The Red Hand of O'Neill
The origin of the legend of the “Bloody Red Hand of O’Neill” is lost in the mists of history, but most stories recount brave Celtic chieftains, in several boats, rowing across the northern Atlantic, where they caught sight of the beautiful green coastline of a land that today we call Ireland. These chieftains were proud rivals, and after a conference at sea in which they could not decide who would become lord of the land, they came to a decision that the first of them to touch the land with his hand would claim it as his reward. The furious race narrowed to two boaters, and Niáll, seeing his rival edging ahead, made a decision. He pulled out his battle-axe, severed his left hand, and with his right hand threw it to shore, thus claiming the land as his for his descendents forever. The name O’Neill derives from “uá Niáll,” “the descendents of the champion” as the clan of Niáll was called. Indeed these O’Neills reigned over large parts of Ireland until the English began to invade in the early 1600s. The waves in the upper right and lower left of the shield represent the seas brave Niáll had to traverse on his way to fame.
The bloody left hand of the O’Neill clan predates the advent of formal heraldry, which was introduced by the Normans in the 11th century, and is recorded on the battle standards of the uá Niáll clan as early as the 5th century.
There is some disagreement about whether the hand pictured in the O’Neill coat of arms should be right (“dexter”) or left (“sinister”), but the oldest records and legends relate that Niáll severed his left hand. In more recent times, the bloody hand is often associated with the Protestant and Catholic difficulties in Northern Ireland, but that newer symbolism completely ignores the original. If nothing else, the bloody red hand has become a cross-traditional symbol.
Today many consider those of the name O’Neill the rightful heirs to the title The High King of Ireland.
With permission of our O’Neill benefactors, the men of O’Neill Family Hall proudly claim their inheritance as champions in the land of the Irish in the tradition of the uá Niáll family line!