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Fergus Madden arms 1.jpg

O Madden Arms

The structures most similar to the tower houses of Ireland are those of Scotland. Both were born out of a similar society where raid and counter-raid were common between neighbouring families and between branches of the same family.

Set in stone above the entrance door of many Scottish tower houses was the occupant’s coat of arms. Similar armorial stones occur on merchant’s houses in towns such as Galway and Kilkenny, often from the mid to late 1600s, but this was not a feature common to Irish tower houses. It is no surprise then that there is no instance of a coat of arms occurring on Brackloon or any surviving O Madden castle. Nonetheless, the Gaelic Irish certainly used symbols on banners in the 1500s and there are instances of banners captured when castles were taken or placed upon castle rooftops by the occupier.

The vast majority of the Gaelic Irish, including the O Maddens, only adopted heraldic arms as we understand them from the early 1600s and later. Of the other Gaelic families whose ancestral lands lay within the O Madden territory, only the O Horans, O Lorcans and MacCuolahans can show evidence of arms, but all from the 1700s at the earliest.

The earliest examples of arms associated with the O Maddens date from around the early years of the seventeenth century. The common thread across those early examples is that of a hawk or falcon preying upon a duck. The origin of the arms cannot be said with certainty, particularly as arms of that nature are on record for a Madden family of English origin who arrived in Ireland in the early 1600s and who appear to have acquired arms only after their arrival. On the arms of the English family, a cross occurs above the birds and their arms are the first officially recorded with an identifiable Madden in the herald’s register in Ireland. 

In the ancestral territory of the O Madden’s in County Galway, the earliest arms clearly associated with the Gaelic Irish family are similar to those of the family of English origin. We cannot say definitely which was earlier. One Lieutenant Hugh Madden was confirmed with similar arms to the English but with a wolf for crest in the herald’s registers from the 1640s. His family originated in County Galway but the branch of the family from which he came was not recorded.

Less than five miles from Brackloon Castle, the neighbouring castle of Lismore was occupied by Fergus Madden. Of a different branch of the family to that of Brackloon, Fergus was a significant landholder who, like the latter family, lost ownership of his castle in the 1650s to the Cromwellians but stayed on as tenant. He still had substantial landed interests and, after he died of a fall from his horse in 1687, his property was inherited by his daughters and their husbands. When putting his name to legal documents in the 1680s we know that Fergus used an armorial seal also carrying a hawk, duck and cross on the shield and with a hawk for his crest.

As with most families, only a small number of the name are entitled to bear a coat of arms, which extends only to those who can show a proven and accepted descent from an individual who had been granted or confirmed arms by the heralds or to one granted or confirmed  arms in his or her own right. Despite his use of an armorial seal and his status, Fergus of Lismore, like various others, did not approach the Herald’s Office in Dublin in his lifetime and he was never officially granted or confirmed arms.

Dorothy, one of the daughters of Fergus, married Owen Madden of Kilmacshane and brought to her husband a large portion of Fergus’ estate. We do not know Owen’s origin with certainty but it is possible that he was a junior member of the Brackloon family as Kilmacshane formed part of the family lands once attached to Brackloon Castle. Their son and heir Ambrose Madden lived nearby at Derryhoran.

Although Ambrose was a considerable landholder in his time, his life was one of some tragedy, losing all but one of his children, a daughter, during his lifetime. When he died in 1754 an armorial headstone was erected over his grave in the ruins of Meelick friary. The arms on that stone were described as similar to those of his maternal grandfather Fergus of Lismore. Unfortunately both grave and stone have since been lost, but Fergus' armorial seal from the 1680s still survives intact among the papers at Brackloon Castle.

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