Heraldry is the designing, use, regulation, and recording of coats of arms and related emblems. Coats of arms were granted to individuals, not families or surnames. Coats of arms were originally granted to identify individuals in battle. Eventually, the crown began to grant coats of arms to people who performed heroic deeds, made notable achievements, or held prominent positions. The right to use a coat of arms could be inherited only by legitimate male descendants of the person to whom the coat was granted. Most Irish ancestors did not have a coat of arms.
Grants of arms in Ireland have been recorded since 1552 by a representative of the crown called the Ulster King of Arms. Since Edward VI created the office of Ulster King of Arms in 1552, most of those who have obtained coats of arms through that office have been people of English descent living in Ireland. The native Irish originally did not believe in the granting of arms by a herald, so until the late seventeenth century such grants were not common practice in Ireland.
In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the Ulster King of Arms visited the landed families in the more secure (tothe English) parts of Ireland. He asked for proof of male descent from the original grantee of arms and drew up pedigrees for these families. Heraldic visitations are the records of these visits.
Heraldic and genealogical information about Irish landed families can be found in the following book:
Burke, Sir John Bernard. The General Armory of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales: Comprising a Registry of Armorial Bearings from the Earliest to the Present Time. Last ed. 1884. Reprint. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1969. (Familly History Library book Ref 942 D24b 1969; 1884 ed.: film 962,347 item 1 and 990,439 item 10.) This source alphabetically lists surnames with blazons, provides a brief explanation of heraldry and a glossary of heraldic terms, and gives a few black and white sample coats of arms.
Many books and articles deal with specific families who bore heraldic arms. For information on how to find these publications, see the "Genealogy" and "Nobility" sections.
Grant-of-arms records are housed at the Genealogical Office (also called the Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland, a part of the National Library of Ireland), Dublin. Some have been microfilmed by the Family History Library. These are listed in the Place Search of the catalog under:
IRELAND - HERALDRY.
Most libraries have books on heraldry. Those available at the Family History Library are listed in the Place Search of the catalog under the following headings:
IRELAND - HERALDRY
ENGLAND - HERALDRY