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The  O Conor Don

O Conor Don Arms
The Heraldic Arms The O Conor Don, Prince of Connaught

 

THE ARMS OF THE O CONOR DON

 

O Conor Don is Head of the Royal House of Connaught with a claim, as heir, to the High Kingship of Ireland. His House Order, the Red Branch, is one of the ancient Gaelic noble warrior fraternities. (Admission to The Red Branch is by invitation only and apparently quite limited.)

The Arms of O Conor Don are shown, together with his House Order badge, a neck badge on tenne ribbon, edged green. Note the special design of coronet above the manteau (or rather, in this case, pavilion), and the device of Connaught on the sinister flank of the cape. The tinctures of the Arms are "argent, an oak tree eradicated vert", (sometimes proper), the lion supporters being "gules, armed and langued azure", and the antique crown and harps "Or". The motto, "Lam Croga Eirinn", translates as "The Spirited Hand of Ireland". Spirited could also be translated as brave, bold, courageous, hardy, strong or lively.

By the received principles of international law it is claimed that the representatives of the ancient Royal Houses of Ireland are entitled to the title of Prince. O Conor Don is styled Prince of Connaught and O Neill of Clanaboy styled Prince of Clanaboy. The MacCarthy Mor is styled Prince of Desmond and if he used European titles, rather than the Gaelic form of the Patronymic, he would equate with "Royal Highness". The O Neill of Clanaboy has been recognised as a "Most Serene Highness". The Royal Houses comprise O Conor Don (Connaught), O Neill (Ulster), The MacCarthy Mor (Munster), and MacMorrough Kavanagh (Leinster, in abeyance). Then follow the Princely Houses of O Brien (Thomond), Maguire (Fermanagh), O Donnell (Tyrconnel), O Rouke (Breffny) and, below these, the comital Chiefs. The Irish Republic recognises feudal titles as a form of property guaranteed by the Constitution.

 

Badge of Companions of Royal House of O Conor
Badge of Companions of The Royal House of O Conor

 

The Companions of the Royal House of O Conor

(Chompanach na Craoibhe Rioga)

The mythology of pre-Christian Ireland abounds with stories of fearsome warriors battling with their enemies. The ancient Irish sagas tell of these warrior bands, bound to the high kings and living in communities apart from the rest of society as it was in those days constituted. Their exploits are legendary, and have been recounted down through the centuries as part of the folklore of pre-Norman Ireland.

In the ancient Irish language these warriors were referred to as Curraidh or Fianna – the Champions or Soldiers. Later, when the old Irish sagas were translated into English, these words were changed to conform with the romantic notions of the era, and with typical Victorian abandon these mythical warriors became "knights". Fortunately this etymological transformation (perpetuated for more than a century and a half) serves to clearly separate these mythological "knights" from the Irish chivalry who are today admitted as Companions of the Royal House of O Conor (Chompanach na Craoibhe Rioga).

Generally speaking, the ancient Irish custom of "knighthood" differed markedly from what we today understand this term to mean. In pre-Norman times the young sons of Irish nobles would "receive their valour" at about the age of seven. Later, when they reached manhood, they would enter the fray with sword, spear, and shield. Those who distinguished themselves in battle would then be admitted to one of the warrior bands. P.W. Joyce, writing in "A Social History of Ancient Ireland" (vol. 1 page 99), had this to say about one of these early warrior bands:

"... the distinguishing mark of which was called nasc-niad (the champion’s ring or collar). Neither the order – nor, of course, the decoration – was conferred except it was won on the field of battle: and the person who won the nasc-niard was called nia-naisc, ‘Champion of the Collar’ ... "

The kings and high kings of Ireland granted many favours and privileges to these autonomous bands of noble warriors. All of this was, of course, in keeping with the ancient traditions of Irish kingship, a kingship based not on inheritance but on conquest. True, kingship was retained within certain royal families, but the crown passed from uncle to nephew more often than from father to son.

