MCNEILL OF GIGHA
The Chief's Coat of Arms.
The first and third quarters of this Coat of Arms portrays a silver lion on a blue or azure background, rampant (or reared up), armed with red ("gules") claws. This lion is a reference to the Royal line of Erc, Fergus, etc, who extended Irish Dalriada into Argyll about 500 AD.
In the second quarter there is, on top, a left hand, colored red, on a silver ("argent") background. This RED HAND is today one of the emblems of Ulster (this is, I gather contentious, so check up on this yourself.) As an ancient and powerful Gaelic symbol, it was a device of the ONeill High Kings of Ireland. The story (older than the time of Niall of the Nine Hostages, ie the 400s) is that in the initial Gaelic attack on Ireland, Eremon, son of the Chief, swore that he would be the first ashore and thus claim the land before his brothers had landed. However, when it looked as if he would be beaten, Eremon cut off his hand and threw the bloody item onto the shore, a winner after all.
Also in the second quarter, below a wavy base, is a silver colored salmon, swimming sideways, on a blue background. This is a very important symbol in ancient Gaeldom. Salmon disappear, only to return to their birthplace, where their life cycle is begun again. They therefore symbolize Eternity. They also embody Knowledge: they ate the red hazel nuts of Wisdom as they fell into the waters of sacred wells. The red spots on the salmon's belly derive from this. When a Gaelic king defeated another, a ritual killing of the fish in the vanquished king's fish pond took place.
The fourth quarter comprises a galley on a gold field. The oars form a Scottish "Saltire", memory of the Cross of St Andrew. It is clear that possessing a galley was, in the West Highlands, a sign of wealth, power and prestige. It is likely that the galley indicates Norse marine power. Above this galley are 3 silver stars on red. As to the latter, I have no idea what this may mean.
Clan McNeill of Gigha CrestThis portrays a mailed arm, holding a dagger. The Mottoi is: "Vincere aut more" (Conquer or die)
The Coat of Arms belongs to the Chief of a clan. The Crest, however, can be worn by other members of that clan. In fact, as far as I can tell, the southern McNeills no longer have a chief. The Colonsay McNeills played that role until they disappeared in the late 19th century. Many southern McNeills have therefore looked to McNeill of Barra as their chief. Others, regarding themselves as "broken" (ie, without a chief), look to the Duke of Argyll as their chief.
The McNeill Clan FlowerThis flower is the "Dryas." It is the plant symbol for both McNeill of Gigha and McNeill of Barra. According to Frank Adams, these plants evidently have some subtle origin, apart from their utility on the battle field. They are to be regarded as the 'race-plant' of the tribe.
This flower is also known as 'the Mountain Avens' It is a small plant, 2 to 3 inches high, distinguished from all other plants of the order Rosaceae by its oblong deeply-cut leaves, which are white with a woolly down beneath, and by its large, handsome, anemone-like, white flowers, which have eight petals. It blooms in the spring. It is not uncommon in the mountainous parts of the British Isles, especially on limestone.
SOURCES USED FOR THIS ARTICLE:
A Closer look at West Highland Heraldry, by Alastair Campbell of Airds, Unicorn Pursuivant of Arms.
A Glossary of Terms Used in Heraldry,by James Parker, first published in 1894.
Fleur de lis Designs: the Meaning behind the Symbols
The Clans, Septs and Regiments of the Scottish Highlands, by Frank Adam. Seventh Edition. Edinburgh, Johnston and Bacon, 1965.