Sunday, January 10, 2021

The White Shield of Ulster

The more you look the more you see. A few posts ago I showed various examples of the yellow De Burgh arms being used to represent Ulster in a wide range of usages in the late 1800s right up into the 1950s and beyond. And so the impression forms that the more familiar white version came into usage after the Partition in 1921. As is often the case, that assumption is too neat, and isn't true. Here is a range of postcards from the 'We Will Not Have Home Rule" campaigns circa 1911-12, using a white shield. This isn't due to the printer trying to save costs - they are full colour print and adding a yellow to the shield would have been easy. Using white was a conscious decision.

You'll notice that there are Irish messages being signalled too – with the Irish style coat of arms for Ulster (as per the original Ulster Bank coat of arms) which uses the five pointed crown of Ireland, and, in the example above, a 'clan belt' design with an Irish language message - 'Lamh Dearg Go Bragh'.

This one has echoes of the very famous Erin Go Bragh message which was displayed at the famous Ulster Unionist Convention in 1892, a message which can be found being used right across the political spectrum from the United Irishmen in 1798 to a medal struck for King George IV's visit to Ireland in 1821. In 1861 the renowned Belfast Presbyterian publisher William M'Comb wrote a poem entitled 'To The Queen, On the Occasion of Her Majesty's First Visit to Ireland', in which he used Erin go braghVictoria agragh, cead mille failtie and cushla machree (it's online here).

Looking back from our divided perspective, I think we might be prone to retro-fit too much significance into the 1892 image; the use of non-English language mottoes on heraldic emblems to represent families, counties, and nations was/is pretty standard form on heraldry. Honi soit qui mal y pense; Dieu Et Mon Droit; Nemo me impune lacessit, etc.

It was an earlier time, and in some senses a less divided time. Images and messages were being projected without the prism through which our generation has been shaped to retrospectively interpret them. As always, there is more to learn and discover.