Genealogical Office

The Genealogical Office is an office of the Government of Ireland containing genealogical records. It includes the Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland (Irish: Príomh Aralt na hÉireann),[1] the authority in Ireland for heraldry. The Chief Herald authorises the granting of arms to Irish bodies and Irish people, including descendants of emigrants. The office was constituted on 1 April 1943 as successor to the Ulster King of Arms, established during the Tudor period of the Kingdom of Ireland in 1552. The Ulster King of Arms' duties were taken over by the Norroy and Ulster King of Arms.

The Genealogical Office was formerly based in Dublin Castle.[2] It was made part of the Department of Education in 1943.[3] The office later relocated to the National Library of Ireland (NLI),[2] and was formally recognised as part of the NLI in 1997.[1] In 2002,[4] it was transferred from Education to the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism.[4]


The tradition of the Irish abroad seeking grants of arms from the Chief Herald continues to the present. The Office accepts petitions for grants of arms from the following:[5]

  • A citizen of Ireland or a person who has an entitlement to become a citizen.
  • A person resident in the State for at least the five-year period immediately before the date of the application.
  • A public or local authority, corporate body or other entity which has been located or functioning in Ireland for at least five years.
  • An individual, corporate body or other entity not resident or located in Ireland but who or which has substantial historical, cultural, educational, financial or ancestral connections with Ireland.

An application for a grant of arms should be made to the Chief Herald, on a prescribed form, setting out, in the case of a personal application, basic personal information and accompanied by supporting certificates or other appropriate documents. For a grant of arms to a corporate body or other entity, the application should include information about the legal status (if any) of the organisation, its structure, its activities and business, the length of time during which it has operated and, if relevant, information about membership. Where appropriate, a certified copy of the resolution of the Council, Board, or other controlling body should be submitted.

If an application appears to be in order the matter is considered in detail by a herald of arms who will consult with the applicant about possible designs. A preliminary painting is then made for the approval of the applicant who will also be shown a draft of the Letters Patent. The final document is issued on vellum and includes a hand-painted exemplification of the arms. The grant of arms is recorded in the Register of Arms and is a matter of public record.

In November 1945 the Chief Herald granted the coat of arms of Ireland to the State itself.[6]

At the request of the Irish Government a Grant of Arms was made to US presidents John F. Kennedy in 1963 and Bill Clinton in 1995.[7]

Titles of nobility

Article 40.2.1 of the Constitution of Ireland prohibits the conferral of a new title of nobility by the State, and Article 40.2.2 prohibits acceptance by any citizen of any title of nobility or of honour "without the prior approval of the Government."[8]

The Constitution does not prohibit the grantings of honours, other than titles of nobility, by the State. The Constitution is also silent as to untitled nobility. The Government acknowledges titles of nobility that have in the past derived from the British Crown as the fount of honour then exercising sovereignty over Ireland, and in fact such titles continue to be mentioned in confirmations of arms by the Chief Herald of Ireland.

Chiefs of the Name

When the Kingdom of Ireland was created in 1541, the Dublin administration wanted to involve the Gaelic chiefs into the new entity, creating new titles for them such as the Earl of Tyrone, or the Barons Inchiquin. In the process they were granted new coats of arms from 1552. The associated policy of surrender and regrant involved a change to succession to a title by primogeniture, and not by tanistry where a group of male cousins of a chief were eligible to succeed by election. This was accepted by the new title-holders but not by some of their cousins. Thereafter the chiefs of the name succeeded by primogeniture for several centuries, in a similar way to the clan chiefs in Scotland.

Many other clan chiefs were never given formal titles or knighthoods from the Kingdom of Ireland, but were issued with arms and usually registered their genealogies with the heralds in Dublin, and became a significant part of the landed gentry.

After the Battle of Kinsale in 1601 and the subsequent Flight of the Earls, some dozens of the old Gaelic aristocracy scattered throughout Catholic Europe. Some of their descendants were granted courtesy recognition in 1943 by the Chief Herald as Chiefs of the Name, signifying that they are the senior male line descendant from the last recognised chief of the name.

The issue of the chiefs' succession arose again after the creation of the Chief Herald of Ireland in 1943. Some Chiefs of the Name favour tanistry while others see primogeniture as a more practical system. In an address to the Irish Senate in December 2006 John O'Donoghue, the then Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism also expressed the opinion that it was a matter for those who bore these titles to decide on the system they used for succession, but that he found it strange that an English system had been used for the succession of titles originally created under a native Irish system.

Following advice from the Attorney General that the recognition of Chiefs of the Name was without basis in law, the practice of courtesy recognition was abandoned in July 2003.

