Coat-of-arms originated in feudal Europe, back in the 4th and 5th centuries. In those days, there were real Goths to worry about, not just kids with too much eyeliner. Besides the Goths, there were Vandals, Huns, Jutes, Vikings, Magyars, and other hostile tribes around every corner, not to mention the first recorded appearance of everyone’s new enemy, Yersinia pestis, otherwise known as Black Plague, which first reared its head in the 6th century.
Heraldry developed to transmit information about the person who held the shield, and also in some cases to intimidate opponents or repel evil spirits with threatening images. We’re not so scared of rampant lions or unicorns anymore, but there are still a few coat-of-arms that have power to chill the blood. Since it’s Halloween, I thought I’d share my favorite, most dramatic Irish coats-of-arms:
- O’Reilly and the Bleeding Hand. Legend has it that at one time the kingdom of Ulster was without a rightful heir. A boat race was proposed to determine succession, with the understanding that “whosoever’s hand is the first to touch the shore of Ulster, so shall he be made the king.” One contestant, an O’Neill, so desired the kingship that, upon realizing that he was losing the race, he cut off his own hand and threw it onto the shore, winning the race in letter, if not in spirit. The hand symbol shows up on many coat-of-arms, both in red and white versions. But, in the O’Reilly crest, it goes one step further, showing a flesh-colored hand that drips blood between the paws of two rampant lions. Scary!
- Moriarty and the Black Eagle. If you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan, Moriarty is a dark and menacing character. It
certainly adds to the thrill when you come across the Moriarty coat-of-arms, and see the grave black eagle stark against the white background. One of my favorite coat-of-arms.
- Treacy and the Dead Duck. The coat-of-arms for Treacy and Madden families (also Tracy, O’Madden and other variations) is described as: Sable, a falcon Volant seizing a mallard argent, or in other words, a falcon taking down a mallard duck. Instead of abstract symbols, the warlike times are illustrated frankly here in black and white, with little room for misinterpretation.