Taken from Ireland Research Guide – LDS Family History Center- with permission for non-commercial and teaching uses only.
Heraldry is the designing, use, regulation, and recordings of coats of arms and related emblems. Coats of arms were granted to individuals, NOT families or surnames. Coats of arms were originally granted to identify individuals in battle. Eventually the crown began to grant coats of arms to people who performed heroic deeds made notable achievements, or held prominent positions. The right to use a coat of arms could be inherited only by legitimate male descendants of the person to whom the coat was granted. Most Irish ancestors did not have a coat of arms.
Grants of arms in Ireland have been recorded since 1552 by a representative of the crown called the Ulster King of Arms. Since Edward VI created the office of Ulster King of Arms in 1552, most of those who have obtained coats of arms through that office have been people of English descent living in Ireland. The native Irish originally did not believe in the granting of arms by a herald, sop until the later seventeenth century such grants were not common practice in Ireland.
In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the Ulster King of Arms visited the landed families throughout Ireland. He asked for proof of male descent from the original grante4e of arms and drew up pedigrees for these families. Heraldic visitations are the records of these visits. Heraldic and genealogical information about Irish landed families can be found in the following book:
- Burke, Sir John Bernard, \”The General Armory of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales: Comprising a Registry of Armorial Bearings from the Earliest to the Present Times.\” Last ed. 1884. Reprint. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1969 (FHL film 962,347 item 1 and 990,439 item 10)
This source alphabetically lists surnames with blazons, provides a brief explanation of heraldry and a glossary of heraldic terms and give a few black and white sample coats of arms.
Grants of arms records are housed at the Genealogical Office, Dublin. some have been microfilmed by the Family History Library. The Genealogical Office, the successor to the office of the Ulster King of Arms also has a page online.
It is generally accepted that English and Welsh surnames derive from four sources: Christian names or forenames (eg Thomas, Harrison, Allen); occupations (Smith, Taylor, Carter); locality (Hall, Wood, Moore); and personal peculiarities (Brown, White, Redhead.) There are exceptions that prove the rule; King, for example. In the mid-19th century the ten most popular names in England were Smith (one in 73 of total population of England and Wales); Jones (76); Williams (115); Taylor (148); Davies (162); Brown (174); Thomas (196); Evans (198); Roberts (235); and Johnson (265.) Surnames ending \’…thwaite\’ are likely to originate in Lancashire, ending \’…hurst\’ in Sussex and \’…combe\’ in Devonshire. Tracers should beware of name variations. There is a one-name study group for Hamley/Hambly/Hamlyn and another for Perrott, Parrott, Perrett, Porritt and any other vowel variations. The Soundex code is a useful guide to possible surname variations in your ancestry.
A Welsh researcher faces two problems. Firstly, every other person appears to be named Jones, Williams, Evans, Thomas or Davis. Secondly, before 1800 in South Wales, it was typical for the baptismal name of the father to become the surname of the son. If William Davis had a son, John, he would be known as John Williams. John\’s son, Thomas, would be known as Thomas Jones. This represents a challenge for a genealogist.
In Scotland it was a simple act of loyalty for a new member of a clan to accept the chief\’s name. A clan is not a family so the discovery of many Campbells, Fergusons, MacLeods or Munros in one area does not necessarily indicate blood relationship. The clans traditionally occupied the highlands whilst the people of the lowlands seemed to have acquired surnames in similar ways to the English.
The old Irish inhabitants used the Celtic prefixes O\’ and Mac. Names beginning with O\’ (meaning grandfather or ancestor) can be traced back to 11th century. Examples are O\’Brien, O\’Donohoe and O\’Donovan. In 1465 Edward IV issued a mandate that the Irish in Dublin and three other counties should adopt English surnames but nobody is certain just how many did. Many English sounding names in Ireland may have come into use only after the immigration of Englishmen.\”
There are several good references for discovering where surnames in Ireland where from, or at least the most popular. Below are listed a few of those online that are most helpful:
- Origins of Gaelic Surnames
- Cheiftains of Ireland
- Clans of Ireland
- College of Arms How it all began!
- Peerages in Ireland during the 17th Century
- Genalogy and History – Coat of Arms Several Families mentioned!
- Irish Names
- Proto-Heraldry in Ireland
- Scottish Clans and Designations
- Irish Heraldry
- Lookups in Ireland Phone Book
- Lookups in \”Surnames In Ireland\” by Matheson
- Lookups in \”Surnames, Pedigrees and Surnames of Ireland\”- MacSlaght
- Lookups in \”Householders Surname Index\” Good way to locate the area of the surname!
- Lookups in \”1891 Census Birth Index\” Helps to locate areas surname is most common in.
- Lookups in \”Book of Irish Names, First, Family and Place Names
- Lookups in \”Irish Pedigrees\” – Jim Ryan
- Lookups in \”Irish Surnames\” – O\’Laughlin
- House of Names A commercial site but worth looking at!
- Kennedy\’s Book of Arms (from Records in Ulster\’s Office – 1816) – by Patrick Kennedy
- Irish Heritage Centers A commercial site to produce high quality search and coat of arms for you family.
- Genealogy, Royalty, Nobility and Heraldry For general information on Heraldry
Most of these books are available in your local libraries and genealogical societies. Be certain to check them out. Heraldry in Ireland is very different from Heraldry in England, which is why it is called Proto-Heraldry. Many clans have shields which could be considered coats of arm.