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COAT OF ARMS

The Mag Fhionnghaile clan do not have an ancient Coat of Arms. It is very easy to 'invent' one, but we prefer to stick to the original principals of the idea of a Coat of Arms. The Coat of Arms was invented as a 'sign of recognition' during warfare/combat. If therefore, some rich business man in the twentieth century decides to invent his own Coat of Arms for his family, can it really be said to be a sign of recognition during warfare? It may look 'nice' sitting on his office desk, but it can never be a true 'Coat of Arms'. There are many of these so called Coat of Arms out there... 'for sale'... pretending to be the Arms of the McGinley clan. They are all bogus. 'Paper Heraldry' is the term used to describe such Coat of Arms that were never used on the battlefield. They are a sign of pompousness and have no part to play in the original meaning of the Coat of Arms. Many such images have been created in the last two hundred years to satisfy a demand for such things. It is fair to say that the vast majority of Irish family Coat of Arms have little historical value and those that are old, are wrongly displayed in an English fashion.

There is NO evidence to suggest either, that the Irish Gaelic clans carried into battle 'Coats of Arms', in the traditional European sense, but instead they carried with them what they called their Bratach. This can be translated into English as Flag, Banner or Standard. It is known that the Irish used 'banners' for warfare before the Norman invasion in 1169. THEY DID NOT CARRY HERALDIC EMBLEMS ON SHIELDS. Therefore, if any clans can prove that they carried any 'sign' of recognition into battle, it should be described as their Bratach or in English, their Flag/Banner/Standard. The actual design or emblem is called in Irish Suaitheantas (pronounced Soohantuss). The Mag Fhionnghaile clan were too small or unimportant to have their own 'sign' or Bratach. The Irish typically went into battle carrying their banners or flags as their only sign of recognition. It was usually only the leading clan who done so. Supporting clans or dependant clans would only have caused confusion on the battle field if they too had symbols, although some early records testify to this happening. The Irish shield for that matter NEVER incorporated symbols or signs, but instead were round shaped, covered with leather and studded with nails in a loose decorative form.

The Irish have been carrying distinctive banners into battle well before the Norman period. In fact, there are some indications that it went back into pre-Roman times. The practice of identification during warfare by way of banners etc. is nothing new and most cultures indulged in such practices, in one way or another. With the Irish, the typical banner or standard was usually a square shaped piece of stiffened linen material with an additional stiffened border (possibly fringed) of alternate colours around three sides. The idea of a symbol put onto a shield was a Norman idea which passed on to the English. Some old Irish symbols belonging to Irish clans can be found during the 1500's and 1600's depicted on a typical Norman/English shaped shield. This is no evidence of the use of such shields among the native Irish however. These 'depictions' of Irish designs on shields were simply a way of gaining English 'acceptance' and to appear 'civilised' by showing them in the English fashion.

Medieval Irish heraldry derives from the ancient battle signs. Many signs found on Irish 'Coat of Arms' are distinctively Irish harking back to ancient times. Symbols such as the Boar, the Stag, the Red Hand etc. are very old. An account of the Battle of Magh Rath (in Co. Down) from the year 637 AD (Annals of Tighearnach) make mention of the battle standards of the Gaelic chieftains. Translated according to Keating, we have the following..."For it is there read, that the whole host/army was wont to be placed under the command of one captain-in-chief, and that, under him, each division of his force obeyed its own captain; and besides, that every captain of these bore upon his standard his peculiar device or enzign". The Irish word for device or enzign is Suaitheantas and is known as such among the Gaels of Scotland who followed the Irish manner by using banners/flags instead of the foreign shield.

Does our clan have any individual Sign of Recognition/Coat of Arms/Flag/Banner/ Standard, call it what ever you wish? The plain and honest answer is NO. But... it does not end there. We have, as previously stated, followed as a supporting clan, the Sweeneys into battle, but unfortunately most emblems associated with the Sweeney clan are later than the period of clan warfare (in an Irish clan context this means before about 1650 and the Confederate Wars). If a Coat of Arms for the Sweeneys could be dated to before the 1650's, then we would have a certain right to recognised it but unfortunately all the experts agree that the available Sweeney designs are of a later date.

During the various Irish rebellions against the English in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, various Donegal clans either fought behind, helped or gave their support to the Chief Clan of Donegal, the Ó Domhnaill/O'Donnell. The McGinleys fought behind not only the Sweeneys but the O'Donnells. We would therefore have 'some' right to use their 'sign'. Their symbol can be traced back to at least 1567 when it was recorded on John Goghe's 'Map of Ireland'. It most likely is a developement of the Scottish McDonald symbol, a clan who had strong links with the leadership in Donegal. Medieval folklore accounts tells us that it was St Patrick who gave the red cross symbol to Conall Gulban and therefore the symbol to his descendants. Under much pressure from McGinleys around the world, we are accepting the use of the O'Donnell symbol. For our long service in battle to the O'Donnells, we would have a certain right to use it. The red cross symbol has anyway, bypassed the O'Donnell clan and is now regarded as a symbol for the whole of Donegal. It is a symbol that would have been visibly known to our ancestors on the battlefield, unlike the plethora of 'invented' twentieth century images, which we cannot accept. The McGinleys also have their own war-cry... Clann Fionnghaileach Abú... which means 'Clan McGinley forever'. It has been known within the clan for at least two hundred years and possibly much older as it follows the traditional Irish motif found in the medieval period.

 

 

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