by Garry Bryant / Garaidh Ó Briain
Of the many Irish clans and families only a few have a badge that is a Celtic knot in the family's heraldry. The O'Brien's are one of those families.
The knot is designed to have no beginning and no end in Celtic art; it is one line. Many speculate that the meaning of this kind of knot design, which is seen everywhere in the Celtic world, might mean "life is eternal, there is no beginning and no end." The O'Brien knot is not in this style of design for it takes three lines to complete the design. So in this sense it is not a true Celtic knot, and what the O'Brien knot means is totally unknown.
Knot of the O'Brien's is carved on a corbal of the fireplace at Lemenah (fireplace has been removed to a hotel in Ennis). This castle was the home of the infamous Mary Rue (MacMahon) O'Brien, wife of Conor O'Brien, her second husband, who was mortally wounded fighting Cromwell troops in 1651.
This unique knot badge is used by the Inchiquin/Lemenah/Dromoland branch of the O'Brien Clan. Lord O'Brien as a gift to his new wife gave her a green broach of the O'Brien knot as a wedding gift. The current O'Brien Clan chief, Sir Conor O'Brien, has stated that the symbol may be used by all members of the clan.
A badge is a distinctive device or emblem which is usually non heraldic using symbols not found in the coat-of-arms or crest (although some use these elements) as a mark of recognition by an individual or family and often worn as a symbol of loyalty by retainers and household servants to show allegiance. Badges used in this way are particularly a heraldic tradition that became fashionable in the late 14th century, at the court of Edward III (1327-1377), king of England. At this time heraldry had become increasingly complex - largely due to excessive quartering's and the use of crests and supporting animals becoming popular. Badges became a simpler and more direct means of identification. They never replaced an individual's heraldry, but were used in addition to it; the badge was more flexible than that of arms. [A.C. Fox-Davies, A Complete Guide To Heraldry. (New York: Gramercy, 1993 edition) P. 454.]
Any armiger (one who uses or is granted a coat-of-arms) may have a badge whether assumed or granted. When applying for a grant of arms beware that it is an added cost in Scotland and England. In Ireland the badge is a separate grant and isn't inherited as arms are. Many armigers have badges and nobody to wear them.
In the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries, well-known badges were borne by the followers, retainers, dependents, and partisans of famous and powerful personages and houses, because they were known and understood. (In contrast, the coat of arms was used exclusively by the individual to whom it belonged.) It was not uncommon for the same personage or family to use more than one badge, or for badges to be a rebus - an emblem that forms a witticism by creating a form of visual pun on a surname. [Fox-Davies, p. 455.]
During the Renaissance period, the badge, was more likely to be described as a "personal device," was usually combined with a short text or "motto," which when read in combination were intended to convey a sense of the aspirations or character of the bearer. By the 16th century, emblems were adopted by intellectuals and merchants who had no heraldry of their own. . [http://www.threegoldbees.com/collegia-notes/1-heraldic-badges]
Well known examples of badges are those of several French kings, which were freely used to decorate their building projects. Use of badges can be found on equestrian trappings, paintings, household items, jewelry, and furniture were also to be found bearing the symbols of badges indicating ownership and status. Another example is the badge of Warwick "a standing bear holding a ragged staff."
To those who think that heraldic badges are a thing of the past, think again. Corporation logos are nothing but a stylized badge. The biggest modern user of badges are the branches of the military. Enlisted and officer rank insignia is nothing but badges. The navy uses anchors and dolphins, while the army use badges for classification of units, weapon proficiency, etc.. Aviator wings are used by the air force, army, and navy. Other modern use of the badge is by sports teams on their uniforms, hats, and helmets. Currently a Scottish team is in a court battle with Lyon Court for violating Scot heraldic laws.
At the coronation of Richard III as king of England in 1483, he is said to have ordered 13,000 white boars. These were distributed at the ceremony to all the doorkeepers and retinue who were dressed in the livery of his colors with the badge displayed on top. [Ottfried Neubecker, A Guide To Heraldry. (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2007 edition) P. 196.]
Personal badges generally did not have a defined background color - and are therefore fieldless. Fieldless badges can be displayed on any background color, or with no background at all.
