Ferriter Family Arms: The Whys and the Wherefores (Or How Shopkeepers and Looters stole the Glory)
The Myth of Arms
Many people, mostly Americans, believe that every family was once issued a coat of arms and then everyone born with that family name automatically gets to use the same coat of arms. If you believe that, it is time to correct the myth.
The Reality of Arms C1300 Heraldic symbols came to be painted on the sleeveless surcoats worn over armour and the term "coat of arms" appeared. Early records of the arms associated with particular families include the seals of the hundred barons who signed and sealed a letter to Pope Boniface VIII in 1301, and the documents called Rolls of Arms which commemorate knights attending battles and tournaments at around the same time.
Celtic (Irish) Arms
The original native Irish did not employ armorial symbols. History speaks of the use of banners, sometimes emblazoned with the symbol of the associated Sept, or clan/tribe. These Sept symbols seem to have been typically nature motifs. An example is the Flanigan “Tree”. In some cases these symbols were later (much later) incorporated in to armorials and registered.
The Ferriters arrived into Kerry during the early period of Norman political and military consolidation. The Family, (or its head at the time), was granted extensive landholdings in the areas now identifiable as Dunurlin, Dunquin, Ballyoughtera, Marhin, Ballyferriter, and Ferriter’s quarter. Documentary evidence exists that places these early Ferriter chiefs in the status of “knight of the shire”, the fundamental political and military unit of the feudal system. In this capacity, the knight held lands as a fiefdom, in fealty to a local lord, to whom he provided rent in kind, and a commitment to military service (along with a certain number of soldiers), when needed, or for a set period, usually 40 days per year.
Grants of arms were not an aspect of the earliest period. Knights in service to a FitzGerald no doubt wore FitzGerald "colors", but that was all. During the late period - especially going into Tudor times, individual arms became fashionable. On the verge of the dissolution of the Catholic Order, (Hiberno-Norman Order) in Ireland, The office of "The Ulster King of Arms" was set up to manage the application for, and issuance of armorial symbols to Irish Families. This happened in 1552 just about the time that the rug was pulled out from under the Desmond FitzGeralds, and all hell began to break loose across Ireland, but particularly in Kerry.
The Legacy of the Tudors
Those who conformed to English ways – politically, legally, and religiously, survived and advanced. During this period, any property holder or merchant who desired arms, and could demonstrate good standing in the English community was granted arms. Assumed arms of earlier eras were often registered.
Ferriter’s Friends and Neighbors
The following few slides depict armorial symbols assumed, or granted to key parties in West Kerry: DeMarais, FitzGerald, Fitzmaurice, Hussey, Rice and Trant. The first three would predate the “granting” process, the latter three would be granted, or assumed and later registered.
Armorial bearings began as a form of martial identification. Medieval knights drew designs on their shields to distinguish themselves one from another while covered from head to toe in armor. However, in largely illiterate societies, the clergy, merchants, peasants and tradesmen could not resist adopting such useful insignia to identify themselves and their institutions. Anyone could legally assume arms in the Middle Ages.
Beginning in the 16th century, monarchs began asserting control over this practice, and just as noble titles and knighthood evolved from concrete military commitments into honours, so did armorial bearings granted by monarchs evolve from warrior ID into a kind of graphical honorific.
“ Everyone was free to adopt arms at his pleasure, as long as they were different from those of others. Cases of fortuitous resemblance were settled by arbiters. The possession of a coat of arms did not rest on any right, but came out of a social habit. Just as today that of a top-hat, the possession of arms was, in the Middle Ages, unchanging and inevitable among the higher classes of society; going down the social scale, arms became rarer and indicated at the same time social aspirations."
From the Chief Herald
. In the words of Fergus Gillespie, Chief Herald of Ireland:
“ It is indeed unusual that there seem to be no coats of arms in any of our sources associated with the name Ferriter” (e-mail, F. Gillespie to G. Ferriter, 4/14/2008)
O.K., What Gives?
So why not Ferriter?
The principal factors at work in this circumstance were political , and numerical :
Quite frankly, the family almost died out.
Just at the time that an office was set up to register/assign Arms to Irish families, the Ferriters found themselves more or less isolated, and on the wrong side of the fence. If they held arms, those did not enter the books
Faux Arms of Ferriter
For many years, probably centuries, a business has been made in creating new and unregistered arms for individuals and families. This is fine. In more recent times, unscrupulous hucksters have taken to assigning arms based upon mere similarity of name. The following slide depicts an example of this.
Spurious Arms These arms were offered on the internet as "Ferriter Family Crest", but are actually for the Farron/Fearon Family (and questionable at that). The accompanying "history" simply assumes that "Ferriter" is a spelling variant of "Farron", and proceeds with all sorts of misleading information on that basis.
Unregistered Arms of Ferriter These arms belonged to Charles Arthur Ferriter, (1901 – 1969). How he came to have them is unknown, however he thought enough of them to hang the ’original’ behind glass in the front hallway of his home, dating at least back to the late 1950s. These armorials have been given intense scrutiny. There exist certain evidentiary artifacts that suggest that they are not a random fake or fantasy.
Arms of Ferriter (?)
The arms of Ferriter assumed by C.A. Ferriter just may have certain historical merit, dating from the time of Dominick Ferriter, who is very likely to have been Piaras Feiritears oldest son.
Domick served as an officer in Catholic Confederacy the fight against Cromwell, c1641 – 1651. After the fall of Ross Castle, he took exile to Europe along with many other “Wild Geese”
Continental Armies required officers to “bear arms”, or be armigers
Arms of Ferriter: A Theory with Merit
The key battle of Knockanauss was lost by Lord Theobald Taaffe
When Ross Castle surrendered, it was under the Command of MG Lucas Taaffe, and Dominick was probably there
Dominick reappears as a Regimental Major in Flanders, with Capt Christopher Taaffe as a subordinate
“ Hot words” between the Captain and the Major Lead to Taaffe’s murder/execution
The Crest and Motto of Taaffe The Motto for the Taaffe Coat of Arms is "In hoc signo spes mea", which means "In this sign is my hope”
It is perhaps reasonable to postulate that Dominick had armorials drawn up that commemorated the conflict between the Ferriters and the Taafes.
Given the relative position and influence of the Taaffes and the Ferriters, these arms either remained assumed (never registered) or were disallowed.
Heraldic Symbolism of C. A. Ferriter’s Arms
Background Color: Gules (Red). Gules carries the symbolic meaning of being appropriate for a Warrior or Martyr, with the attributes of Military Strength and Magnanimity
Arm/Hand: Qualities of Leadership
Sword: Justice and Military Honor
Clouds: Mystery of Obscured Truth
This isn’t a Sales Pitch, SO - What’s the Story Here?
Unregistered arms may be “authentic”
Authentic in the sense that they carry meaningful symbolism and history for the family that bears them
If your branch of the family has Arms that are meaningful, pleasing, and haven’t been lifted from someone else – by all means keep and display them
Conclusions and Conclusion
The idea that Coats of Arms are or were reflective of some noble past or honor bestowed is most often NOT correct. In keeping with historical practice, anyone can be an armiger. The importance is in the meaning, and in the history. If historical arms are uncertain, an armigerous individual may assume them.
Assumed arms may be newly created, or may have some tradition. If confident that they are unique, they may be registered. If you are Irish, you may pay to have arms granted, and you may even design them yourself .