Ferriter Heraldic Investigations

Posted by Seoirse on 10/14/2008 in Commentary | Genaology

Creation of the new Ferriter Family website moved me to a review of certain items that I had in hand, for inclusion on the site. A number of these are now posted as blog entries, including the following. None of these observations, speculations, and theories have been altered by the time that has passed between having been written and now…enjoy reading, and comment, please!



The Ferriter Family has been known in Ireland since one generation following the advent of the Normans, and in Kerry within another generation following. Although information regarding those who came to Ireland with the Norman Lords is scant, sufficient evidentiary artifacts exist such that a framework or outline of the early Ferriter experience in Kerry may be discerned. This, coupled with a more general, but also more complete image of what life was like for the early Anglo-Normans allows a broad-brush narrative to be seen.

Historian Paul MacCotter presented a paper in the Journal of the Kerry Archaeological Society entitled “The Ferriters of Kerry”.  Published in 2003, this paper stands as the most factually rich discussion of the early years of Ferriters as established in the Ballyferriter area on the western end of the Dingle peninsula. This article identifies the social, economic, and political position of the family during the Norman Period, and provides certain insight into how the family persisted through the Hiberno-Norman period, during which documentary evidence becomes exceedingly scarce.

Other elements of information exist that can be utilized to further embellish the narrative of Ferriter family history during the late medieval and Tudor periods in Ireland. These include a paper compiled by Fr. Michael Manning, several anecdotal references in Georgian and Victorian histories, and a number of brief and sometimes oblique references to Ferriter activities during the 16th and 17th centuries, as found in official records and in the personal papers of certain noble families.

In briefest summary, we know that the Ferriters arrived into Kerry during the early period of Norman political and military consolidation. The Family, (or its head at the time), was granted extensive landholdings in the areas now identifiable as Dunurlin, Dunquin, Ballyoughtera, Marhin, Ballyferriter, and Ferriter’s quarter.  Documentary evidence exists that places these early Ferriter chiefs in the status of “knight of the shire”, the fundamental political and military unit of the feudal system. In this capacity, the knight held lands as a fiefdom, in fealty to a local lord, to whom he provided rent in kind, and a commitment to military service (along with a certain number of soldiers), when needed, or for a set period, usually 40 days per year. For the Ferriter Family, the liege lord, throughout most of the Feudal period in Corkaguiney (The Dingle) would have been the Desmond FitzGeralds.

This situation lasted for something like 250 years.

This summation brings us to the subject matter: Ferriter Family arms, or armorial bearings:

It seems as if there are none on record, anywhere, for Ferriter.  In the words of Fergus Gillespie, Chief Herald of Ireland, “It is indeed unusual that there seem to be no coats of arms in any of our sources associated with the name Ferriter” (e-mail, F. Gillespie to G. Ferriter, 4/14/2008)

That said, there remain good reasons to expect that Ferriter Arms of the period existed. Each of the knightly families who would have enjoyed entitlements from the FitzGeralds  (these other early knightly families were, Hussey, Bowler, Landers, Trant and Hoare) have registered armorial symbols. In each case, these were families descended from individual soldiers who held lands under the Desmond Earls, as did Ferriter. None of these families had any particular quality or history that would suggest any special consideration pertaining to arms. The granting of arms to heads of landholding families whose service was recognized as valuable to the crown was commonplace – to judge by the numbers of arms granted and recorded during the 17th and 18th centuries, granting of arms appears to have been a standard practice.

So why not Ferriter?

The principal factors at work in this circumstance were political, and numerical - quite frankly, the family almost died out. Certainly Pierce was certainly never in a position to press a case - he had much more essential problems to deal with - like survival.

Grants of arms were not an aspect of the earliest period. Knights in service to a FitzGerald no doubt wore FitzGerald "colors", but that was all. During the late period - especially going into Tudor times, individual arms became fashionable. On the verge of the dissolution of the Catholic Order, (Hiberno-Norman Order) in Ireland, The office of "The Ulster King of Arms" was set up to manage the application for, and issuance of armorial symbols to Irish Families.  This happened in 1552 just about the time that the rug was pulled out from under the Desmond FitzGeralds, and all hell began to break loose across Ireland, but particularly in Kerry. 

