Sunday, 27 December 2009

Arms and Tartans

In genealogical magazines, on the Internet and in other places you will see advertisements offering for sale heraldic devices related to any number of surnames, and they usually include McIlhagga, though not I think its variants. Some years ago, when I was just beginning to dabble in the hobby I corresponded with a firm in Canterbury, England, who produced one of the heraldic devices at the head of this blog. They assured me that it had been carefully researched by a freelance expert. I asked to be put in touch with this researcher in the hope of discovering precisely where he or she had searched, so that I could verify things for myself. As you will suspect, I received no reply. In subsequent conversations with other clan members I have heard similar stories, two of the results of which also head this blog.

Along with such designs these firms usually offer a so-called potted history of our clan. Let me say that the history which I have tried to outline in earlier blogs is usually ignored and origins which I consider to be false or at least very doubtful, are peddled. In a couple of cases I have written to these firms offering my own summary of the history of our name, without, I'm afraid, any result. So I advise scepticism about such offers.

The simple truth is that heraldic designs are never given by the 'powers-that-be' - for example the Lord Lyon and King of Arms in Scotland - are never given to be associated with a name in a general kind of way. They are only granted to individuals, usually because they are in some way eminent, perhaps indeed in relation to a clan. I'm afraid (to the best of my knowledge) no McIlhagga or McIlhagger, no McIlhaga or McElhago (&c.) has ever been granted such an heraldic device. And furthermore it is quite wrong for any individual or family to use such a device without a disclaimer making it clear that it hasn't been granted to them personally. I know that we used one of the above designs on the front page of the annual clan newsletter that we have published for the past seven years (though not this year) but, with one year excepted, we always printed an appropriate disclaimer.

You will see that over one device above there is the Latin motto Fuimus which means 'I have been' and is the motto of The Bruce. I believe this design was produced by a firm in Edinburgh, Scotland. Concerning Scottish connections, as well as queries about heraldic devices I occasionally get asked whether our clan has a tartan. Again the answer is 'No', though in the case of tartans I understand that anyone can design their own and can have it recognised. There are existing lists of tartans with surnames and I found one recently claiming that McIlhagga has the right to wear a Wallace tartan. So again I wrote to the firm and asked what evidence they had for saying this? Again, no reply! I would dearly like it to be true that there is some link to either Bruce or to Wallace, but I have no evidence that either link has any basis in fact, unless one could make something of the link to the Earls of Carrick which I mentioned in my blog of the 8th of February.

Now of course it might be fun to design a kind of 'Clan Logo', or indeed a new Tartan, and if anyone would like to have a go I'd be delighted to see the result.

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