Kingdoms/Provinces of Ireland

The History & Symbols Of The Provinces Of Ireland


The arms of Connacht - an imitated eagle and armed hand - are recorded as such on a map of Galway dated 1651, now in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin. These arms are closely related to those of the Schottenkloster or Irish monastery founded in Regensburg, Bavaria in the 11th century. The question is how did the arms of that Schottenkloster located deep in the heart of the Roman Empire come to be associated with the province of Connacht in Ireland?

It is assumed that the arms were acknowledged as arms of affection to Ruaidhri O' Conchobhair, King of Connacht, his declining years having been spent in the monastery of Cong, County Mayo, which itself had links with certain monastic institutions in medieval imperial Germany.


For over four hundred years the historic Province of Munster has been heraldically symbolized by three golden antique crowns on an azure blue shield. While these arms are on record as appertaining to Munster as early as the sixteenth century, the motif, that of the antique Irish crown, is without question considerably older. A thirteenth century crozier head found near Cashel, County Tipperary, which is delicately crafted in burnished metal and resting on a blue enamel surface shows similarities with the antique Irish crown of the Munster motif and is instrumental in deciphering the origin of the motif. It is believed that the crozier was translated into an antique crown, which in turn was used as the heraldic arms of the Province. Triplication of the crowns is for the purpose of achieving greater balance on the triangular surface of the shield. The azure color which the motif rests upon is believed to have it origins in Gaelic mythology and literature where the sovereignty of Munster was personified in Mor Murnham - a beautiful lady invariably dressed in deep blue robes as long as she was wedded to the lawful king of the Province.


A silver stringed golden harp on a green background has long served as the arms of the province of Leinster. Possibly the oldest and certainly the most celebrated instance of the use of the harp device on a green field was the flag of Owen Roe O'Neill who rose to prominence in the Spanish Service following the defeat of his uncle, the great Hugh O'Neill, at Kinsale in 1601. In 1642 he returned to Ireland to assist the Irish Confederation in the war that broke out the previous year. It is recorded that his ship the St. Francis, as she lay at anchor at Dunkirk, flew from her mast top 'the Irish harp in a green field in a green flag'. Because the confederation's headquarters were located in Kilkenny, his flag must have had a special significance for that province. When Owen Roe died in 1649 the hopes of the Irish Confederation died with him. His flag however, lives on to the present day in the form of the heraldic arms of Leinster.


The arms of the historic province of Ulster is a combination of the heraldic symbols of two of that provinces best known families, namely, the cross of de Burgo and the Red hand of O'Neill.

The de Burgo family of Tonsburg in Normandy were active participants in the First Crusade (1096-99) and fashioned crosses in fabric on their apparel before leaving for the Holy Land. When Walter de Burgo, Lord of Connacht, became Earl of Ulster in 1243 the de Burgo cross became inseparably linked with Ulster. the red cross and gold field- was the emblem of the De Burgo family and was used up until 1333 when the last De Burgo died, up until this time the Earldom of Ulster belonged to this clan.

The celebrated 'Red Hand', also known as Lámh Dearg is badge of O' Neill family. There are many different interpretations of where the Red Hand has its roots, but legend has it that a direct ancestor of the Irish Gaels swore an oath to his father that 'he would be the first one to lay his hand on Ireland and claim the land for his own before his brothers!'. However, during the Milasion invasion of Ireland (6000-5000 B.C.), he was making his way to Ireland and he realized he was being beaten so to ensure he kept his promise to his father he cut off his hand, dripping with blood and threw it upon the shore of Ulster.