Heraldic matters

The Rt. Rev. Lorenzo Casati, Bishop of Torcello, Orthodox Metropoloa of Western Europe, Patriarchate of Kiev, writing from this home in Palermo to the Irish Times awhile ago deplored what he saw as the change in status of the office of the Chief Herald of Ireland to that of an employee of the National Library.

It had been the intention of the bishop, who was newly consecrated and who has a following in this country, to apply for a grant of arms to the Chief Herald, ”as is done by Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland bishops and clergy of other faiths throughout the whole of Ireland”. It was the bishop’s understanding that if the re-organisation is finalised that arms granted by the National Library would have no legal standing, and consequently anyone wishing to acquire arms would have to apply to a Herald in England.

Historically, the office of Ireland King of Arms is first found documented in 1370, and in the 16th century Edward VI confirmed the office as Ulster King of Arms, and so it remained until the new constitution of 1937 was implemented.

Then while the Ulster King of Arms retained status in the six counties, the Republic in 1943 was given a Chief Herald of Ireland in the Genealogical Office, and which was attached to the National Library. However, the question of whether the Genealogical Office was established hundreds of years ago or just decades ago had become a tendentious question, and the subject of much correspondence in the newspapers.

Nowadays the Genealogical Office is known to many more people than in the past as both natives and exiles of this island seek to unravel their family histories, and while few of them would be interested in acquiring arms, there is nevertheless a constant requirement for arms from individuals, state institutions and corporate bodies.

A task undertaken by the Chief Herald fifty years ago was the establishment of a register of Chiefs of the Name, to regularise the use of Gaelic chiefly designations, as Dr. Edward MacLysaght, then Chief Herald quipped “the Mac This or the O’ That”. Today there are twenty Chiefs of the Name recognised, of whom the best known is probably O’Connor Don.

Another popular misconception on which the herald may adjudicate is the use of Gaelic Family’s arms by everyone of the name, for example every Murphy displaying the arms of The O’Morchoe; arms are correctly used only by the descendants of a man granted arms, though Dr. Mac Lysaght himself said that “there are, however, a number of coats of arms on record which by custom are regarded as appertaining to all members of a sept”.

The persual of tomes on the subjects of arms, peerage, baronetage and landed gentry shows that long ago in county Kildare there were many holders of arms. In 1768 there were three resident peers, the Duke of Leinster with seats at Carton, Dullardstown and Kildare House, Dublin; the Earl of Drogheda at Monasterevan, and Viscout Allen at Punchestown and Stillorgan, county Dublin. Extinct and dormant arms in 1842 included those of Allen of St. Wolstans, Eustace of Castlemartin, Talbot of Carton and Sonds (Sands) of Blackhall.

The Bishop of Kildare had arms, as did many of the county families. At the end of the 19th century they included the landed families of Clements of Killadoon, de Burgh of Oldtown, Mansfield of Morristown Lattin, Robertson-Eustace of Robertstown, Tickell of Carnolway, Conolly of Castletown, Borrowes of Gilltown, Aylmer of Courtown, Hendrick-Aylmer of Kerdiffstown, and Wogan-Browne of Castle Browne, as well as Finny of Leixlip, de Courcy-Wheeler of Robertstown, Burdett of Coolfin and Ballymany, Kennedy of Baronrath, O’Connor-Henchy of Stonebrook, Shackleton of Ballitore, Greene of Millbrook and Hallahoise, and Cooke-Trench of Millicent.

Of those families only a few still reside here; but the arms with the crest of a lion sitting, of the vanished borrowes, decorating their pyramidal sepulchre at Gilltown are a reminder of the impermanence of all earthly things.

Perhaps the best known Coat of Arms to readers of this paper are those of the County. The symbols on the shield are: St. Brigid’s Cross and an oak leaf, the origin of the name Cill Dara; a harp to represent the Laighnean or Leinster people; a horse’s head, reflecting the long association of the race horse with the county; the red saltire recalls the Fitzgeralds, the most significant family in the history of Kildare. The swords remind us of the wars of long ago, and of the long established presence of the military here Spirit and Courage is the motto.

Courtesy of the Leinster Leader
April 2003