Irish Heraldic Authority

The Genealogical Office is the successor to the Office of Ulster King of Arms which, as noted above, was created in 1552 with full jurisdiction over arms in Ireland. Ulster retained this power for almost four centuries until 1943, when the title was transferred to the College of Arms in London and the office of Chief Herald of Ireland was created to continue to fulfill the functions of Ulster in independent Ireland. The new name given to the Office of the Chief Herald, "The Genealogical Office" was somewhat inaccurate, since its primary concern continues to be heraldic rather than genealogical.

Over the first 150 years of its existence, the Office was almost exclusively concerned with Anglo-Irish heraldry, recording, registering and legitimising the practice of arms that had grown up. From the start of the eighteenth century Ulster began to acquire other duties, as an officer of the crown intimately linked to the government. These duties were largely ceremonial, deciding and arranging precedence on state occasions, as well as introducing new peers to the Irish House of Lords and recording peerage successions. When the chivalric Order of St. Patrick was introduced in 1783 as an Irish equivalent of such long-established English institutions as the Order of the Garter Ulster became its registrar, responsible for administering its affairs. He also continued to have responsibility for the ceremonial aspects of state occasions at the court of the English Viceroy. The heraldic and ceremonial duties of Ulster continued down to the twentieth century.

Today the Office of the Chief Herald remains principally concerned with the granting of arms to individuals and corporate bodies, the ceremonial aspect having lapsed with the establishment of the Republic of Ireland. One aspect of the Office's work today is perhaps connected to this, however. This is the practice of recognising Chiefs of the Name, instituted in the 1940s by Dr. Edward MacLysaght, the first Chief Herald. The aim was simply to acknowledge the descendants of the leading Gaelic Irish families, and this was done by uncovering the senior descendants in the male line of the last Chief of the Name duly inaugurated as such under the old Gaelic laws. The practice is a courtesy only; under Irish law no native hereditary titles are recognised, and no new titles can be created.