The Crowley Coat of Arms

In England and continental Europe feudal society coat of arms were the exclusive use of individuals of the nobility and clergy, tied to lordship titles. These were strictly regulated by heralds and courts, heralds granting arms on behalf of the sovereign with specific heraldic terminology for colours and figures. This practice would be introduced in Ireland with the coming of the Cambro-Normans. Prior to the formal introduction of heraldry we know from extensive documentation that the Irish used clan and tribe symbols, notably on banners which sometimes displayed very sophisticated designs, these form the bases of many Irish cost of arms.

Crowley Coat of ArmsIn 1362 King Richard II of England created the Herald of Ireland office with Chandos being the first King of Arms of Ireland who had wide powers; to search and enter any castle, church or house to deface, burn or pull down any representations of arms illegally borne. As part the Anglicization policy of the Gaels, in 1484 Henry VII encouraged Finghin MacCarthy Reagh, 8th Prince of Carbery, whom he held in high regard, to receive homage of his vassal lords and chiefs in the feudal manner. The O'Crowley, O'Mahony, O'Driscoll and O'Donovan were thus recognized as Lords and the recording of Gaelic coats of arms started from this date. In 1562 the herald Bartholomew Butler confirmed Cormac O'Crowley coat of arms and Lordship, styled esquire and "of Carbery" , The O'Crowley was paying a Lord fee of £ 9, 4 s, 4 d to MacCarthy Reagh (feudalism comes from the term "fee"). Subsequent coat of arms confirmations were made later as well as recording in the Funeral Entries, 1588, 1618, 1775. James II in exile in France had at his court a herald, James Terry, styled Athlone Herald. Terry recorded or confirmed over 120 Chiefs of clans coat of arms, including O'Crowley. Interestingly all these were recognized in the kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland by act of the British Parliament.

So, since 1484 the O'Crowley coats of arms have been recorded, these have not evolved overtime, all subsequent confirmations and grants bear the same arms. The central figure of the wild board undoubtedly is an old Celtic symbol of the warrior qualities, strength, courage, fighting to death. We have ample references in antiquity of the Celts using this symbol in battle. It is of interest to note that the related clans, MacDermot, O'Crowley, MacDonagh, O'Mulrooney, do have this figure as central in their coat of arms, it must have been a common old tribe totem, perhaps recalling the legend of Diarmuid and Graine. The cross crosslet does symbolise the mystery of the faith while making reference to the 4 essentials of nature; earth, water, fire, sky, all merging into one.

What are the rules of bearing arms? In Ireland the English and Scottish rules apply, anyone bearing arms in the proper sense (use of them on a seal, letter headings, or banner) must either have a grant or a proven unbroken lineage from one who had a grant. Arms are thus personal, part of unalienable property attached to the patronymic. Since the establishment of the Free State, and the Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland in 1943 (replacing the Ulster King of Arms) Ireland has its own heraldic authority.

Considering the particular historical background of Gaelic Ireland based clan society, the first Chief Herald of Ireland, Edward MacLysaght, introduced the practice that persons descending from Irish clans, could display in the form of a plaque the recorded arms of the Chief or former Chief (when extinct). He further recommended that a clan member wishing to do so should get a confirmation of arms to avoid improper display, for example O'Kellys in Antrim do not wear the same arms as the O'Kellys of Galway.

In conclusion while the Irish clans had their own symbols of distinction, the Clan Chiefs incorporated them adopting coat of arms in the British fashion along with the official recognition of their status and lordship. This allowed the Chiefs to navigate in both societies, Gaelic and English, playing as much as they could a survival game.

There are five O'Crowley recorded coats of arms, the main one recorded since 1484 for the Chiefs of the clan, and which since has not changed is: argent (white), a boar passant azur (blue), three cross crosslets gules (red).

Our arms are some of the oldest Gaelic arms recorded; they display the continuation of our Gaelic clan emblem, the wild boar, symbol of the Celtic warrior fierceness and courage, preferring to die than to yield. The heraldic recording including this symbol is just a confirmation of status. Today when we proudly display the clan banner we raise the clan emblem over a thousand years old, the spirit of the wild boar is with us. We, as fierce Gaelic warriors of princely origin, are still alive and are linking with our ancestors whom by this very act are with us as well.

Anyone wishing to have more information on heraldry in Ireland should go to www.nli.ie/en/heraldry-introduction.aspx. If you have proven Irish descent you may apply for a grant of arms. Though I feel there are no better coats of arms than the O'Crowley Clan's, I would be happy to provide advice.

The Crowley Clan Newsletter is
compiled by Marian Crowley Chamberlain