Whether you call it your surname, your last name, or your patronymic (if you want to get a bit more technical), your family name is a massive part of your identity and a truly substantial indicator in terms of who you are and where you come from.
In Ireland, every surname has a corresponding family crest. These Irish family crests, often referred to as a coat of arms, comprise of different colours and symbols and come in different shapes and styles, all of which are a representation of that particular family name and the history, past accomplishments, and characteristics that come with it.
In this article we are going to explore the wonderful world of Irish family crests, the history behind their creation and usage, a deep dive into their symbolism, and a real-life example.
The History Behind Irish Family Crests
The initial creation and subsequent usage of Irish coat of arms dates back to the 12th century. During this time, knights across Ireland were trading traditional long shields and chain-link mail for more contemporary full-body armour and helmets that covered their entire head for competitive tournaments and during battle.
What has this got to do with the origins of Irish family crests you ask? Well, this new style of full-body armour made it near impossible for Irish knights to distinguish themselves and recognise one another. As a result, they began marking their shields with individual emblems so they could be correctly identified. Thus, the concept of an Irish coat of arms was born.
Since then the usage of Irish family crests has grown to become commonplace, so much so that an official Register of Arms which was responsible for organising and categorising Irish family crests was formally established in 1552.
Irish Family Crests: A Guide to Symbols and Colours
As mentioned above, a typical Irish coat of arms will consist of a mix of colours and symbols that act as a visual representation into the family’s historical background. Here are some of the most common colours and symbols found on Irish family crests and the meanings behind them.
- Blue – The presence of the colour blue is an indication of loyalty and strength.
- Gold – While gold is a symbol for generosity and kindness.
- Lion – Usurpingly, a lion/lions on your family crest represents fierce courage.
- Bear – Bears are a symbol of protection.
- Dove – Doves have always stood as an indicator of love and peace within the family
- Horse – If you find a horse on your coat of arms it means your family members possess a readiness for duty.
- Crown – A crown can identify your family as a senior or regal authority but can also represent heavenly reward.
As you can see, there are plenty of attributes and characteristics that Irish family crests can carry, and plenty of ways to represent them. Interestingly the shape and style of the crest itself can also carry certain meanings.
An Example of an Irish Family Crest
Perhaps the best way to illustrate an Irish family crest is to give you a real-world example. My surname Grace comes with a coat of arms containing a lion and a handful of different colours.
As discussed, the lion represents courage, and the colour gold symbolises generosity. Meanwhile the presence of white/silver indicate peace and sincerity.
If you have an Irish surname or Celtic heritage, your Irish family crest and the meaning behind it is just a simple Google search away, so what are you waiting for?!
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