Genealogical Office

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When the Kingdom of Ireland was created in 1541, the Dublin administration wanted to involve the Gaelic chiefs in the new entity, creating new titles for them such as the Baron Upper Ossory, Earl of Tyrone, or the Barons Inchiquin. In the process, they were granted new coats of arms from 1552. The associated policy of surrender and regrant involved a change to succession to a title by primogeniture, and not by tanistry where a group of male cousins of a chief were eligible to succeed by election. This was accepted by the new title-holders, but not by some of their cousins. Thereafter the chiefs of the name succeeded by primogeniture for several centuries, in a similar way to the clan chiefs in Scotland.[ citation needed ]

Many other clan chiefs were never given formal titles or knighthoods from the Kingdom of Ireland, but were issued with arms and usually registered their genealogies with the heralds in Dublin, and became a significant part of the landed gentry.[ citation needed ]

After the Battle of Kinsale in 1601 and the subsequent Flight of the Earls, some dozens of the old Gaelic aristocracy scattered throughout Catholic Europe. Some of their descendants were granted courtesy recognition in 1943 by the Chief Herald as Chiefs of the Name, signifying that they were the senior male line descendant from the last recognised chief of the name.[ citation needed ]

The issue of the chiefs' succession arose again after the creation of the Chief Herald of Ireland in 1943. Some Chiefs of the Name favoured tanistry, while others saw primogeniture as a more practical system.[ citation needed ] In an address to the Irish Senate in December 2006, John O'Donoghue then Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, expressed the opinion that it was a matter for those who bore these titles to decide on the system they used for succession, but that he found it strange that an English system had been used for the succession of titles originally created under a native Irish system.[ citation needed ]

Following advice from the Attorney General that the recognition of Chiefs of the Name was without basis in law, the practice of courtesy recognition was abandoned in July 2003.[ citation needed ]

Due reportedly to uncertainty concerning the legal validity of grants of arms in the Republic of Ireland, the post of Chief Herald remained vacant from September 2003 until August 2005. It had been assumed that the prerogatives of the British Crown, including the power to grant arms, had been inherited after Irish independence in 1922.

While many functions had passed under the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act 1922 to the then Provisional Government of the Irish Free State in April 1922, the pre-existing office of the Ulster King of Arms continued unchanged until 1943.

In May 2005 the government enacted section 13 of the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997. [9] This enables the Board of the National Library to "designate a member of its staff to perform the duty of researching, granting and confirming coats of arms and such member shall use the appellation Chief Herald of Ireland or, in the Irish language, Príomh-Aralt na hÉireann, while performing such duties". [10] While this was intended to legitimise the granting of arms in Ireland, it actually initiated a debate as to whether any grants made since 1943 were valid. [11] These would include the 1945 grant of the coat of arms of Ireland to the state itself.

In May 2006 the Genealogy & Heraldry Bill [12] was introduced into Seanad Éireann to reform the Office and provide a firm legal basis for grants and confirmations of arms.

The Bill was withdrawn on 12 December 2006 with the consent of the sponsoring senator and was referred to the board of the National Library for consideration by John O'Donoghue, the then Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism. [13]

In September 2007 a notice was added to the National Library website noting the suspension of grants of arms until the legal situation was clarified. Following the receipt of legal advice, the Board of the National Library was "satisfied that it can exercise the heraldic powers conferred on it by the 1997 Act", and grants are again being made.

The Board did, however, note that "doubts exist regarding the legal basis of heraldic functions exercised in the State prior to the establishment of the Board" and that "with minor amendment, the wording of the Act could be made more succinct". [14]

While the issue of the legality of grants of arms by the Chief Herald has been resolved, no penalties or jurisdiction have yet been legislated for to discourage anyone from designing and using a new coat of arms. The specific emblazonments of self-designed arms may be protected by the current copyright law of Ireland.

Chief Heralds

Colette O'Flaherty
Collette O'Flaherty.png
8th Chief Herald of Ireland
Assumed office
June 2010

Costs of granting and preparing arms

An applicant will be expected to provide genealogical information including birth, marriage and death certificates back to an ancestor that bore arms. Alternatively, an entirely new grant of arms can be discussed and designed. [15] Since 7 October 2013 the basic cost of a Grant of Arms (or confirmation of a prior grant) has been:

The sum of €400 is payable when lodging the application; half of the remaining fee is payable when work on the design begins, and the balance must be paid before work on the actual grant of arms is put in hand by the Herald Painter.

Further reading

Related Research Articles

Coat of arms Heraldic design on a shield, surcoat or tabard

A coat of arms is a heraldic visual design on an escutcheon, surcoat, or tabard. The coat of arms on an escutcheon forms the central element of the full heraldic achievement, which in its whole consists of a shield, supporters, a crest, and a motto. A coat of arms is traditionally unique to an individual person, family, state, organization, school or corporation. The term itself of 'coat of arms' describing in modern times just the heraldic design, originates from the description of the entire medieval chainmail 'surcoat' garment used in combat or preparation for the latter.

