Representative groups of students, teachers and the finest young athletes from every secondary school in Ireland were presented with an Irish flag and a copy of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic in the first of the Irish government’s events to commemorate the Easter Rising of 1916.

Among those honored at the event was Thomas Francis Meagher the man behind the Irish tricolor, born in Waterford who became a Brigadier General in the Union Army during the US Civil War.

The event at Croke Park, which included some 6,000 students, is the culmination of the Ireland 2016 Flags for Schools program. The Flags for Schools initiative, which was jointly run by the Irish Defence Forces and the Department of Education and Skills, began in September 2015. It was a hugely popular and successful program with over 3,200 schools receiving their own handmade tricolor and special pack, which included a copy of the Proclamation and booklet on the proper care of the national flag.

Monday’s ceremony, held in collaboration with the Thomas F. Meagher Foundation, included a keynote address by President Michael D. Higgins and is the first of its kind in the history of the state.

The National flag, the Tricolour, was first raised in Waterford in 1848 by Thomas Francis Meagher and was brought to Dublin prior to 1916 by Irish Volunteers from Waterford City.

Thomas Francis Meagher was born in the Mall, Waterford on August 23, 1823. In 1843 Meagher joined the Young Ireland, the radical group which published The Nation and was committed to the overthrow of British rule in Ireland. Meagher would eventually move to America where he served in the Union Army during the Civil War, rising to the rank of Brigadier General.

In 1848 William Smith O’Brien and Thomas Francis Meagher led a delegation to Paris to congratulate the new French Republic. They returned to Ireland bearing a tricolor flag, a symbol of reconciliation between the Orange and Green on a neutral white background, made for them by French women who sympathized with the Irish cause.

At the event on Monday, an actor playing Meagher read his words on the design of the Irish tricolor. He said “The white in the centre signifies a lasting truce between Orange and Green and I trust that beneath its folds the hands of Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics may be clasped in generous and heroic brotherhood.”

Ryan Tubridy hosted the event, which included a formal presentation of a handmade flag to a representative of every secondary school and education center by the Defence Forces. The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys TD, who is leading the Ireland 2016 program, made a special presentation of the Flag to representatives from sporting organizations. The ceremony concluded with a special performance by Seo Linn.

Speaking in advance of the ceremony Minister Humphreys said, “Over the past five months, primary schools the length and breadth of the State have received a tricolor and a copy of the Proclamation, specially delivered by a member of the Defence Forces. The Flags for Schools program has arguably been the most important of Ireland 2016 to date, bringing history to life for young people in an exciting and interactive way. It has allowed our school children to reconnect with our National Flag and fully understand its peaceful message.

“I would like to thank the Defences Forces, the Department of Education and indeed all of the school teachers and principals which have made this initiative a success. Today we are teaming up with the Thomas F Meagher Foundation to complete the program by providing a National Flag to every secondary school in the State. This is the start of what will be a very busy few weeks of commemorations, when I hope people right across the country will come together to remember our shared history, reflect on our achievements and re-imagine our shared future.”

The Ireland 2016 Centenary Program, led by Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys, is a year-long program of activity to commemorate the events of the 1916 Rising, to reflect on the country’s achievements over the last 100 years and to look towards Ireland’s future.

Full details of the program are available at Follow the campaign on Facebook and Twitter @ireland2016 #ireland2016.