- Kelly Heraldry - McGovern Heraldry -

This page will provide some background on the family heraldry.  Click on the heraldry links above to navigate on this page.  Heraldry as an art and science began in the 12th century at the height of the feudal system in England, Scotland and Europe.  As kings found profit in waging war and as feudal lords required men to protect their holdings, the need for professional fighting men evolved.  This was the origin of knighthood.  When wars became large-scale confrontations, and weapons increased in sophistication, more elaborate defensive armor was also needed.  In order to protect their entire bodies, knights were soon clad from head to foot in heavy armor.  Because the helmet concealed their identity, knights began to paint symbols on their shields and helmets, symbols that would be recognized by friends and foes alike in battle.  Thus, the art of heraldry was born.  Coats of arm, employing very specific symbols, were derived.  These symbols, first only a means of identification, soon became a source of pride to their bearers.

The era of knights has long passed and the study of heraldry may strike some as an outdated pursuit.  But because of the strict rules governing the granting of arms and the precise significance of each heraldic symbol, heraldry emerges as a kind of coded history.

Terms to know:

  1. heraldry:
    originated with the Anglo-Saxons.  "Here" meant an army; "wald" meant strength.  Every powerful leader had his own herald - a richly-clothed minstrel who, after a battle or tournament told the deeds of the victor.  He wore the coat of arms of his leader, and his status was that of a non-combatant messenger.
  2. armory:
    the science of which the rules add the laws govern the use, display, meaning and knowledge of the pictured signs and emblems on a shield, helmet or banner.
  3. coat of arms:
    comes from a textile coat worn over the armor and was a product of the Crusades.  Europe's climate was cool so armor was no problem.  But when the Crusaders went to the East, they needed to protect their metal armor from the sun's rays and rust from rain.  Therefore they painted the same decoration on the coat that was on the shield.
  4. an achievement:
    the whole armorial decoration one is entitled to bear (i.e., shield, helmet, banner).
  5. shield:
    the most important part of the achievement; also called escutcheon.  A shield can be of any shape - banner, parallelogram, square, circle, oval lozenge (diamond) used by women.
  6. crest:
    the top to a helmet; on a coat of arms, it is a figure above the escutcheon in a coat of arms
  7. motto:
    usually a Latin phrase having some muting to the leader or family.
  8. field:
    the background of the shield; the field has been divided into nine areas.


Kelly Heraldry

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The armorial bearings of some of the O'Kelly / Kelly branches have slight differences.  All, however, show the enfield beast on their crest.  There is a tradition among the Kellys that they have born this animal since the days of Tadhg Mór O'Kelly who fell "fighting like a wolf dog" against the Danes with the High King Of Ireland, Brian Boru at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014AD.  When Tadhg Mór fell this animal issued from the nearby sea to protect the dead body of the chief until it was retrieved by his O'Kelly kinsmen.

The animal is sculptured on many old tombstones of the Kelly family in the Abbey of Kilconnell, and in the old church of Cloonkeen.&nbps; The creature is composed as follows; the head of a fox, the chest of an elephant, the mane of a horse, the forelegs of an eagle , the body and hind legs of a hound , and the tail of a lion.

Family Motto: Turris Fortis Mihi Deus (Latin)
God is My Tower Of Strength



McGovern Heraldry

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Field: Azure (Blue) represents strength, loyalty OR truth and loyalty
Passant (walking) Lion: Fierce Courage. In Ireland the Lion represented the 'lion' season, prior to the full arrival of Summer.  The symbol can also represent a great Warrior or Chief.
Crescent: Hope of glory, one who has been enlightened.  Sign of the second son.

Family Motto: "Serviendo Guberno" – “I govern by serving"
This motto was also the motto of the O'Rourkes of Breifne with whom there was much intermarriage with the McGoverns in Ireland.