Irish Heraldry is the art and practice of Heraldic creators who live on the Emerald Isle. The practice of Irish Heraldry began in the 12th century when the view of a knight’s physical features were obscured due to the new style of helmets and armor. The coat of arms were used to distinguish which family or sept the knight was from. Personal badges were added in the mainstream and used by the nobility, and by the 13th century, the coat of arms could be inherited.
Specialists of Heraldry were created. Heralds, also known as Officers of Arms, were created to control the creation of the crests. It was also the Herald’s job to record any created Coat of Arms into armorials, which were collections of these Coat of Arms.
Compared to other countries and kingdoms that had the practice of heraldry, Irish Heraldry has a distinguishing factor. Irish Heraldry has an acceptance of Sept arms. So rather than the coat of arms belonging to a single individual it belongs to the descendants that can come from hundreds of years after it was created. Irish Heraldry is what has given us Irish family crests.
Although family crests and coats of arms are not used in the same ways from the 21st century compared to the 12th century, they are still used to show where their history is rooted.
Family crests allow those of Irish descent to connect to their family’s history, and be proud of where their blood comes from.
The shield, attendants, motto, and most importantly the crest are the components of a Coat of Arms. The mixing and matching of these were and are used to create unique designs that allow one family or place to be distinguished from another.
The most important element is the common charges that are seen on the crest. Often these symbols are animals and/or plants representing the identity of the family. With a simple glance, the symbols could be used to identify a knight on the battlefield. For example: Lions are symbols of courage and bravery. Doves mean love and peace. If there was a Tower it symbolizes grandeur and wealth. In Ireland, the charge of a fish is representative of someone of regal origin where the ancient charge of the stag is representative of someone who has ancestry of the Celts. Some families with these charges are Farrelly, O’Sullivan, O’Neill and many more. If you are of Irish heritage you can look for your name here.
Crests and coats of arms were also often usually adorned in the colors of the family. An example: white represents peace and serenity, purple has the meaning of justice and sovereignty. while red was a symbol of the martyr’s color.
Coats of arms are not only to distinguish families. The state of the Emerald Isle, as well as its provinces also have unique crests to identify themselves.
The crest of the Irish Free State consists of a golden harp on a field of azure blue. The harp was adopted in 1922 when it separated from the United Kingdom and it became the emblem of the state. This coat of arms was registered by the chief herald of Ireland in November of 1945.
Although the Provinces of Ireland no longer serve purposes in Ireland’s administration or politics. The four provinces still function as historical and cultural entities. Connacht, Leinster, Munster, and Ulster, The four provinces all still have their coat of arms.
Connacht or the western province is the home of counties like Galway and Silgo. The province's crest is a field divided in two from top to bottom, on the left side is a half of an eagle on a white background and the right side is an arm encased in silver armor and carried a sword. It is believed that the arm comes from the arms of the O’Connors and ruling family of the province before the Norman invasion. Where the black eagle comes from the arms of the Brown’s, a “tribe” of Galway city.
Leinster is the province that is situated in the east and the southeast part of Ireland. Counties in Leinster include Dublin, Kilkenny, Wexford and Offaly. Leinster’s crest and flag is also known as The Green Flag. This coat of arms became the unofficial national flag of from 1798 to the 20th century. The coat of arms is a green field with a golden harp.
Munster is the southern province of Ireland. Munster is home to the counties of Cork, Kerry and Limerick along with others Munster’s crest consists of three golden crowns on a blue field. Before the adoption of the harp in the 16th century the three golden crowns were the arms of the state of ireland. It is said that the crown’s represent the three most important lordships in the province's medieval times; The O’Briens, the Butlers, and the Fitzgeralds.
Ulster is the northern most province of the Emerald Isle. Ulster is made up of 9 counties in which six are a part of Northern Ireland. Ulster’s crest is the combination of the emblems of the O’Neills of Tyrone and the De Burgos. The red hand is the emblem of the O’Neills and the red crown on the gold field is the emblem of the De Burgos’s house, which held the earldom of Ulster until 1333.
Hope you have liked learning some history on heraldry. If you would like to know more read our blog Top Ten Most Common Irish Family names and their family Coat of Arms, to gain more information on these family crests and even some more history of Family Crests.
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