh’s flag is so that when it is flying it will appear centralised.

Last modified: August 1, 2022