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Irish Civic Heraldry

National arms of IRELAND

Origin/meaning:
The arms are not officially recorded, but have been used for centuries as the arms of Ireland.
The traditional and well-known arms of Ireland are Azure a harp or (gold harp on blue field). They have been used by English monarchs to represent their claim to the island since the time of Henry VIII (r. 1509-1547), who first used a harp on his Irish coinage. Elizabeth I used a crowned harp as a badge for Ireland in her second Great Seal of 1586, although her Irish coinage showed three harps. Finally, when, in 1603, a new coat of arms was designed on the occasion of the union of England and Scotland under James I, a quarter with gold harp on blue representing Ireland was added. The quarter is still in the modern arms of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The gold harp on blue is attributed to the King of Ireland ("le Roi d'Irlande") in one of the oldest medieval rolls of arms, the Wijnbergen Roll (a Flemish roll of arms dating from c. 1280). The harp, traditionally associated with King David, was a rare charge in early medieval rolls. Léon Jéquier's ordinary of 19 early rolls (in Cahiers d'Héraldique) has only two arms with a harp, the Irish coat of arms in the Wijnbergen roll, and the Steinach family in the Zurich roll of arms c.1340.

The harp is in fact the O'neill's harp dating from the tenth century at least, but is generally known as the Brian Bó Rúadh harp, for a famous Irish king, who died in 1014. It is located in the Trinity college library in Dublin.

In addition often quartered coat joining together the symbols of the four Irish provinces is used, regions which, in the time before the Norman Conquest, were kingdoms in their own right. (The High King of Ireland was always the ruler of one of these four kingdoms.) The quartered arms are:
Quarterly: 1: Vert, a gold harp with silver strings (for Leinster); 2: Per pale argent and azure, on the dexter side a dimidated eagle displayed sable, and on the sinister conjoined therewith at the shoulder a sinister arm embowed in a sleeve argent, the hand grasping a sword erect proper (for Connaught); 3: Or, a cross gules, an inescutcheon argent charged with a dexter hand couped at the wrist also gules (for Ulster); and 4: Azure, three antique crowns or (for Munster).

Literature : Information taken from www.heraldica.org and provided by Séamus Ua Trodd, Ireland and Mike Oettle, South Africa



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