Heraldry in Ireland, part 5. Tribal society.

Flanagan coat of arms

As mentioned in our earlier blog post on totemism,  http://www.heraldicjewelry.com/2/post/2012/10/the-symbolism-of-heraldry-part-3-totemism.html tribal societies the world over define themselves by animal totems from the aboriginals of Australia to the Native American tribes of North America. Ancient Ireland was no different and tribes connected by blood identified with animals. In the epic Irish story 
The Cattle Raid of Cooley for example we hear of the Partraighi “ the people of the stag”. In Southern Ireland many families from the province of Munster revered the stag, defining their borders by the routes of stag hunts and choosing their rulers based on their prowess at hunting stags.                                                                                                                        McCarthy coat of arms                                                                                                                                                            The system of Heraldry that was brought to Ireland by the Anglo-Normans was not widely adopted by Gaelic chieftains until the 15th century, and when they did adopt this heraldic system many of them incorporated the animal symbolism that had already been in use by their ancestors. This is the reason that the MacCarthy, above, and O’Sullivan families from counties Cork and Kerry respectively have Stags on their Coat of Arms. Other families used different symbols that they also incorporated into their Coat of Arms. In Connaught, the Western province of Ireland  druids had for generations planted Oak trees near forts and the Oak Tree had become a symbol of reverence for people. Thus Oak Trees appear on the Arms of many of the prominent families of Connaught including the Flanagans ( image top),  O’Beirnes, and O’Connor Don. The famous red hand of Ulster was the symbol of the sun god  Bolg and was also equated with the hand of Heremon, which, according to legend, he cut off and threw ashore so he could be the first Milesian to have touched Ireland. The red hand is incorporated int their Coats of Arms by many of the leading families of Ulster including  O’Neill and Donnelly, image below.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Donnelly coat of arms

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