Friday, September 19, 2008

Red Handed

Tyrone play Kerry in the All Ireland Football Final this Sunday [note to US readers: Gaelic Football, not soccer]. The emblem of Tyrone is the red hand, so you would see many red hand flags around Tyrone (although not in government car parks, as this story sadly proves). There will be many red hand flags in Dublin too, where the game will be held on Sunday. I will be in Dublin on Sunday, but not at the game. Even though Croke Park seats around 85,000 , tickets are almost impossible to come by for this game.

[ Here is a large Tyrone red hand image courtesy of Wikipedia ]

As well as being the symbol of Tyrone, the red hand is also the emblem of Ulster, where it is one of the few symbols which is embraced by both sides of the religious divide. The red hand is also the symbol of the O'Neill family.

Where does the red hand come from?

The most common story is that at, concerning "the war between two kings for Ulster. The kings had decided that too many had died and a peaceful solution was to have a sea race as both were fond of this sport. As the race was coming to a close the King of Tyrone, O Neill saw he was loosing and thinking of the rules, first person to put a hand on the shore would be king, he cut off his hand and threw it to the shore giving rise to the legend of the red hand of Ulster and of Tyrone. The Tyrone county name comes from the Irish Tir Eoghain which translates to Eoghain county after Eoghain O Neill, the great king of Ulster.

Slightly different version on Wikipedia:
A variant famous myth recounts how Ó Neill and a man named Dermott both wished to be king of Ulster. The High King of Ireland suggested a horse race across the land. As the two came in sight of the ending point, it seemed that Dermott would win, so Ó Neill cut his hand off and threw it. It reached the goal ahead of Dermott's horse, winning for Ó Neill the crown of Ulster. The Gaelic war cry Lámh Dhearg Abu (Irish meaning- Red Hand to Victory) was forever associated with the O'Neills through the centuries.

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