The Chief of the Name, or in older English usage Captain of his Nation, is the recognised head of a family or clan. The term has sometimes been used as a title in Ireland and Scotland.

Order of St Patrick Dormant British order of chivalry associated with Ireland

The Most Illustrious Order of Saint Patrick is a dormant British order of chivalry associated with Ireland. The Order was created in 1783 by King George III at the request of the then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, The 3rd Earl Temple. The regular creation of knights of the Order lasted until 1922, when most of Ireland gained independence as the Irish Free State, a dominion within what was then known as the British Commonwealth of Nations. While the Order technically still exists, no knight of St Patrick has been created since 1936, and the last surviving knight, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, died in 1974. Elizabeth II, however, remains the Sovereign of the Order, and one officer, the Ulster King of Arms, also survives. St Patrick is patron of the order; its motto is Quis separabit?, Latin for "Who will separate [us]?": an allusion to the Vulgate translation of Romans 8:35, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?"

Lord Lyon King of Arms Scottish official with responsibility for regulating heraldry

The Right Honourable the Lord Lyon King of Arms, the head of Lyon Court, is the most junior of the Great Officers of State in Scotland and is the Scottish official with responsibility for regulating heraldry in that country, issuing new grants of arms, and serving as the judge of the Court of the Lord Lyon, the oldest heraldic court in the world that is still in daily operation.

This article concerns the Gaelic nobility of Ireland from ancient to modern times. It only partly overlaps with Chiefs of the Name because it excludes Scotland and other discussion. It is one of three groups of Irish nobility, the others being those nobles descended from the Hiberno-Normans and those granted titles of nobility in the Peerage of Ireland.

Officer of arms State officer for heraldic, armorial or ceremonial duties

An officer of arms is a person appointed by a sovereign or state with authority to perform one or more of the following functions:

King of Arms Rank of an officer of arms

King of Arms is the senior rank of an officer of arms. In many heraldic traditions, only a king of arms has the authority to grant armorial bearings and sometimes certify genealogies and noble titles. In other traditions, the power has been delegated to other officers of similar rank.

Armiger Person entitled to bear a coat of arms

In heraldry, an armiger is a person entitled to use a heraldic achievement either by hereditary right, grant, matriculation, or assumption of arms. Such a person is said to be armigerous. A family or a clan likewise.

Coat of arms of Ireland National coat of arms of Ireland

The coat of arms of Ireland is blazoned as Azure a harp Or, stringed Argent. These arms have long been Ireland's heraldic emblem. References to them as being the arms of the king of Ireland can be found as early as the 13th century. These arms were adopted by Henry VIII of England when he ended the period of Lordship of Ireland and declared Ireland to be a kingdom again in 1541. When the crowns of England, Scotland and Ireland were united in 1603, they were integrated into the unified royal coat of arms of kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland. The harp was adopted as the emblem of the Irish Free State when it separated from the United Kingdom in 1922. They were registered as the arms of Ireland with the Chief Herald of Ireland on 9 November 1945.

Nevile Wilkinson English painter

Major Sir Nevile Rodwell Wilkinson, KCVO, was a British officer of arms, British Army officer, author and a dollhouse designer.

ODoherty family

The O’Doherty family is an Irish clan based in County Donegal in the north of the island of Ireland.

Law of heraldic arms

The law of heraldic arms governs the "bearing of arms", that is, the possession, use or display of arms, also called coats of arms, coat armour or armorial bearings. Although it is believed that the original function of coats of arms was to enable knights to identify each other on the battlefield, they soon acquired wider, more decorative uses. They are still widely used today by countries, public and private institutions and by individuals. The earliest writer on the law of arms was Bartolus de Saxoferrato. The officials who administer these matters are called pursuivants, heralds, or kings of arms. The law of arms is part of the law in countries which regulate heraldry, although not part of common law in England and in countries whose laws derive from English law.

Private officer of arms

A private officer of arms is one of the heralds and pursuivants appointed by great noble houses to handle all heraldic and genealogical questions.

Ireland King of Arms was the title of an officer of arms to the King of England and Lord of Ireland from 1392 until the accession of Henry VII as King of England in 1485. A king of arms is the highest of the three levels of officers of arms, and usually enjoys heraldic jurisdiction over a geographical area. Despite the name Ireland King of Arms did not appear to exercise heraldic authority in Ireland, and indeed the connection with Ireland seems rather tenuous. The office may have been created preparatory to a subsequently aborted military expedition to Ireland. The last holder of the office, Walter Bellinger, did exercise the heraldic prerogative of a king of arms to grant armorial bearings, however two of his grants were annulled or regranted by other kings of arms as they felt he encroached on their provinces. In 1552, 70 years after the last Ireland King of Arms, the office of Ulster King of Arms was created. The holders of this office exercised control over the heraldic affairs of Ireland until the death of its last incumbent, Major Sir Neville Wilkinson, in 1941. Thereafter, heraldic affairs within what later became the Republic of Ireland were transferred to the Government of Ireland while the jurisdiction of Norroy King of Arms expanded to include Northern Ireland when the present office of Norroy and Ulster King of Arms was established in the College of Arms.

