Hot of the Press from Ireland 11th May

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J Duncan of Sketraw
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Hot of the Press from Ireland 11th May

Post by J Duncan of Sketraw » Thu May 11, 2006 10:49 pm

Genealogical Society of Ireland : Cumann Geinealais na hÉireann

Press Release - DUBLIN - IRELAND

Thursday 11th May 2006

New Bill Promises Heraldry for All

Only eight people were granted coats of arms by the Chief Herald of Ireland in 2003, the latest year for which figures are available. Coats of arms are among the most popular retail items in souvenir shops, usually in the guise of key rings, postcards, bookmarks and lapel pins. Many people still believe that, if my name is Fitzgerald, therefore my coat of arms is a diagonal red cross, but few realize that coats of arms are personal and belong to specific families, not to everybody of that surname. So if you want a genuine coat of arms, you must make a personal application to the Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland.

The small number of applications in 2003 may seem strange, considering both the level of interest in coats of arms and the fact that any Irish citizen, male or female, may apply with little likelihood of refusal. All such applications are given detailed consideration by the Chief Herald’s office, including a consultation with the applicant and the production of a preliminary painting based on the applicant’s design preferences. Finally, about a year after the initial application, the grant of arms is made in the form of a handsome vellum document, the hand-painted arms forming the centre-piece and the accompanying text in beautiful calligraphy. The grant is recorded in the Register of Arms and is a matter of public record.

Needless to say, the reason for the dearth of applications is the level of fees charged. The cost of a personal grant of arms is €3,300, the sum of €300 payable in advance. For a grant of arms to local authorities, schools, clubs, etc, the fee is €5,000. For a grant of arms to other corporate bodies and organisations, the fee is €10,000. Clearly, Ireland’s bespoke heraldry is too expensive. The ordinary citizen of the Celtic Tiger era must still dress in borrowed heraldic garments or persist in heraldic nakedness.

Sports clubs and schools have own their flags and coats-of-arms as is the popularity of heraldry in Ireland. “We’ve our own flag and Arms” said Abrahim Abdul-Wahid, Chairperson of Dún Laoghaire Town Football Club, “and though the flag has been adopted by the wider community in Dún Laoghaire, if this Bill is passed we could register the flag and Arms of our Club. This would be a great facility for clubs and schools throughout the country”, he said.

All this will change if the Genealogy and Heraldry Bill published today by Senator Brendan Ryan is eventually passed. The Bill proposes the setting up of licensed heraldic agents who will do much of the work to promote heraldry and assist persons with their applications for Arms to Chief Herald’s Office. It is expected that with a new “certificate of arms” as proposed by the Bill, competition between such agencies will dramatically reduce rates payable for heraldic advice and art work. At last, we may be entering a ‘heraldry for all’ period in our history according to the Bill’s author Michael Merrigan of the Genealogical Society of Ireland

Canadian George Lucki, President of the International Association of Amateur Heralds (IAAH) said in a statement “I am hopeful that the model being developed in Ireland may serve as a model for other lands, including Poland, the land of my fathers, a country that has a rich and vibrant tradition of noble and civic heraldry, but has no means by which citizens might assume new arms or the state might reward individual merits with fitting symbols that could be carried by future generations as a testament to their ancestor's service, much in the way historical families still proudly bear the arms acquired by their ancestors”.

The Bill proposes some other interesting innovations as well, including the idea of ‘emeritus arms’. This involves the state granting coats of arms in lieu of an Irish honours system. This would seem to be more appropriate than conferring honorary degrees or granting the freedom of the city, town or borough. Heraldry is capable of graphically depicting whatever achievement is being recognized. In fact, a coat of arms is also known as an ‘achievement’. Ireland needs a way of acknowledging individuals who have achieved our respect and gratitude for selfless devotion to good works and causes in our communities and overseas, leaving it to foreign governments and monarchs to honour these Irish citizens is a national scandal, according to the author of the Bill.

