The official symbol of the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Easter Rising in 1966 was designed by Una Watters. She was awarded the commission by the Arts Council after an open competition was held.
The “Sword of Light” that Una designed was ubiquitous in the 1966 golden jubilee year. It appeared on badges, brooches and tie pins, it was stamped on all official publications, showed up in hallmark form on silverware struck by the Assay Office, featured on first-day cover stamps and adhesive stickers and perhaps most memorably on blue and yellow wooden plaques pinned to the fronts of buses.
The Sword of Light (also known as An Claidheamh Soluis) has deep mytholgocial and nationalist resonances – it was the weapon with magical properties used by King Nuada of the Tuatha de Danann to slay giants, according to Celtic mythology. Its image was later adopted by scholars of the 19th-century Gaelic revival to symbolise both armed rebellion and cultural renaissance, and in the early 20th century the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge) called its weekly newspaper, edited by Patrick Pearse, An Claidheamh Soluis.
According to the 1966 Commemoration Committee, the winning Sword of Light motif was meant to represent “intuitive knowledge, education and progress”. In fact, the search for a new Rising logo was part of a government attempt to replace the Easter Lily emblem, which the republican movement, proscribed at the time, was selling door to door in order to raise funds. Ironically, Una Watters’ winning design – a sleek, stylised depiction of the Sword – subliminally references the pure, clean lines of the lily.
Winning the competition was a high point for Watters, and a showcase for her refined design aesthetic. However, she didn’t live to enjoy the acclaim her winning Rising logo design might have brought her. According to her sister, Sheila Byrne, the Arts Council award arrived on the same day that her coffin left Dublin for burial in Ballinasloe, Co Galway.