Although the development of Irish heraldry is rightly attributed to the Normans – strongly influenced by their Scandinavian heritage – there is considerable evidence that a rudimentary form of heraldry existed in Ireland before the arrival of the Normans, possibly due in part to the cultural contribution from earlier Viking settlers. It is certain that the early Irish held certain symbols sacred as a result of pre-Christian religions and ancient mythology. These totems gradually became associated with specific regions, and formed the basis of tribal emblems with deeply personal significance to tribal members. In the context of practical heraldry, which is essentially the means of readily identifying similarly armoured combatants, it should be borne in mind that the majority of medieval Irish soldiers fought with little or no formal armour.
Irish Kern The Irish Kern (lightly armed infantryman) typically wore a linen tunic, carried a targe (small round shield) strapped to the defensive elbow and fought with a short stabbing lance or sword. Chain mail was initially only worn by foreign mercenaries known as Gallowglasses (usually Scottish) who wore a steel plate helmet – normally an open cap rather than a fully enclosed bassinet – and wielded the cliomh mór.
His Sword Sometimes he had a huge two-handed sword which tended to preclude the use of a shield. As a consequence of the medieval Irish predisposition to eschew formal armour, it was common for the heraldic emblems to be displayed on banners at rallying points. However, the conventional form of display on shields is not considered to be a cultural compromise.
Strictly speaking, coats of arms are granted to individuals and their direct descendants. They are not awarded to unrelated groups of people sharing similar surnames. However, it is becoming increasingly popular for people to display so-called family arms in a variety of domestic situations (heraldic displays in their homes, on their stationery, websites etc.) and there is no real harm in this practice as long as the lawful grantee is tacitly acknowledged. Indeed, some armigerous individuals would not be averse to sharing the use of their arms with unrelated individuals, since it promotes an aspect of family history which is an important part of our heritage.
Coat of Arms A full patent for a coat of arms normally comprises the following elements:
- Arms Elements such as azure on a pile between on the dexter a ship’s wheel and on the sinister a garb or a passion cross gules on a chief gules a lion passant guardant per pale or and argent.
- Crest Something such as a boar’s head erased azure tusked and crined or.
- Motto Wording such as ” UBIQUE” (EVERYWHERE)
- Azure = blue from Arabic lazura
- pile = A wedged shaped figure. Piles normally issue from the chief. or the top
- dexter = right side
- sinister = left side
- garb = a sheaf of corn
- or = gold
- passion cross = a wedged shaped nail without a head.
- gules = red from Arabic gul a red rose
- chief = upper horizontal part
- lion = earliest device known to have appeared on a shield of arms. It was probably associated with royalty.
- lion passant = walking with three paws on the ground, the dexter forepaw raised, the head looking forward and the tail curved over the back.
- guardant = head turned to face the observer
- per pale = ways a shield is divided
- argent = silver usually represented as white
- boars head = the boar is borne by many families.
- erased = torn off and leaving jagged edges (arrache)
- tusked = having different tincture from rest of the body
- crined = different tincture of the hair from rest of the anima