Many other loose ends would be tied up by the new Bill introduced by Senator Ryan. It provides for the designation of certain records as of genealogical importance, and the compilation of an inventory of genealogical records, which would be put on-line. Under the bill, a new register of Chiefs of the Name would be compiled, a practice which the Genealogical Office abandoned some years ago after it became clear that some imposters had been recognised. The training and certification of genealogists would also come within the ambit of the Chief Herald under the provisions of the new bill to augment the excellent work undertaken by some individuals and bodies in Ireland.

According to Michael Merrigan, this Bill is a first for a democratic republic and in many ways it is a template for other European Union republics with a strong heraldic tradition like Poland. “The only other democratic republic with substantial heraldic legislation is South Africa and though still in operation, its legislation dates back to the years of apartheid but now has been fully adapted to the new South Africa”, he said.

As a proud and mature republic, Ireland, according to George Lucki of the IAAH, “needs to find a way to encourage and foster its armorial traditions in a way that reflects that the authority to assume arms is a right of all citizens, all forms of social organization and all communities. At the same time those assuming arms deserve guidance in the traditions of good heraldic composition informed by Irish practices and cultural forms and they deserve the protection of their symbols from usurpation or misuse by others. The proposed legislation places Irish heraldry on a modern footing fitting for a Republic but respectful of former heraldic traditions developed over centuries”.

The Genealogy and Heraldry Bill, 2006, is the result of a six year campaign by the Genealogical Society of Ireland to provide a proper legislative framework for the delivery of genealogical and heraldic services by the State. Tony McCarthy, MA, FGSI, President of the Society, said: ‘Though the Genealogical Office has existed in some form since 1552, it exerted little or no control over the unprecedented developments in Irish genealogy over the last three decades. Senator Ryan’s Bill puts the Chief Herald and his staff back in the driving seat of this important cultural area. If it is passed we can expect major changes for the better.’

John A. Duncan of Sketraw

The Armorial Register - International Register of Arms


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Martin Goldstraw
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Post by Martin Goldstraw » Fri May 12, 2006 9:53 am

It seems to me to be a well thought out Bill which will address many of the anomalies of recent times. I particularly like the way in which it proposes to deal with the void recent grants have fallen into by retrospectively recognising all previous grants (will this include the McCarthy ones I wonder?) and I think that they are making an excellent attempt to spell out to applicants what will be accepted and what will not. They will not for example record any feudal baronies or manorial lordships, nor will they record any orders of chivalry - they are after all a republic.

I do wonder if the attempt to bring Irish Chiefs back into the fold will cause delays through fierce discussion but I note that although the Bill is prepared to record that a person is a Gaelic Chief on letters patent such a record will not give any official recognition to any status and Chiefs can not refer to their letters patent as authentication of their title (no doubt they will anyway).

I am immensely impressed by the promise of a 60 day turnaround from receipt of application to action - If the Bill has the desired effect they are going to need more than a few "agents" to deal with the backlog!

As to the appointment of agents, this is the one aspect of the Bill that disappoints me the most. I had hoped that we would see the introduction of heralds and/or pursuivants which would in my view have enhanced the Office of The Chief Herald and add much needed colour, but then again if one puts oneself into the mindset of a republic it is possible to understand why there is no reference to the appointment of heralds or pursuivants to carry out this work and instead there is reference to "agents". It is a pity really especially as the author of the Bill goes to great lengths to point out how heraldry remains important to Ireland and hints at the traditions so enjoyed by the nation.

Taken as a whole though the Bill is a welcome one.
Martin Goldstraw

The Armorial Register


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Guye Pennington
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Post by Guye Pennington » Fri May 12, 2006 12:13 pm

Well said, Martin, and thanks for sharing, John! I wish this armorial template could be modified and adopted for U.S. citizenry...

Many thanks!
Guye W. Pennington
"Victory without honor is defeat."

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