Ulster Divisional Badge


It has been suggested to me that I should include a picture the 36th divisional badge in my pages on the Ulster Division.

This is a tricky subject, for, as far as I can discover, none was ever officially sanctioned by any army or divisional order. However, while this may be true, many people believe that the one reproduced here is the badge of the 36th (Ulster) Division.

I have no wish to become embroiled in what is now an unresolvable question. However, I print below an article which I read on this subject and will let any reader interested in this matter make up his own mind.

THE RED HAND OF ULSTER

Whether the Red Hand of Ulster should be dexter or sinister is a query put to members of the Museum staff with remarkable frequency. The device has been used by many people in an indiscriminate way for all manner of purposes, from a position on a menu card to one on a ship's funnel and, although clarification as to the correct hand to use has been issued from time to time, the practice of using the wrong hand persists. It is felt, therefore, that a note on this subject would be useful and one cannot do better than quote that written by the late John Vinycomb. M.R.I.A., a foremost authority in his day on heraldic devices and a resident of Ulster for many years.

" . . . The arms assigned to the Province of Ulster, and registered in the Office of Ulster King of Arms, are in plain terms - a red cross upon a gold field, with a small white shield bearing a red right hand cut off at the wrist, placed on the centre of the cross. These arms are derived from those borne by De Burgo, Earl of Ulster of the period of the Norman invasion, with the addition of the O'Neill escutcheon. As to the origin or the celebrated device of the Red Hand, much has been written. The early legend of the cutting off of the left hand, and throwing it ashore is not of any account, for the same story appears in many places, and is not borne out by the fact that the O'Neills, Kings of Ulster, and all branches of that princely house invariably used the right hand as do the present representatives. All the early seals of the O'Neills have the right hand - never the left. The reason of the confusion as to right or left hand appears to have arisen in this way: On the institution of the Order or Baronets of Ulster by King James I 'a hand gules' was adopted as the badge of the new Order (right or left not specified). A dexter or a sinister hand was used indiscriminately by the baronets for some time, but gradually settled down exclusively to the sinister hand - the ancient legend apparently carrying the day as regards the badge of the baronetcy. As the badge of the province, however, the dexter is the right hand, in a double sense, and is by authority so recorded in Ulster's Office. And so it remains that while the badge of the province - 'The Red Hand of O'Neill' - argent a dexter hand gules - authoritatively settled beyond dispute. There should be no drops blood."

Mr. Vinycomb also adapted old lines on "The Rule of the Road" to explain which hand to use, under the title, "Right versus Left."

These read as follows:-

"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."


Return to Maps & Pictures page