The Legend of the Redhand 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 descendants forever.


The name O’Neill derives from “uá Niáll,” “the descendants 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.


Today many consider those of the name O’Neill the rightful heirs to the title The High King of Ireland.

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