So just at the time that an office was set up to assign Arms to Irish families, the Ferriters found themselves more or less isolated, and on the wrong side of the fence.

O.K., now we are at the point where the most recent detective work has been completed:
When Lord Muskerry, (Donough McCarthy), surrendered Ross, and entered exile, he took with him 10,000 Irishmen. Later, after the Jacobite Wars, Patrick Sarsfield took a similar number into exile.  These Irishmen, in their two groups, a generation or two apart, were the "Wild Geese" of lore and legend. There were almost certainly Ferriters serving as officers in each group. It is known for certain that there were Ferriters serving as officers in several units in Muskerry's exiles, on the Continent, under French and Spanish colors.

Dominick Ferriter, Pierce’s eldest son served on the Continent for at least 7 years. We know that he did not serve under English Colors (in the exile army of Charles II), and we know that he returned with the rank of Major – significant for the times. Yet we have no record of armorial bearings that he almost certainly held.

Military protocols of the period would suggest that one or other of these men would have registered arms in Europe, in order to receive their Commissions, as possession of arms in Continental armies required this. Perhaps arms would have been created at that time.  When James II fled Ireland for France following the Boyne fight, he was accompanied by one James Terry, Athlone Pursuivant of Arms in Ordinary . This man's job was to create and/or register arms. Many Irish Officers registered arms via his office during this period. There seems to be no reason to expect that the Ferriters did not do this also.  Thing is - many of his records are outside the heraldic "system".

A possibility also exists that arms would have been registered with the Heralds of France or Spain, (also during the 1650 - 1700 period, more on this below). If this had happened there seems to be an expectation that the arms would be in the files of The Ulster King of Arms - the same office that was re-designated The Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland, in 1943. The point here is that Heralds of the European countries communicated freely with one another, even in times of war. The office of the Ulster King of Arms became the Office of the Chief Herald in Ireland in 1943.

As an aspect of subsequent efforts, all historical information immediately available has been presented to the Office of the Chief Herald in Ireland. The Chief Herald was challenged with several very specific questions, focusing upon the “Wild Geese” and Continental service as commissioned officers as is documented for several members of the Ferriter Family.

To the credit of the Chief Herald’s office, each question was pursued, and explicitly answered. Although there seems to be no reason for it, the apparent situation is that no armorial bearings are on record for Ferriter. Not anywhere.

Finally an effort was made to seek out and identify a professional Irish historical researcher who would pursue the notion that Ferriters serving as officers in Wild Geese regiments held Arms. This would require locating and researching the muster rolls of any regiment wherein these men might have served, during each of the two periods – following the Cromwellian Wars, and following the Jacobean Wars. This remains a possibility, but with fees and expenses running into the thousands of Euros, prohibitively expensive at present.
So, here we are. Investigations seem complete. These have failed to identify historical Ferriter Family Arms. Barring some startling and unexpected revelation, there will be none forthcoming. The option of Applying for a Grant Arms from the Chief Herald's Office in Dublin exists. Ferriters are eligible. The option of applying for a Grant of Arms from the American College of Heraldry also exists. There are pros and cons with either option.

Having reached this point, an opportunity exists to have input into the design, which should incorporate historical and familial traits.  These matters should be discussed with the family, to the extent that whatever decision is made, the Ferriters at large will be impacted to some lesser or greater extent, depending upon how meaningful they regard this issue as being.

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Know Your Ancestors

Robert Garret Farritor

photo b. February 2, 1846
d. 1915

Robert Garret Farritor was born in Blossburg, Pennsylvania, February 2, 1846 to his Irish Immigrant Parents, John Ferriter and Honora Fitzgerald Ferriter of Ard Na Cainthne (Smerwick) Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry Ireland. Raised in Pennsylvania Coal Mining Country, he joined his Father and brothers in the coal mines at age 16. After the Civil War, his family relocated to Streator, Illinois, a new coal mining community in central Illinois. Determined to leave this dangerous occupation, he homesteaded in central Custer County Nebraska in 1879, along with his brothers and other immigrant families from County Kerry. Successfully enduring the natural and personal hardships of establishing a... Read More