Spurious Arms
by Eddie Geoghegan
There are many Irish names for which there are no records of a coat of arms. Indeed many Irish, notwithstanding the destruction of the old Gaelic order after 1603, saw the assuming of arms as a capitulation to English law and simply refused to have anything to do with the practice. The fact that so many families never had a coat of arms has not, however, deterred those anxious to make a sale from being creative, and so a significant number of spurious coats of arms have come into circulation. A number of these are justified on the basis that they have been taken from published works, but there are several such works in which the coats of arms of Irish families have been misrepresented. In the words of Edward MacLysaght, first Chief Herald of Ireland ...
"The subject of Irish families is one in which much interest is evinced, but the popular books usually consulted and regarded as authoritative, particularly in America, are in fact unreliable. The inaccurate and misleading information thus imparted with cumulative effect is, however, much more deplorable in the armorial sphere than in the genealogical.
It is an indisputable fact that the publication presenting colour plates of Irish arms which is probably most widely consulted is no less than seventy per cent inaccurate, not only in mere detail, but often in points of primary importance and of an elementary kind. Apart from their many grotesque heraldic blunders the compilers of this work seem to have had a sort of rule of thumb; if they could not find arms for one Irish sept they looked for the name of another somewhat resembling it in sound: thus, for example, they coolly assigned the arms of Boylan to Boland. This frequently resulted in the arms of some purely English family being inserted in their book of 'Irish Arms' the Saxon Huggins being equated with O'Higgins, and so on. When this arbitrary method failed them they fell back on the arms of some great Irish sept. To quote one instance of this: Gleeson, Noonan and McFadden are all given the arms of O'Brien, though none of these septs had any connexion whatever with the O'Briens or with each other. Consequently many Americans of Irish descent are in good faith using erroneous and often English arms derived from the spurious source in question.
A certain cachet has been given to this because, in the more recent editions of O'Hart's Irish Pedigrees [published after the author's death - Ed], these same coloured plates have been inserted as if they were an integral part of O'Hart's book. The serious genealogist uses O'Hart with caution, if at all, for he is a far from reliable authority except for the quite modern period. John O'Hart, however, undoubtedly did a vast amount of research, no matter how he used the information he acquired: I know that some of these errors of ascription can actually be traced to him, but it is surely an injustice to him that his well known name should be used as a cover for the propagation of false and often ludicrous heraldic statements."
 People often come to me with representations of coats of arms for certain names, which they have seen or purchased elsewhere. This page is a listing of just some of the improperly assigned and even deliberately invented examples. The purpose of my website is to accurately display arms, so it is not my intention to embark on a huge debunking campaign. The examples shown below should serve as a warning to the unwary. As I have no desire to get involved in any disputes with other parties, I will not name the sources for the erroneous examples. Also, I have recreated the graphics myself, rather than use the original, lest I be accused of breaching copyright. The examples are just a small few from among the many I have encountered. If I come across any more extreme examples, I will add them.
Finally, I should add that I don't hold myself entirely guiltless under this heading. I have, in my inexperienced past, been misled by what I believed to be reputable sources. I have purged spurious arms from this site as I have become aware of them. If one or two still remain here, I apologise.

McMenamin

The coats of arms left and right have been claimed to be those of McMenamin. In fact I know that both have been sold as such by at least one heraldic shop in Ireland. I have also seen the one on the left displayed on at least one website as McMenamin. In reality both are recorded in Burke's General Armory as belonging to Merriman. Some sources claim Merriman as a variant of McMenamin, but this is not accepted by modern family historians. I am unaware of any genuine McMenamin coat of arms.

Mulvey

The coats of arms on the left has been described as that of Mulvey / Mulveagh by at least one website that should know better. In fact it belongs to Mulvihill / Mulville of Clare to where they migrated from Roscommon. This is an example of where a "researcher" could not find a coat of arms for a name and so picked one that looked somewhat similar, hoping that the client wouldn't know the difference. I cannot trace a genuine Mulvey coat of arms. In its absence, modern Mulveys might consider displaying the arms of MacRannall or O'Farrell with whom the Mulveys share ancestry.