The Genealogical Society of Ireland is a voluntary non-governmental organisation promoting the study of genealogy, heraldry, vexillology and social history in Ireland and amongst the Irish Diaspora as open access educational leisure pursuits available to all. Founded in 1990, the Society has charitable status in Ireland and it is incorporated under the Companies Acts. Membership of the Society is open to all and therefore, the Society has both a national and international membership. The Society is also a Nominating Body for the Cultural and Educational Panel for Seanad Éireann.

United States heraldry

Heraldry in the United States was first established by European settlers who brought with them the heraldic customs of their respective countries of origin. As the use of coats of arms may be seen as a custom of royalty and nobility, it had been debated whether the use of arms is reconcilable with American republican traditions. Families from English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, German, and other European nations with a heraldic tradition have retained their familial coat of arms in the United States. Several founding fathers also employed personal arms and a great number of Americans continue to do so.

Irish heraldry is the forms of heraldry, such as coats of arms, in Ireland. Since 1 April 1943 it is regulated in the Republic of Ireland by the Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland and in Northern Ireland by Norroy and Ulster King of Arms. Prior to that heraldry on the whole island of Ireland was a function of the Ulster King of Arms, a crown office dating from 1552. Despite its name the Ulster King of Arms was based in Dublin.

The following is a list of Irish counties' coats of arms. In the majority of cases these are arms assigned to county councils created by the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 or later legislation, either by the Chief Herald of Ireland in what is now the Republic of Ireland or by the College of Arms in Northern Ireland. All but two county councils in the Republic have a coat of arms. In Northern Ireland county councils were abolished in 1973, but the traditional arms are still occasionally used.

A heraldic authority is defined as an office or institution which has been established by a reigning monarch or a government to deal with heraldry in the country concerned. It does not include private societies or enterprises which design and/or register coats of arms. Over the centuries, many countries have established heraldic authorities, and several still flourish today.

OHiggins family Irish noble family

O'Higgins is an Irish noble family. Its Ballynary line is descended from Shean Duff O'Higgins, Gaelic Baron of Ballynary, who was married to a daughter of the royal family of O'Conor at Ballintuber Castle in Connacht. Shean Duff O'Higgins himself claimed descent from King Niall of Tara. Historically, many of their ancestors were poets and scholars who enjoyed the patronage of several chiefly families including O'Conor Don, MacDermott, O'Doherty, O'Gara, and MacDonagh.


  1. 1 2 National Cultural Institutions Act, 1997 §13: Provisions relating to genealogy and heraldry.
  2. 1 2 The Genealogical Office, Dublin Castle, Burke's Peerage and Gentry
  3. S.I. No. 267/1943 — Allocation of Administration (Genealogical Office) Order, 1943
  4. 1 2 S.I. No. 328/2002 — Genealogical Office (Transfer of Departmental Administration and Ministerial Functions) Order 2002
  5. Applying for a Grant of Arms, National Library of Ireland, accessed 3 March 2014
  6. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 18 May 2013. Retrieved 30 May 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. Mr Clinton's arms are blazoned thus: Or a lion rampant gules charged with three bars argent holding in the dexter paw a branch of olive proper between in the dexter chief and sinister base a cross crosslet fitchée sable and in the sinister chief and dexter base a shamrock slipped vert. And the Crest: An anchor erect azure on the stock the letters SPES argent. With the Motto: An leon do bheir an chraobh (English: The lion who bears away the branch ) Genealogical Office: Register of Arms, 1982–95, GO MS 111 W+X, folio X77, grant dated 13 June 1995.
  8. "Constitution of Ireland Article 40.2.2" (PDF). Government of Ireland. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 23 August 2008.
  9. Section 13 text online
  10. National Cultural Institutions Act, 1997, section 13 (Irish Statute Book), accessed 25 October 2007
  11. An Irish Arms Crisis, Sean J Murphy, accessed 25 October 2007
  12. Genealogy & Heraldry Bill, 2006.
  13. Parliamentary Debates (Official Report – Unrevised) Seanad Éireann Tuesday, 12 December 2006
  14. Press Release, Board of the National Library of Ireland, 24 October 2007
  15. Applying for a grant of Arms booklet (National Library of Ireland, bi-lingual, undated)