Thursday, 14 September 2017

Guest Post from John Lehman coadb

I would like to thank John Lehman for this guest post. John has a very good heraldic website.

Here is the link:

Please check out his website for well researched pieces including the arms for various families. For example check out the O'Neill family, the researched part comes after the illustrations of the arms.

John can also be contacted at:

In this post John writes about the arms of Rev. William Chichester, first Baron O'Neill of Shane's Castle, a ruined castle near Randalstown, Co Antrim on the north-east shores of Lough Neagh. It was built in 1345 by a member of the O’Neill family. Shane MacBrien O'Neill changed the name to Shane's Castle in 1722.

The Arms of Rev. William Chichester first Baron O’Neill of Shane’s Castle, Co Antrim.

Coats-of-arms can be a sort of visual DNA of the great and powerful as each generation chopped and blended in order to display family connections and inheritance.

Just like real DNA, coats-of-arms often bear the mark of turbulent history, none more so than those of Ireland.

Take for instance the arms of the Reverend Will Chichester, first Baron O’Neill of Shane’s Castle, Co Antrim:

                         Arms of Sir William Chichester, First Baron O'Neill

If you are familiar with Irish history, you don’t need the “O’Neill” caption to make the family connection! You will have spotted the red hand over a salmon swimming in the waves.

The hand is of course the dreaded Red Hand of Ulster, used as an emblem when the O’Neills went to war (which was very often indeed). It’s meaning may go back to pagan times, however, there is a legend that the original Neill, a Viking name, won a swimming race to shore by cutting off his own hand and tossing it onto the beach. The prize was land, so perhaps it was worth it…

(The heraldic terminology for this is “Per fess wavy the chief argent and the base representing waves of the sea, in chief a dexter hand couped at the wrist gules in base a salmon naiant proper”. If you want more technical terms like this, click through to the entry in the Coat of Arms Database.)  

You can see the O’Neill arms in the first and fourth “quarters” of the shield (numbered left-right, top-bottom), and hanging around the neck of the lion “supporter” on the left.

But wait! There’s no such thing as a family coat of arms, or -- horrid Victorian term -- “family crest”. This kind of coats-of-arms belongs to an individual and his direct heirs. The arms depicted here are those of the O’Neill Baronets of Shane’s Castle.

The Order of Irish Baronets was created by King James the First of Great Britain. He selected the red hand as the badge for all Irish Baronets to display, not just the O’Neill ones. However, King James picked the right hand, whereas the original O’Neill very sensibly cut off his own left hand. The herald who drew up (“blazoned”) this coat-of-arms combined the new symbol with the old, and created an O’Neill coat-of-arms with the hand the wrong way around compared to the others.

So, already this coat-of-arms is taking us back to the troubled 16th century, and beyond, to Viking times.

These stories would have mattered less to the Reverend William Chichester than the fact that he was the great grandson of one Mary O’Neill. This was the basis on which William, a second cousin twice removed, had inherited the title and the surname that went with it.

However, William’s own surname links him to the Chichester Marquess of Donegal -- his great great great great grandfather was the fearsome Edward Chichester, a 16th-century English soldier who became the 1st Viscount Chichester. This explains the second coat-of-arms “quartered” with the O’Neill one: the odd chequer pattern squares in the second and third quarters (“Chequy or and gules, a chief vair”-- the technical language of Heraldry owes a lot to Norman French, by the way).

These arms belong to the Chichester lords (then Baronets) of Raleigh in Devon. They actually commemorate another marriage, one that took place in the 14th-century; A Chichester lord wedded the Raleigh heiress, thus securing what became the family seat. Before the marriage, the Chichester arms were just a simple checker. The blue pattern which originates from the animal fur, called vair, came from the Raleigh family.


Now this coat-of-arms has taken us across the Irish sea, to a Cornish fishing town around the time of the Hundred Year’s War!

Needless to say, the unusual twin crests, an armoured hand wielding a sword and a stork with a snake, belong respectively to the O’Neill’s and the Chichesters. (By the way, the family mottos are equally contrasting, “The Red Hand of Ireland Forever” and “Honor Follows Him”.)

This coat-of-arms tells one more story: though Reverend William Chichester was taking an O’Niell title and surname, he clearly did not want the world to lose sight of his prestigious connection to the Marquess of Donegal, thence the quartering of the two coats-of-arms.

Then again, perhaps he just liked the family stories embedded in the heraldry...

I would like again to thank John for this interesting post.