Laverty / Lafferty

Let's get this one straight once and for all. This is the coat of arms of the Galway sept of (O)Flaherty. Laverty / Lafferty is an Ulster name. The confusion arises because both names are similar in Irish both being derived from the word Flaithbheartaigh (bright ruler). However, although related in language, the two names are otherwise quite distinct. I am unaware of any genuine Laverty / Lafferty coat of arms at this time.

Doonan

This is one of my personal favourites and was passed onto me by someone who paid good money to one of the large commercial heraldry companies for this coat of arms which is not just wrong but totally fabricated. The symbolism is supposedly as follows. Because the name is found in both Ireland and England, the shield is divided, the dexter (left side as you look at it) being a representation of Ireland and the sinister, of England. Now, as the name was originally O'Doonan and as "O" means "grandson" in Irish, the gold label of five is added to signify this generational relationship. In my life, I have rarely seen such drivel. As far as I can tell, there is no Doonan coat of arms.

Extremely doubtful

McEneany, McAneany, McNeny, etc.
The coats of arms left was described to me by a family researcher. She found it among some family documentation. I have noticed recently that it has started to appear on a few websites. In fact it appears to be a modern made-up design which appeared originally in a badge design and not as a coat of arms. It seems to have been used by a family association in the fairly recent past and is not a historical coat of arms. A genuine coat of arms has long eluded me, but I found it in Rietstap's Armorial General, listed under McNeny, Brabant - originally Ireland, Chevalier 1766. A Baron McNeny bore the same arms with the addition of a blue chief (horizontal band at the top of the shield) with the letters "MT" thereon in gold. The shield is blazoned (in French - my translation) Gules on a chevron or between three dexter hands couped at the wrist argent two cinquefoils stemmed vert. However, in the Rolland's "Illustrations to Rietstap's Armorial General", three cinquefoils are shown. I have chosen to show just two on the basis that the text description is probably more reliable. See right.

Genuine

Tumulty

A website, from which I expected better, shows this coat of arms as that of "Tumilty" an Irish name sometimes (though rarely) corrupted to Timothy. Perhaps it was because of this rare corruption that they inadvertently displayed the arms of Timson, for that is what they are.

McGuigan, McGuckian, McGeehan, McGahan, Gavaghan and others
The coat of arms (left) is that of my own sept. Originally Mac (or Mag) Eochagain, anglicised as MacGeoghegan, Mageoghegan, Geoghegan, Gehegan, Gahagan, Geagan, Gagin and so on. Now there is considerable misinformation around regarding other names that are supposedly legitimate variations and the unscrupulous have used this misinformation as an excuse to assign the Geoghegan coat of arms to these names. These include - McGuigan / McGuckian (an unrelated name occasionally misrecorded as Geoghegan around Newry), McGeehan (a Donegal name), MacGahan and Gavaghan (there are some Gavigans, Gaffikans, etc. who are really Geoghegans in disguise but most are from a distinct Mayo sept). For more information on Geoghegan and its variants see
http://www.geoghegan.org/clan/vars.html

The Red Hand
The famous red hand of the Néill (descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages, 5th century High King) was the ancient battle standard of the sept. Among the Néill one finds many family names. Many heralds, faced with the absence of a recorded coat of arms, will assign this design, either with a right or left hand, to any name even remotely connected with the Néill Not that this is entirely incorrect, but it should be borne in mind that this is a kind of catch-all emblem for a huge number of Irish families. I have written more on this subject in the context of my own surname (Geoghegan is part of the Néill) and you can read about it at
http://www.geoghegan.org/clan/heraldry.html

 

Haughey and others

There is a whole series of Irish names derived from the personal names Eochaigh, Eochaidh, Eachaigh and Eachaidh. A number of erroneous coats of arms have been produced on the false assumption that all of these names are basically the same and therefore should have the same coat of arms. I use Haughey as a typical example. In Irish this name is Ó hEachaidh and as well as Haughey it is also found as Haffey or Haffy in English. Based on the Irish form, the following coats of arms have been incorrectly used as those of Haughey - Hoey (Ó hEochaidh - see left), Keogh (Mac Eochaidh - see left), Geoghegan (Mac Eochagáin - see above) and, I am sure, others. When Henry Haffey of Bath, formerly of Armagh, Ireland had his arms confirmed as per the graphic on the right, he employed the ancient symbol of the sept as confirmed by the Office of the Chief Herald.

 

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