The Irish take pride in their rich traditional heritage. A heritage that captures their national identity, family history, as well as individual achievements. In all, the key concepts of the Irish tradition are patriotism, warmth, creativity, ingenuity, humor, friendship, and modesty, to mention a few. However, there cannot be a holistic appreciation of the Irish tradition without a comprehensive look at Heraldry and the Irish Coat of arms. They can be likened to the foundation upon which every other traditional rite derives its significance. Here in this article, we explain with surgical precision all you need to know about the Irish Coat of arms and whether or not heraldry is the same as the Coat of arms. Family crest have been created for European nobility since the early 11th century and before as a show of their valued lineage, often decorated with elaborate symbols of power, wealth, war and sometimes mythical beasts. The Irish Office of the Chief Herald has been in existence since 1552. Brace up for an exciting read.
What does Heraldry mean?
The Oxford dictionary defines Heraldry as the system by which coats of arms and other armorial bearings are devised, described, and regulated. It is also commonly described as a collection of symbols– passed from generation to generation – to display family lineage and personal identity. Heraldry’s use became pronounced around the middle of the 12th century. At that point in history, it was predominantly used to distinguish medieval royal princes on the battlefield from the commoners.
The distinction was necessary because all warriors appear alike when they bear armor. Besides distinguishing royalty, it was also used to differentiate between fellow combatants and opponents. Although Heraldry is popular in today’s civilization and is used as a form of prestige among the elite, that has not always been the case. It also enjoyed popularity among vast illiterates, who, though unlearned, could grasp the meaning of simple, striking, and sometimes bold designs. The full development of Heraldry began in the 13th century. Many lords and members of the nobility used decorative Monogram rings as well as Signet rings as a status symbol of power and an heirloom for generations.
Heraldry and Coat of Arms: Any difference?
Flowing from the explanation of Heraldry above, you must have been wondering, and rightly so, if Heraldry and Coat of Arms are one and the same. The simple answer is No. Heraldry and Coat of arms are two different things. Nevertheless, it is also important to note that it is common for people to use both words interchangeably. Hence, it would be best if you prepared your mind that you will likely meet people who make this mistake. And when you do, use the differences explained in this piece to correct them gracefully.
The distinctive difference between both is that while Heraldry is a system by which the Coat of Arms and other armorial bearings are designed and regulated, the Coat of Arms is merely one of the heraldic elements. In other words, heraldry is the umbrella body for the Coat of Arms and other symbols like heraldic crest, heraldic supporter, escutcheon, and chevron, to mention but a few. You can see these elements on shield rings and Clan rings.
The distinctive symbols used in this fascinating artform include rampant lions, monkeys, dragons, eagle heads, axes, arrow heads, shields and chevrons and dexter rings, meaning signet rings with features facing right to left. See some examples of coat arms necklaces with these ancient symbols.
Irish Coat of Arms
Today, Coat of Arms is widely used among Irish people. Individuals and families use the Coat of Arms, the family crest – especially when used as a family symbol – to identify themselves and promote their heritage. Therefore, it is trite to say Irish people have Coat of Arms. A 12th-century event preceded the widespread usage of Coat of Arms in Ireland. At that point in history, helmets and small shields replaced the use of long shields that covered a warrior’s whole body and head. Once this was prevalent, Knights realized they could not be easily recognized, so they made emblems on their small shields. This made it possible to identify them during fierce battles or competitions.
In the 21st century, families now have specially designed symbols to describe their unique lineage and traditional heritage. In fact, the Chief Herald’s office now oversees the Coat of arms registration in Ireland. It would interest you to know that all approved Coat of Arms since 1552 are accurately listed in the Register of Arms. If you have found yourself among Irish people, you will find out that different families use several Coat of arms symbols. We understand this may be hard to keep up with, so we decided to make it easy for you. First, you must understand that the common features on the Coat of Arms are symbols, colors, and shields. As ordinary as they may appear, the different designs of these shields have their own peculiar interpretation. That is why you have to stop generalizing when interpreting Coat of Arms, and trust us to help you find the accurate interpretation when you’re looking for your ring, necklace or Irish family crest cufflinks.
Below are the popular features of the Irish Coat of Arms and their meanings.
- Lion: It’s common to see Lion’s emblem on a Coat of Arms. Rack your brain no further; the meaning of this symbol is fierce courage. It’s a symbolic allusion to the authoritative power of the lion in the jungle.
- Bear: This is another common animal design you will likely come across on a Coat of Arm, especially on knights. Its meaning is fierce protection. Families or individuals take pride in their history of producing several warlords that fought for the people and often have this on their Coat of Arms.
- Crown: This is one symbol you can effortlessly know its meaning. Once you see Crown, it references authority, heavenly reward, or sometimes a mark to suggest superiority.
- Gold: Each time you see the precious gold featured on a Coat of Arm, make no mistake, the message being passed passively is that the bearer (s) take pride in their heritage of generosity. You won’t be wrong to conclude this will likely be found among affluent families.
- Tower: Tower, like gold, has a similar meaning. Tower speaks of wealth and grandeur.
- Blue: Each time you see the blue color, it is suggestive of royalty and strength. Have you ever wondered why some Irish families’ Coat of Arms has a conspicuous blue background? Usually, that is to pass a subtle message that the bearers of that particular Coat of Arm are intrinsically royal or, as the saying goes, royal blood flows through their veins.
Heraldic elements are not exclusive to Irish people. The Italian’s, Spanish, British and many other European countries have it as part of their traditional heritage. However, Irish Heraldry and Coat of Arms are so beautiful, adequately documented on buildings around Ireland, various books, churches, graveyards, and widely recognized that it is reputed as the best among equals.
Please feel free to reach out to us to design and craft your custom Irish family crest jewelry.