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Coat of arms of Ireland
Coat of arms of Ireland.svg
Escutcheon Azure a harp Or, stringed argent
Irish: Ar ghorm cláirseach órga na sreanga airgidí

The Coat of arms of Ireland is blazoned as Azure a harp Or, stringed argent — a gold harp with silver strings on a St. Patrick's blue background. The harp, and specifically the Cláirseach (or Gaelic harp), has long been Ireland's heraldic emblem. It appears on the coat of arms which were officially registered as the arms of the state of Ireland on 9 November 1945.[1]



The coat of arms of the Lordship of Ireland
The royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom features the Irish harp in the lower left quadrant

As heraldry is essentially a feudal art, it was not until the Norman invasion of Ireland that Irish coats of arms came into being. Visual heraldry within Ireland started in 1392 on the creation of the first Ireland King of Arms. A commission of Edward IV into the arms of Ireland found them to be blazoned: Azure, three crowns Or, bordure Argent in pale.[2] [3] Typically bordered arms represent the younger branch of a family or maternal descent.

However, reference to the harp as being the arms of the king of Ireland can be found as early as the 13th century. It appears on a French roll or arm, preserved in the Hague, where with the following entry: "Le Roi d'Irlande: D'azure a la harpe d'or." (The King of Ireland: On blue a harp of gold.").[4 ][5] Some say that the harp was also used on Irish coinage by kings John and Edward I, while other say the devices that appear on these coins were merely triangles. It may be that the harp developed from the use of triangles to distinguish Irish coins.[6]

The harp was adopted as the symbol of the new Kingdom of Ireland established by Henry I of Ireland in 1541-42. It is supposed that the three crowns were abandoned as the arms of Ireland after Henry's split with Rome, "from an idea that they might denote the feudal sovereignty of the pope, whose vassal the king of England was, as lord of Ireland." [3][4 ]

It has appeared in the third quarter of the royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom since the Union of the Crowns of Ireland and England to that of Scotland by James VI of Scotland in March 1603. Over the years this harp was altered and rearranged representing the various changes in the political status quo until the modern British coat of arms became official on the accession of Queen Victoria to the throne of the United Kingdom, 1837. The modern British Royal Coat of Arms, in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as the coat of arms of Canada, features an Irish harp in the lower left quadrant.



The crest of Ireland

A crest and torse, which was little used, is thought to have been created for the ascention of James I.[7] The crest of Ireland was blazoned: A tower triple towered or, from the portal a hart springing argent, attired and unguled also or[8] The torse was: On a wreath of the colours or and azure[8]

The torse and crest were apparently little used even during the period of the Kingdom of Ireland. From the Act of Union in 1801 until the declaration of the Republic of Ireland in 1949, the crest was used only intermittently. Unlike Scotland, Ireland did not reserve the right to bear a distinct coat of arms within the Union. The crest and torse are not employed by the Irish state today.

Symbols of the Irish state

Like the coat of arms, the Irish Presidential Standard, a flag used by President of Ireland since 1945, officially shows a golden Cláirseach (Gaelic harp) with silver strings on a background of St. Patrick's Blue. (Azure a harp Or stringed Argent.)

The harp used in modern heraldry is sometimes referred to as the "harp of Brian Boru" (who was High King of Ireland from 1002 to 1014). The harp was selected as the state emblem on the establishment of the Irish Free State, and one of its earliest treatments was on the Great Seal of the Irish Free State. It continued to be a state emblem after the Constitution of Ireland was adopted. The image of the harp is used on coins, passports, and official documents of the state; it is also the official seals of the President, Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Ministers of the Government and other officials.

The image used for these seals and arms is an Irish harp, similar to the Brian Boru (or Trinity) Harp[9] as displayed in the long room at Trinity College, Dublin. For example, the harp on the 1928 coinage was based on the Galway and Trinity College harps, whilst a much modified version was introduced on 1939 coinage, and the present Irish euro coins are largely based on this.

Obverse of Irish €1 coin, showing the Brian Boru Harp.

Other Irish organisations (such as Guinness and Ryanair) also use the harp as a symbol or logo.

See also

References and notes

  1. ^ Office of the Chief Herald, Arms of Ireland, The National Library of Ireland (Grant Type: Registration; Register volume: G.O. MS 111G; Folio number: 20; Date: 9 November 1945)
  2. ^ W. G. Perrin and Herbert S. Vaughan, 1922, "British Flags. Their Early History and their Development at Sea; with an Account of the Origin of the Flag as a National Device", Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, pp. 51-52
  3. ^ a b Chambers's Encyclopædia: A Dictionary of Universal Knowledge‎, 1868, p. 627
  4. ^ a b Michael C. O'Laughlin, 2001, The Irish Book of Arms, Irish Genealogical Association, p 15
  5. ^ Civic Heraldry of Ireland, National arms of Ireland, Ralf Hartemink, 1996
  6. ^ William Henry Grattan Flood, 1905, The Story of the Harp; James Simon, 1810, Simon's Essay on Irish coins, and of the currency of foreign monies in Ireland
  7. ^ Questions and Answers, Notes and Queries‎, 1855, p. 350
  8. ^ a b Fox-Davies, A.C., 1915, The Book of Public Arms, London
  9. ^ The "Trinity College Harp" is named after Brian Boru, but as he died about 400 years before it was made, and it cannot actually have belonged to him. It is on permanent display in the Long Room of the library of Trinity College, Dublin

External links


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