Sunday, June 14, 2015

Red Hand of Ulster

Red Hand of Ulster

Red Hand of Ulster – Official Seal of O’Neill Family

The Red Hand of Ulster is considered to be the official seal of the O’Neill family and is believed to be initiated from a mythical tale where it is said that two chieftain raced across a stretch of water to bid the first to reach the land and claim it as his own.

One chieftain on realising that his foe would be the first to touch the land cut off his hand and threw it on the shore, claiming the land before his opponent has reached it and the Red Hand is said to be the only emblems in Northern Ireland that is used by both communities in Northern Ireland.

However, it is more associated with the Protestants community and Catholics envisage it representing the nine counties of Ulster and the Protestants consider it representing six counties of Northern Ireland. The Red Hand of Ulster seems to appear on several flags and murals. It is used as a symbol in heraldry denoting the Irish province of Ulster and is an open right hand red in colour with fingers pointing upwards and the thumb parallel to the fingers, having the palm facing forward. The symbol is embedded in Irish Gaelic culture and associated with the Ui Neill clan of Ulster while in some version, it is a left hand used and or/the thumb is opened.

Battle over Ownership Red Hand of Ulster

This Irish Gaelic symbol is generally accepted that it originated in pagan times and was first connected with the mythical figure Labraid Lamb Dhearg or Labraid Lamderg of the Red Hand of the Fenian Cycle of Irish mythology.

 As per one myth it is said that the kingdom of Ulster had at some point of time no rightful heir due to which it was agreed that a boat race to be taken place and whosoever’s hand touches the shore of Ireland shall be made the king. One of the two, desiring the kingship, on seeing that he was probably losing the race, cut off his hand, throwing it to the shore and won the kingship. The hand is most likely red to signify the fact that it would have been covered in blood.

Other version indicate that the king who had cut off his hand belong to the Ui Neill clan which probably explains its connection with them. While other versions conclude that it was none other than Niall of the Nine Hostage who severed his own hand to win his crown from his opponent.

Red Imprint of Hand on Rocks

Another myth relates that two giants who engaged in battle and had one of his hand cut off by the other and a red imprint of the hand was left on the rocks which is believed to have been used by the Ui Neill clan at the time of its Nine Years’ War against the spread of English control.

The arms of the chiefs of Scottish Clan MacNeil of Barra comprise of the Red Hand where the clan has claimed traditional descent from Niall of the Nine Hostages while several other families used the Red Hand to focus on Ulster ancestry. The Earl of Iveargh, the head of the Guinness family had three Red Hands on his arms as recently as 1891.

 In 1243, after Walter de Burgh became Earl of Ulster, the de Burgh cross was united with the Red Hand in creating a flag representing the Earldom of Ulster which later on became the modern Flag of Ulster, It was part of the arms of the Irish Society during the plantation of Ulster. While there are several who associate the Red Hand with loyalist iconography, there seems to be a cultural battle over its ownership and it still adorns the provincial and political flags of Northern Ireland and Ulster.

Red Hand of Ulster Recognized as  Symbol of Ulster

The sales of baronetcies initially helped in funding the plantation in order that baronets of England as well of Ireland together with later baronets of Great Britain and the United Kingdom were permitted to supplement their arms with hand gules.

The Red Hand could be considered as one of the few cross-community symbols which have been used in Northern Ireland and due to its origins as Gaelic Irish symbol, groups like nationalist/republican have used and tend to continue using it.

As the most recognized symbol of Ulster, it is also utilised by Ulster’s unionist as well as loyalist like its use in the Ulster Covenant and in the arms of the Government of Northern Ireland, the Ulster Volunteers and loyalist revolutionary groups like the Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defence Association and various others.

The Red Hand seems to be portrayed on various Ulster counties crest like the Antrim, Cavan, Monaghan, Londonderry and Tyrone and was later on included in the abolished Government of Northern Ireland flag, It has also been utilised by several other official as well as non-official organisation all over the province of Ulster and Ireland.

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