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The process of creating coats of arms began in the eight and ninth centuries and was well-established when the Anglo-Normans came to Ireland in the 12th century. The coat of arms shown below is the most current version and is the one appearing on the jacket cover of the Nolan book “O Nolan – the History of a People” by Rev. John Nolan and Art Kavanagh published under the auspices of the Nolan Clan family association during the Millenium year (2000).
Nolan Coat of Arms
on a cross gules (red),
a lion passant between
four martlets of the first;
in each quarter
a sword erect of the second.
Crest top of helmet,
plume or tuft on same,
worn above field or escutcheon of coat of arms.
Cor unum, via una
(one heart, one path)
History and General Discussion
The current Coat of Arms comprises a family crest and a family motto but this was not always so. The original Coat of Arms dating back to the 1600s and possibly earlier comprised only of a family crest. The motto “Cor unum, via una” (one heart, one path) was only added in relatively recent times as part of a “Granting of Arms” to the Ballinderry Nolans of Galway. Prior to this time, some Nolans are known to have used the motto of the Irish Brigade in France, namely “Semper fidelis” (always faithful).
The earliest known rendering of the family crest dates back to 1642 when Thomas Nolan, a Galway city merchant (believed to have been a descendant of Donell O Nolloghan, a goldsmith accepted as a freeman of the city in 1500) placed a double family crest (Nolan-Skerritt) above the entrance to his home.
The next rendering of the Nolan family crest appears as part of a map of Galway city originally drawn up around 1651 and then ornamented with family crests, etc. around 1660 for presentment to Charles II upon his restoration to the English throne (following the Cromwellian Parliamentary rule of the 1650s). Here we note that the martlet appearing atop of the helmet in the 1642 version of the crest has been replaced by a “lion rampant” perhaps to emphasize the family’s loyalty to the crown. This deviation, however, would not last, subsequent generations returning to having a martlet atop the helmet.
Even though the meaning of the family motto “Cor unum, via una” is fairly clear i.e. that we strive to be of one heart as we journey together on the same path, we cannot say the same for the various elements (lion rampant, martlets, swords, etc.) used in the make-up of the family crest. Following is the general heraldic interpretation, based upon tradition, of the colours and symbols used:
- Argent (silver, white) – a symbol for sincerity and nobility
- Gules (red) – a symbol for courage and creativity
- Cross – a symbol of association with Christianity and,
possibly, an involvement in the Crusades
- Lion Passant – a lion with paw raised in defense indicating that the family may have been knighted; on this point, it is interesting to note that the battle banner of Richard-the-Lionheart during the Crusades consisted of three Lion Passant, one on top of the other.
- Martlet – a swallow-like bird; in Ireland, a symbol for perpetual movement the martlet was also used in heraldry to indicate that a family had been dispossessed; more generally, it is also the sign of a fourth son
- Sword – a symbol for military virtue, the sword was the predominant weapon of the knight for most of the period from the 9th century to the end of the 15th century
- Helmet – a symbol for wise defense.
Besides the crest designs shown earlier others have been developed over time to suit needs. Following are three such examples: