Heraldry is a system of identification using Coats of Arms: hereditary pictorial devices that include a shield shape. The designs on Coats of Arms needed to be unique and quickly read. 

There are many documented examples of proto-heraldry from earlier in Ireland, but European norms of heraldry came to Ireland around the end of the 12th century associated with the need to distinguish individuals in medieval battles or jousts, when faces and bodies were obscured through the wearing of helmets and armour. By the 12th century, personal badges were widely used by the nobility, and a century later, arms could be inherited. This meant that they had to be officially recorded and their display controlled. Specialists, known as officers at arms or heralds, were employed to record these coats of arms in rolls of arms (armorials). As arms became more elaborate, the language of their descriptions (blazons) acquired its own rules, vocabulary and syntax.

The post of Ulster King of Arms, Herald of all Ireland, was created by Edward VI in 1552 for the Kingdom of Ireland, although the earliest reference to a Herald of Arms for Ireland dates from 1382. The post of Ulster King of Arms continued until the death its last incumbent, Sir Neville Wilkinson KCVO, in 1941. In 1943, the Office of Arms was transferred to the Government of Ireland since when the Office has operated as part of the National Library and under the direction of the Chief Herald of Ireland.

Arms of the Order

By ancient tradition, the Order uses the arms attributed to the Kingdom of Jerusalem – a gold Jerusalem Cross (a cross potent – formed of four crutches – with four smaller greek crosses between the limbs) on a silver/white background – but enamelled with red, the colour of blood, to signify the five wounds of Christ. Prior use of the symbol is acknowledged in the 1573 Constitution of the Order, and a red Jerusalem cross (with the central cross as cross crosslet rather than cross potent) is given as the emblem of the Order in a 1486 travelogue.

Above the shield is a sovereign’s gold helmet upon which are a crown of thorns and a terrestrial globe surmounted by a cross, flanked by two white standards bearing a red Jerusalem cross. The supporters are two angels wearing dalmatic tunics of red, the one on the dexter bearing a crusader flag, and the one on the sinister bearing a pilgrim’s staff and shell: representing the military/crusading and pilgrim natures of the Order. The motto is Deus lo Vult (God Wills It).

Arms of the Lieutenancy

The Arms of the Lieutenancy show an antique crown with pastoral staffs in saltire, recalling the foundation of Holy Cross Abbey by Domhnall Mór O’Brien, whilst crosses fitchée allude to the Abbey itself. Thus the arms of the Lieutenancy combine representation of the first seat of the Lieutenancy in Ireland (Holy Cross Abbey) with the Arms of the Order. The motto of the Order Deus lo Vult is in its Irish form Mar is Toil le Dia.

The Grant of Arms from the Chief Herald of Ireland, authorising their use and issued on the 21st of August 1992, is shown here.

Use of arms by members of the Order

Dr Frank Hurl KCHS has compiled an Armorial, or collection, of Irish Coats of Arms in The Equestrian Order, available to members. It contains not only the Arms of those current members who are armigerous (i.e. who have established a right to the Arms by grant, confirmation or inheritance) and who supplied details, but also the Arms of notable Irish former members of the Order from even before the foundation of the Lieutenancy.

The Constitution of the Order determines how the symbolism of the Order may be used by members.

Heraldic Privileges
(1996 Constitution: Appendix 1, Chapter 1, Articles 2 & 3)
Archbishops, Bishops, and PrelatesArchbishops, Bishops, and PrelatesQuarter their Arms with the Arms of the Order
Place their Arms on the Cross of the Order
The Grand Master has specific further Heraldic privileges
The Patriarch Grand Prior and Assessor use a Chief of the Order
Members of the Grand Magisterium, Lieutenants (inc. of Honour), Grand PriorsImpale their Arms with those of the Order
Knights and Ladies of the CollarImpale their Arms with those of the Order, and surround the arms with the Collar
Armigerous Knights and Dames (Note: Only Knights and Dames with a noble title should place their arms on the cross of the Order)KHS and DHSSuspend the Cross of the Order from their Arms with a black knot, without trophy
KCHS and DCHSSuspend the Cross of the Order from their Arms with a black ribbon limited to the base of the Arms, without trophy
KC*HS and DC*HSSuspend the Cross of the Order from their Arms with a black ribbon emerging from the sides of the Arms (with trophy in the case of Knights)
GCHSSuspend the Cross of the Order from a black ribbon surrounding the Arms (with trophy in the case of Knights)
Knights and Dames who are not ArmigerousMay use the Cross of the Order

Obtaining a Grant of Arms

The Lay Master of Ceremonies is pleased to provide advice for those members contemplating an application for a grant of arms.

There are a number of heraldic authorities around the world. Most members of the Lieutenancy of Ireland fall within the jurisdiction of the Chief Herald of Ireland, which is the island of Ireland. Citizens of the United Kingdom may apply to the College of Arms in London, those of Scottish ancestry to the Office of the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh, and citizens of Canada to the Chief Herald of Canada.

The jurisdiction of the Chief Herald of Ireland is the island of Ireland. The Chief Herald is authorised by the Government of Ireland to grant, confirm and certify the coats of arms of individuals and corporate bodies. These are recorded in a Register of Arms in the National Library of Ireland, maintained since 1552.

Information regarding the application process leading to a Grant, Confirmation or Certificate of Arms can be obtained by contacting the Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland at: Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland, National Library of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin 2, D02 P638, Telephone +353-1-6030311, Email: herald@nli.ie

The current Constitution, promulgated in 2020, will result presently in Regulations, which may affect certain matters relating to Heraldry.

Text and images with thanks to:
  • National Library of Ireland
  • Davor Zovko KCSG GCHS
  • Wikipedia – cc licence – Mathieu Chaine
  • An Irish Armorial, Frank Hurl KCHS