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  1. #1
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    Irish heraldry question - Sept Arms

    I’ve always heard (reinforced by many discussions here) that arms belonged to an individual and thus the concept of a “family coat of arms” was essentially little more than a marketing ploy from businesses wanting to sell you plaques, t-shirts and coffee mugs with “your” coat of arms emblazoned on them.

    The idea of “sept arms” in Irish heraldry would suggest that that the English and Scottish heraldry practices are not absolute. My understanding is that the members of a sept (although not simply anyone sharing a common surname) have the right to the arms of that sept. Similar practices are apparently the norm in some eastern European countries.

    Can any of our heraldry experts expound on this a bit? I’ve looked around the internet a bit but haven’t been finding much more than offers to sell me the aforementioned t-shirts and coffee mugs.
    Mike Nugent
    Riamh Nar Dhruid O Spairn Lann

  2. #2
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    You are quite right about heraldry in eastern Europe. Poland is a prime example where there could be many tens of thousands of people (many with varying names) all entitled by right to bear the arms of the 'Herb' or clan.

    When it comes to Irish heraldry, things are far from clear. The authority was the Ulster Herald, who came under the College of Arms. But so many people assumed arms with no official sanction and there were many arms attributed to the various Kings and Princes which they never bore.

    Like many things, romance and fantasy are also in the mix. Can you quote a source that says that sept arms actually existed? I am not saying that they did not, just that I am very sceptical. Too many writers (Fox-Davis included), wrote about what they wanted to happen, instead of what actually happened.
    [FONT=arial]Regards[/FONT]
    [B][SIZE=2][FONT=Comic Sans MS][I]Chas [/I][/FONT][/SIZE][/B]

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  4. #3
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    Chas writes:

    "Too many writers (Fox-Davis included), wrote about what they wanted to happen, instead of what actually happened."

    Too often seen in areas other than heraldry as well.

    Holcombe

  5. #4
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    A couple of quick points on Irish heraldry:

    1) The office of Ulster King of Arms was, from it's inception, always independent of the English College of Arms in exactly the same way that Lyon has always been independent of the College of Arms.

    2) When McLysaght wrote of "Sept arms" he was referring to the Irish practice of granting arms based on those of the head of distinct Gaelic houses. In this regard the practice is broadly similar to the Scottish practice of basing the de novo arms of clanfolk on those of the clan chief. McLysaght, a Gaelic scholar, preferred the word 'Sept', meaning family, as opposed to 'Clan', which means children, when collectively describing a group of people with the same, or similar, surname. He could have, as easily, used the phrase "tribal arms" in the same context.
    [SIZE=1]and at EH6 7HW[/SIZE]

  6. #5
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    McLysaght was of the opinion (I believe) that the basic arms belong to the "clan," just as the land didn't belong to the Chief, but to the members of the clan. So the same with arms. One is totally in the right to display the arms as a member of the clan, or to show allegiance, but. . .if one wants to use them on stationary, silver, etc., then one should petition for a grant of their own arms.

  7. #6
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    Whatever McLysaght meant (I've read him and don't find it completely clear), it wasn't that everyone with the same name shares the same arms. That is not the case anywhere, Poland included.

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  9. #7
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    We have a number of examples within the family of different branches having the same arms. Many of these are documented in 19th century dictionary's of arms and although it isn't mentioned I'd expect there would be differences in the actual display of arms with supporters, coronets, etc..

  10. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by MacCathmhaoil View Post
    We have a number of examples within the family of different branches having the same arms. Many of these are documented in 19th century dictionary's of arms and although it isn't mentioned I'd expect there would be differences in the actual display of arms with supporters, coronets, etc..
    This is quite reasonable. Indeed, there's no particular reason to expect differences, with supporters, coronets, etc, unless some of the people using the arms were peers, etc. People descended in the male line from a person who used a particular coat of arms have the right to use those same arms, so there are all kinds of remote cousins who could conceivably use the same arms. But not everyone with the same surname descends from the same ancestor, and those who don't cannot bear the same arms. If the same arms were confirmed in the past to different people, then the heralds probably believed--or were prepared to assume--that they were somehow connected to each other further up the genealogical chain.

  11. #9
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    As I've researched the use of arms to put together a roll of the O'Briens I have found many whose shields are the same but the difference is with the crest. To me this is very confusing, for instance, as example would be during the Williamite war where two O'Briens were on different sides, their banner (if they used one) would have been the same of "Gules three lions passant guardant per pale Or and Argent." As to many branches to a clan I'd have to say yes this is a big problem. The O'Brien Clan is actively working on the DNA of O'Briens using Sir Conor O'Brien's DNA as a baseline since he is a direct descendant of Brian Boru. There are just over 325 males who have participated and it is very interesting. There are few O'Briens who have close DNA markers to that of The O'Brien. I believe there are just eleven who are distant cousins with five or less marker difference using 67 markers. There are many also who's surnames are Butler, Burke, Fitzgerald, O'Mahoney, Wissett, Brooks, Wright, etc.. In fact there is one whose surname is Brietheim who is only one marker off of me. He is adopted. So in truth there are many O'Briens who aren't related at all, just bear the surname, and vice a verse. The basic O'Brien arms aren't really Irish, but just a difference from the English king, they aren't Irish at all, but came into existence in 1543! The alleged banner of Brian Boru is "Azure a sun in splendor a dexter forearm grasping a sword in pale proper," I have yet to find this documented. When petitioning my own arms, the Chief Herald's office stated to me that before the lions the arms used was "On a shield a forearm grasping a sword palewise," (coloring never stated).
    Last edited by Gael Ridire; 23rd October 14 at 08:30 AM.

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