In 664 AD a momentous event took place in the English town of Whitby that was to have profound impact on the ancient Irish custom of kingship, and would change the very structure of Irish society. That event was the Synod of Whitby, which transformed the Irish Church and brought it slowly into conformity with the dictates of the Church in Rome. This, in turn, paved the way for the conversion of Irish society from one based on the principles of the Brehon Laws to an acceptance of the feudal system just beginning to emerge in Europe. By the end of the 11th Century, the Church, both in Ireland and on the continent, was in wholehearted support of the feudal system.

The Irish kings were quick to grasp the advantages of a stable feudal society, and the kings of Connacht, Ulster, Leinster, and Munster consolidated their power as quickly and conveniently as possible. The High Kingship during this period became the prerogative of only three families: the O Conors, the O Neills, and occasionally the MacCarthys. As each of these kings consolidated their local power, they found themselves in the position of being able to form a royal dynasty modelled on those of the Holy Roman emperors.

By the time of the Norman arrival in 1169, the Kings of Connacht, Ulster, Leinster, and Munster had succeeded in consolidating their kingdoms along more-or-less feudal lines, and the High Kingship – never truly monarchical – had come to be vested in three successive Kings of Connacht (chiefs of the Royal House of O Conor). With the death of Ruairi Ua Conchobair (often translated as Roderick or Rory O Conor) in 1198, the High Kingship of Ireland became dormant. While retaining the Kingship of Connacht, the O Conors were unable to assert their rights as High Kings against the superior military might of the Normans. Never again would any Irish royal house be able to enforce the paramount title of High King of Ireland.

As Kings of Connacht and representative High Kings of Ireland, the Royal House of   O Conor retained all of its royal prerogatives. After the Elizabethan Wars of the 16th century, the Kings of Connacht, Munster, Leinster, and Ulster were reduced in status to that of Princes. Over the next four hundred years, though their absolute power was curtailed by successive British and Irish governments, their princely status as well as their princely rights remain intact.

Thus it is today that The MacCarthy Mor, Prince of Desmond, and The O Conor Don, Prince of Connacht, each exercise the prerogative of their respective royal houses by having brought to light noble or chivalric confraternities in this century, and by admitting select individuals to those orders.

Those wishing to know more about the Irish Kings are referred to the entry in A New Dictionary of Heraldry (London: A.C. Black, 1987), written by the MacCarthy Mor, Prince of Desmond, and entitled "Irish Royal Houses". A detailed study will be found in F.J. Byrne’s Irish Kings and High Kings.

As occasional claimants to the High Kingship of Ireland do from time to time conjure themselves up out of a hat, it should be noted that Sir Bernard Burke, Ulster King of Arms (which office was the precursor of that of the Chief Herald of Ireland), resolved this matter once and for all on 28 August 1889 with the official declaration that Rory O Conor was the last High King of Ireland; since that date all subsequent Kings of Arms and Chief Heralds of Ireland have confirmed this fact, thus recognising The O Conor Don as representative of the High Kingship of Ireland.

In its present form, the confraternity of the Companions of the Royal House of O Conor provides a tangible link with Ireland’s heroic past in the person of The O Conor Don, Prince of Connacht. It makes no claim to an unbroken succession of continuance from some dusty relic conveniently borrowed from the misty days of Ireland’s early history. Rather, its foundation is the direct result of the desire of worthy Irish men, far from their native land, to forge a close personal bond with the High Kingship of Ireland, represented today by The O Conor Don. While not an order of chivalry, it is a chivalric confraternity; all Companions of the Royal House of O Conor must be members of recognised orders of chivalry (or hold the rank of knight) before being admitted to its select ranks.

Although membership is limited only to persons of Irish nationality or ancestry, the confraternity promotes no religious or political point of view. At the direction of   The O Conor Don, it supports worthy cultural activities that encourage peaceful cooperation throughout the whole island of Ireland.

Neck Badge and Ribbon
Neck Badge and Ribbon of a Companion of  The Royal House of  O Conor

 

 

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