Due reportedly to uncertainty concerning the legal validity of grants of arms in the Republic of Ireland, the post of Chief Herald remained vacant from September 2003 until August 2005. It had been assumed that the prerogatives of the British Crown, including the power to grant arms, had been inherited after Irish independence in 1922, but a series of legal judgments have undermined this view, and doubts over the status of the Office of the Chief Herald are not entirely resolved.

While many functions had passed under the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act 1922 to the then Provisional Government of the Irish Free State in April 1922, the pre-existing office of the Ulster King of Arms continued unchanged until 1943.

In May 2005 the government enacted section 13 of the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997.[9] This enables the Board of the National Library to "designate a member of its staff to perform the duty of researching, granting and confirming coats of arms and such member shall use the appellation Chief Herald of Ireland or, in the Irish language, Príomh-Aralt na hÉireann, while performing such duties".[10] While this was intended to legitimise the granting of arms in Ireland, it actually initiated a debate as to whether any grants made since 1943 were valid.[11] These would include the 1945 grant of the coat of arms of Ireland to the state itself.

In May 2006 the Genealogy & Heraldry Bill[12] was introduced into Seanad Éireann to reform the Office and provide a firm legal basis for grants and confirmations of arms.

The Bill was withdrawn on 12 December 2006 with consent of the sponsoring senator, and was referred to the board of the National Library for consideration by John O'Donoghue, the then Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism.[13]

In September 2007 a notice was added to the National Library website noting the suspension of grants of arms until the legal situation was clarified. Following the receipt of legal advice, the Board of the National Library was "satisfied that it can exercise the heraldic powers conferred on it by the 1997 Act", and grants are again being made.

The Board did, however, note that "doubts exist regarding the legal basis of heraldic functions exercised in the State prior to the establishment of the Board" and that "with minor amendment, the wording of the Act could be made more succinct".[14]

While the issue of the legality of grants of arms by the Chief Herald may have been resolved to a certain extent, no penalties or jurisdiction have yet been legislated for to discourage anyone from designing and using a new coat of arms. Such self-designed arms would be protected by the current copyright law of Ireland.

Chief Heralds

  • Edward McLysaght (1943–54)
  • Gerard Slevin (1954–81)
  • Donal Begley (1981–95)
  • Patricia Donlon (1995–97)
  • Brendan O Donoghue (1997–2003)
  • Post vacant 2003–05
  • Fergus Gillespie (2005–2009)
  • Collette Byrne (2009–2010)
  • Colette O'Flaherty (2010–)

Costs of granting and preparing arms

An applicant will be expected to provide genealogical information including birth, marriage and death certificates back to an ancestor that bore arms. Alternatively, an entirely new grant of arms can be discussed and designed.[15] Since 7 October 2013 the basic cost of a Grant of Arms (or confirmation of a prior grant) has been:

  • Individual €4,400
  • Corporate bodies (Commercial) €17,250
  • Local authorities, government offices and agencies €8,600
  • Schools, clubs, professional associations and other non-profit organizations €8,600

The sum of €400 is payable when lodging the application; half of the remaining fee is payable when work on the design begins; and the balance must be paid before work on the actual grant of arms is put in hand by the Herald Painter.



  1. National Cultural Institutions Act, 1997 §13: Provisions relating to genealogy and heraldry.
  2. The Genealogical Office, Dublin Castle, Burke's Peerage and Gentry
  3. S.I. No. 267/1943 — Allocation of Administration (Genealogical Office) Order, 1943
  4. S.I. No. 328/2002 — Genealogical Office (Transfer of Departmental Administration and Ministerial Functions) Order 2002
  5. Applying for a Grant of Arms, National Library of Ireland, accessed 3 March 2014
  6. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 18 May 2013. Retrieved 2013-05-30.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. Mr Clinton's arms are blazoned thus: Or a lion rampant gules charged with three bars argent holding in the dexter paw a branch of olive proper between in the dexter chief and sinister base a cross crosslet fitchée sable and in the sinister chief and dexter base a shamrock slipped vert. And the Crest : An anchor erect azure on the stock the letters SPES argent. With the Motto : An leon do bheir an chraobh (English : The lion who bears away the branch ) Genealogical Office: Register of Arms, 1982–95, GO MS 111 W+X, folio X77, grant dated 13 June 1995.
  8. "Constitution of Ireland Article 40.2.2" (PDF). Government of Ireland. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 23 August 2008.
  9. Section 13 text online
  10. National Cultural Institutions Act, 1997, section 13 (Irish Statute Book), accessed 25 October 2007
  11. An Irish Arms Crisis, Sean J Murphy, accessed 25 October 2007
  12. Genealogy & Heraldry Bill, 2006.
  13. Parliamentary Debates (Official Report – Unrevised) Seanad Éireann Tuesday, 12 December 2006
  14. Press Release, Board of the National Library of Ireland, 24 October 2007
  15. Applying for a grant of Arms booklet (National Library of Ireland, bi-lingual, undated)


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