Red Hand of Ulster

Red Hand of Ulster

:"Red Hand" redirects here. For the event, see Red Hand Day."

The Red Hand of Ulster (In Irish "Lámh Dhearg Uladh") is a symbol used in heraldry [ - Irish Heraldic Traditions] ] to denote the Irish province of Ulster. It is also to a lesser extent known as the "Red Hand of O'Neill" [ [ Triskelle - Irish history: Red Hand of O'Neill] ] and the "Red Hand of Ireland". [ [ ULTACH - FAQ] ] Its origins are said to be attributed to the son of the Celtic sun god "Labraid Lámh Dhearg" (Labraid of the Red Hand) and appear in other mythical tales passed down from generation to generation in the oral tradition. Some versions of the image have the thumb open from the rest of the hand such as Tyrone GAA's crest, or appear as a left hand. The symbol is strongly rooted to Irish Gaelic culture and in particular, the Irish Gaels of Ulster such as the O'Neills and associated Ulster Gaelic clans pre-17th Century.

Mythical origins

It is generally accepted that this ancient Irish Celtic symbol owes its origins to the son of the Celtic sun god "Labraid Lámh Dhearg" (Labraid of the Red Hand).

According to another myth, Ulster had at one time no rightful heir. Because of this it was agreed that a boat race should take place (possibly in Strangford Lough) and that "whosoever's hand is the first to touch the shore of Ulster, so shall he be made the king".

One potential king so loved and desired Ulster that, upon seeing that he was losing the race, he cut off his hand and threw it to the shore — thus winning the kingship. The hand is most likely red to represent the fact that it would have been covered in blood.

Another story concerns two giants engaged in battle, one of whom had his hand cut off by the other, and a red imprint of the hand was left on the rocks. Yet another myth tells that the hand came along when a citizen dipped his hand in hot red wax to protest tax in Belfast.Fact|date=February 2007 Except for the origins of the symbol with Labraid of the Red Hand, each of these stories are likely to be retrospective fabrications, most particularly the one about the giants.


The Red Hand is used in the Ulster Banner, the Ulster Flag and on the shields of counties Cavan, Tyrone, Londonderry, Antrim and Monaghan. It is also used by many other official and non-official organisations throughout the province of Ulster. Some Loyalist organisations in Northern Ireland prominently display the Red Hand in their insignia and paraphernalia and GAA clubs that would normally be affiliated with the Nationalist/Republican community use the Red Hand widely. It was also used by the Republican Irish Citizen Army on their uniform, the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (I.T.G.W.U) and the Irish Republican affiliated National Graves Association. It is also the badge of baronets other than those of Scotland or Nova Scotia. In the flags, the red hand is a right hand; for baronets and the Irish Society, it is a left hand.

:"The Red Hand of Ulster's a paradox quite,:To Baronets 'tis said to belong;:If they use the left hand, they're sure to be right,:And to use the right hand would be wrong.:For the Province, a different custom applies,:And just the reverse is the rule;:If you use the right hand you'll be right, safe and wise,:If you use the left hand you're a fool." [ [ Baronetage Red hand (Sir David Roche, Bt)] ]


A variant famous myth recounts how Ó Neill/O'Neill and a man named Dermott both wished to be king of Ulster. The High King of Ireland suggested a horse race across the land. As the two came in sight of the ending point, it seemed that Dermott would win, so Ó Neill cut his hand off and threw it. It reached the goal ahead of Dermott's horse, winning for Ó Neill the crown of Ulster. The Gaelic war cry "Lámh Dhearg Abu" [ [ Page6 ] ] (Irish meaning- Red Hand to Victory) was forever associated with the O'Neills through the centuries.

Coats of arms used by individuals bearing surnames of families of Uí Néill descent - Ó Cathain (now O'Kane), Ó Maelsechlainn (now McLoughlin), Ó Catharnaigh of Donegal (now Kearney) and Ó Neill/O'Neill/O'Neal, to name just a few - all feature the Red Hand in some manner, recalling their common descent. On the O'Neill coat of arms featuring the Red Hand, the motto is "Lámh Dhearg Eireann" (Red Hand of Ireland). [ [ - O'Neill coat of arms] ]

Owing to the domination of Ulster by the northern O'Neills, the symbol they used came to represent the province itself. To this day, the symbol is found in the Ulster flag and recently the former Flag of the Parliament of Northern Ireland the Ulster Banner.


In 2005 former Miss Northern Ireland, Zöe Salmon, caused controversy when she selected the Red Hand as a symbol to represent Northern Ireland for a "Best of British" logo for a fictitious airline in a competition for Blue Peter. David Miller, a sociology professor from Strathclyde University in Scotland, complained to the BBC, saying that like the swastika the Red Hand had been misappropriated, and that it was a symbol of the unionists. [ [,,2087-1452258,00.html "Here’s a gaffe I made earlier"]]

An Irish Republican and Loyalist symbol

The Red Hand of Ulster can be regarded as one of the very few cross-traditional symbols that is used in Northern Ireland; however it can be mistakenly associated as a symbol only for Unionist and Loyalists by those not familiar with Irish culture. [ [ CAIN website - "Symbols Used in Northern Ireland - Symbols Used by Both Traditions"] ] In Nationalist/Republican perspectives, due to its strong original attachment to Gaelic Irish culture, it is also used widely by many Nationalist/Republican organisations and Ulster GAA affiliated clubs in their crests, flags and emblems.


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