Noonan Arms

Irish sept mottos and symbols appear to have been an indingenous tradition predating Norman heraldry, but the modernly-known format is of decidedly medieval character. Murphy reports that there are three heraldic coats of arms and four mottoes for Noonans, suggesting different branches of the sept and changing political allegiances.

Burke’s General Armory describes the Limerick branch’s coat of arms as AR. THREE EAGLES DISPL, GU (‘Silver, three red eagles with wings spread’). The spread eagles represent protection, the silver shield peace.

Another emblem is an upraised arm, which is said to have been an Eoghanacht symbol in the 12th century. Lamh Laidir, “the upraised arm”, is a common Irish euphimism for threat as a deterrent strategy.

Nemhnain Arms2

Nemhnain Arms 1


The four mottoes are: Laimh Laidir a Bua (Strong Hand to Victory); Ex Ardus Perpetuum Nomen (A Perpetual Name Triumphant over Difficulty); Forti et Fideli Nihil Difficile (Nothing is Difficult to the Brave and the Faithful); and Ferox et Celer (Fierce and Fast).  The last three are otherwise known as mottos for the McCarthy Earl of Clancarty, Viscount Muskerry, and The McCarthy Reagh respectively.

Ferox et Celer sometimes accompanies the arms showing three eagles for O’Nuanáin.

Forti et Fideli Nihil Difficile was a Norman Fitzgerald motto as well as the motto of a McCarthy sept. It was adopted by the Fitzmaurice Deans of Springfield Castle in Broadford and is chiseled into the lintel of the castle’s stone gate, which probably accounts for its association with the Noonan name.

Laimh Laidir a Bua is the only Gaelic motto. It obviously goes with the symbol of the upraised arm. It is akin to two O’Brien mottos, Lamh Laidir an uachar (Strong Hand Uppermost) and Laimh laidir beir bua (Strong Hand Carrries Victory). Y-DNA evidence indicates that Noonans are Dál gCais, as are the O’Briens; it follows that the raised-arm symbol and the motto Laimh Laidir a Bua may be the most authentic of the Noonan heraldic choices.

Y-DNA analysis as well as the crests themselves dispute the assertion in McLysaght’s introduction to Irish Families that “Gleeson, Noonan and McFadden are all given the arms of O’Brien, though none of these septs had any connexion whatever with the O’Briens or with each other”. The O’Brien crest is three lions, Gleeson and McFadden’s are three stars on a bar. There is a single lion in one version of the Laimh laidir Noonan crest, an oak tree in another; neither is probably authentic. The Noonan upraised arm does not have an Irish counterpart (although it is the crest of the Scots Armstrong, Wallace and MacFaddien; the Wallace name only appeared in the 12th century and the Armstrong ancestor Fairbairn only dates back to 1237).

It is strongly probable that the totem of the upraised arm and the motto Laimh Laidir a Bua originated with the Ua Nemhnainn fianna of Tulach Leis and are authentically those of the Noonans of Tullylease and Dromcolliher.