For 30 years a civil war was fought in England between to royal houses - Lancaster and York. The House of Lancaster used as their badge a red rose. The House of York used as their badge the white rose. Wearing of this badge was either comforting for some wearers and terrifying for others. An excellent example of badges being used as political propaganda can be seen in the badge of the 'Tudor Rose.' When Henry VII (Lancastrian) became the first Tudor king, he married Princess Elizabeth of York. Their marriage was the literal union of both houses, symbolized by the new double leaved or 'rose within a rose' known as the 'Tudor rose.'
The crest is often depicted for convenience on the wreath alone, without the helmet, as a mark of ownership, this is a crest badge. Another form of the crest badge can be found in Scottish heraldry in the form of the 'clan badge.' A clan badge is the crest charge resting on a crest wreath, surrounded by a belt and buckle with the tongue of the belt over the surrounding belt, and on the belt is the motto of the individual who's crest is depicted.
“So nowadays a chief’s crest, when encircled by a strap and buckle bearing his motto, may be worn as a badge by all of his clan." Many chiefs have plant-badges as well, which may also be worn by their clan. [Simple Heraldry, Cheerfully Illustrated, by Iain Moncreiffe of Easter Moncreiffe, O St J, MA, LlB, FSA Scot, Advocate, Kintyre Pursuivant of Arms, and Don Pottinger, MA DA, Herald Painter Extraordinary to the Court of the Lord Lyon King of Arms (Thomas Nelson and Sons, London, first published 1953). Moncreiffe was later chief of Clan Moncreiffe and a baronet (Sir Iain) as well as Albany Herald.]
Plant badges also exist in many countries: France uses the lily; England the red rose; Scotland the thistle; Cornwall the Cornish heather; Wales the leak; Ireland the shamrock; and America also the rose. In Scotland various plants are associated with the clans and families. Clan members in ancient days wore the clan plant badge in their bonnet to indicate identity and allegiance not the tartan. Also on the chief's standard is displayed the plant badge, arms, motto and crest or a combination of these. In England the individual doesn't have a plant badge but on the standard the individual's badge, crest, motto and arms, or a combination of these. Both countries may use the banner of the country's patron saint in place of the arms in the hoist.
However things are different with the display of badges and standards in Ireland where there are few examples to be found anciently.
An Irish standard was captured at O'Cahan Castle in 1542 by Sir John Travers who was 'Master of the Ordinance' in Ireland, sent the flag along with another he had personally taken from an Irish-Scot named Donald Boy, to Bartholomew Butler (former York Herald and promoted to Ulster King of Arms for all Ireland). They look more like a guidon in design than a standard. The two have only charges (symbols) and in no particular order and no motto. Who's standards they are is unknown, and what colors used in not stated in an article by Gerard Crotty. These Irish standards are more in style with the English guidon but are tapered like an English standard and display what appear to be several different badges. ["Heraldry in Ireland: Gaelic Heraldry," by Gerard Crotty, Irish Roots, 1998, #3. P. 22.]
Heraldic badges were revived in 1906 by the College of Arms under Alfred Scott-Gatty, and have since then often been included in new grants of arms, in addition to the traditional grant of the coat of arms. Whether or not they are so granted is at the option of the grantee, who pays a higher fee for it. When granted, the badge is typically illustrated on the letters patent containing the grant of arms, and upon an heraldic standard (flag).
Irish Clan Badges
by Garry Bryant/Garaidh Ó Briain
For the numerous Scottish clans there is the clansman/woman badge. Office of the Lord Lyon King of Arms for Scotland writes that anciently a member of a clan wore tied around his arm or on his bonnet a depiction of his chief's crest & motto badge. Today it would have the chief's crest on a crest wreath, chapeau, or ducal crown, surrounded in a circle of a belt & buckle with the motto on it. It is to be stressed that the buckle part of the belt is displayed at the bottom looping over the belt, not under the belt as in times past. The Lord Lyon's Office came under considerable complaints that they were trying to make the badges resemble England's 'Order of the Garter.'
An armiger in Scotland is one who has matriculated his/her own coat-of-arms. If one bear's a Scottish clan surname or one of the septs (branches) connected to the clan and not of proven blood relationship to the chief, that person is considered an indeterminate cadet, and their arms are based on that of the chief. The purpose being to keep an organization of the family/clan.
