Thursday, 24 October 2013

Londonderry Coat of Arms

This really all started with some free time and nothing to do, so I made a variant of the coat of arms of my home city, Londonderry:
I am not proposing any changes or anything like that, but I was surprised at the impact adding a crest and supporters had on the arms. If you are not familiar with the Derry coat of arms then you might want to look at the page about my flag proposal first, it explains the individual components. The harp is really just moved from the centre of the chief, which is not uncommon on some variations and interpretations of the city's arms. What is less common is any real supporters. The official coat of arms used by Derry City Council has no supporters or crest but it is not uncommon to have the arms flanked by flags of all descriptions, usually one or more is historic crimson flag of the city. However in cases like that, it is little more than decoration, where the above design has proper heraldic supporters (although animals and mythological creatures are more common for coats of arms in the British Isles than plant supporters). The supporters are oak branches reflecting the meaning of the name Derry,(anglicised from Gaelic Doire meaning oak grove).
Playing about a little more I made a more exotic version, based slightly on the coat of arms of Spain. The supporters on the Spanish coat of arms are two columns called the pillars of Hercules, which symbolise the promontories that flank the entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar. Well I did something similar, with towers to represent the walls of Londonderry:
Londonderry has the most complete set of city walls in Great Britain and Ireland, built
between 1613-1618, besieged three times (the last in 1689 lasting 105 days and being the longest in British history) but have never been breeched by an attacking army, for this reason Derry is known as the Maiden City. I thought it might be nice for the coat of arms to reflect that hence the above design. The flag on the left tower is the historic city flag used in the 1689 siege, the flag on the right is the banner of the De Burghs who were the local medieval knights, and is today incorporated into the Ulster Flag.
The crest features a dove, with an olive branch this has two meanings, the most obvious is peace after a turbulent 20th Century. The second meaning is that it represents the city's patron saint and ancient founder, St Columba. The Irish name for Columba, 'Columbkille' means dove of the church, and a dove is often used to symbolise the saint.
The anchor and the water base represent the city's maritime heritage and the River Foyle which like most old cities has shaped its history. The Port of Londonderry is the most western port in the United Kingdom, which has made it a very strategic location, more recently in WWII when the Allied Navies operated out of the city and the German Submarine fleet surrender here. It was sadly also one of the main emigration ports to North America, and Scotland. Although Belfast gets the glory of Northern Ireland's shipbuilding history, this industry was also once present in Derry. So all this is represented by the anchor and the river base.
The other symbol is the flax flower, although recently this is used as the emblem of the modern Northern Ireland by the Assembly, Supreme Court and other organisations. Here it represents the city's textile heritage. The old shirt factories of Derry are somewhat of a local legend, at its peak the city was the most prolific in the British Empire. There was a lot of factories in the city reaching its peak in the 1920s when it was  employing around 18000 people mostly women. Sadly none of the factories are now making shirts due to the cheap wages of Asia taking the trade. The Flax Flowers represent the rich textile heritage, although if people also see them as representing a modern city in a modern NI, they can.  
Last but by no means least is the banner that wraps around the towers and the arms itself. This celebrates Londonderry's achievement as being the first city to hold the title of UK City of Culture. The city has been city of culture throughout 2013 with many cultural events happening and has mostly been a success. The text "2013" representing the year as city of culture, and the roman numeral 'I' representing the fact it is the first city to hold the title, if it were Chicago they would add a star to their flag but I added a banner to the coat of arms to represent it.
There is of course so much more I could have added for music, sport, education and culture but one has to draw the line somewhere and I think I have included 1000 years of history into one design, without taking anything away from the proper arms and motto, pretty well.
 I am perhaps a little bias in saying I am pleased with the design but I am concerned it all might be a little too much. So if that is the case another simpler design for a crest and supporters is below:
It keeps the oak branches as the only supporters, and it keeps the dove crest. however there is also a mural cornet. This type of cornet is common on the coats of arms of towns, cities and regions in mainland Europe, but are rare in Great Britain and Ireland. In fact one 19th century herald said they were very "un-British." However as they often symbolise the walls of a settlement I think Londonderry can be an exception given its status as a walled city.
The city coat of arms has been updated and changed slightly throughout history, the figure of death and castle is so old, its origins are unknown. The London Chief wasn't added until 1613, and as recently as 2003 the Norroy and Ulster King of Arms issued letters of patent to Derry City Council, re-adding the harp to centre of the chief, so you never know perhaps one of these additions will be adopted some day.
Although this was really just for some fun, and I thought I'd share the outcome. It goes to show you don't always have to think up completely knew designs, sometimes you can achieve a great deal by simply enhancing an old one.
Comments and Discussion are Welcome.

1 comment:

  1. Nice heraldic arrangements, maybe I'd add two dates (one on each side) instead.