Also in Scotland is the use of eagle feathers to show rank in the clan. Americans beware that the use of eagle feathers is restricted by federal law and strict possession of such. The fact that one is a Scottish armiger will not release one from prosecution, but realistic fake eagle feathers can be purchased. The feather is worn behind the badge on the bonnet. Another feather alternative is to have one cast with the armiger's badge. A chief of a clan is to have three feathers & if a peer coronet of rank; a chieftain has two, and if peer a coronet of rank; and armiger one feather. [ Ill. 4, 5, & 6] Alastair Campbell of Airds, Unicorn Pursuviant in the Court of the Lord Lion of Scotland, wrote that the use of a feather is not reserved only for the Scots. (Below silver work by Ian Grant.)
As for the Irish clans there isn't any official design for a badge, in fact, probably badges were never used. A few years ago it was voted on by the Council of Irish Chiefs on a badge design created by Romilly Squire (heraldic painter at Lyon Court, Scotland) and Scott MacMillan former herald with the Chief Herald of Ireland. Their design was the clan crest on a crest wreath with the Claddagh hands, heart and crown, with the Irish clan name in Gaelic . The two wanted a design that was quickly noticed as Irish origin, but the Irish Council of Chiefs voted it down being modern and no history of such an item in Ireland. Personally I like the design and am in favor of it. [O'Brien claddagh badge, buckle & kilt pin; http://www.kilts-n-stuff.com/clan-crest/irish-crest-stuff/ (just google irish clan badges for various URLs)]
Celtic Studio took a different approach instead of using the crest it was decided upon to use the shield. The reason being that many Irish arms do not have a crest, thus a shield of the clan arms is used placed upon a nicely designed Celtic Cross. New style now has name of clan above shield. There are large, small badges, as well as necklaces & broaches. [Celtic Studio style O'Brien badge, buckle, flask, & kilt pin etc. ; http://irishcream.weebly.com/irish-coat-of-arms-badge-items.html]
; New Claddagh style http://kilts-n-stuff.kickassvps.com/kilt-irish/irish-coat-of-arms/
Another style is produced by a Texas company that has designed a circlet, in the middle the charge/charges of the clan, and on the plain circlet with an endless knot design and shamrock, the clan name in Gaelic on top. [Texas company, http://www.scottshighland.com/family-arms-cap-badge-sm-540.html ; New Claddagh style http://kilts-n-stuff.kickassvps.com/kilt-irish/irish-coat-of-arms/]
Last of all is the specially produced crest badge by the O'Brien Clan Foundation with a circlet around the O'Brien crest with the O'Brien knot & motto inscribed upon it. [O'Brien Clan specialty badge : http://celticjackalope.com/custom-jewelry-gallery/#!]
There seems to be a need for an Irish clan badge and there are several styles to choose from for one's style and use.
Badge of Garry Bryant / Garaidh Ó Briain
My passion for Celtic culture and history began in 1989 at the Utah Scottish Festival that was held at Park City. It was my first festival and it might have been the swirl of tartan or skirl of bagpipes, but I felt as if I had come home. Over the next few years as I studied my Scottish heritage I couldn't help but come in contact with my Irish heritage as well.
At the time I was finishing my research and writing of the family history and that of my wife when I learned that coat-of-arms were still granted. Like most folks I thought that one coat-of-arms per surname was fact, but I quickly learned that arms are not granted to a surname, but to the individual and their heirs. Each country has there own rules governing heraldry. The most strictest being Scotland's office of the Lord Lyon King of Arms.
My name is Garry Eugene Bryant, or in Irish, Garaidh Eóghan Ó Briain. My O'Bryan family emigrated from Ireland to Canada around 1830. They were devout Catholics and my 2nd great-grandfather, William, was informed by his parents that he was to become a priest like his two older bro-thers. He ran away changed his name by dropping the O' and adding a 't,' and ended up at Black Hawk, Col-orado about 1861. But this story was family tradition, no paper doc-ument to that gives the name change. To the rescue came Family Tree DNA and the O'Brien Surname Project which confirmed that I was not only of the Dál gCais Tribe with the R-L226 & FGC5659 snp marker's, but a distant cousin to Sir Conor M. E. O'Brien, Chief of the O'Brien Clan. So I'm not an English Bryant, but an Irish O'Brien! I have three children, all grown and married, and two grandchildren. I'm a retired photojournalist, am passionate about family history and heraldry.