Sunday, April 18, 2010


Children and Adolescents Sexual Assault Treatment Service

The forensic aspect of my professional life involves the assessment of children and adolescents who are the victims or alleged victims of sexual abuse. The incidence of acute presentations is thankfully small and the majority of our work involves the examination of ‘cold’ or historic cases where the alleged episode or episodes of abuse come to light at some time from their occurrence.

Ireland signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990 and ratified it in 1992 and in both its initial report (UN Doc:CRC/C/11/Add.12, 17/06/96; Para 274) and second report (UN Doc:CRC/C/IRL/2, 20/09/06; Para 475) to the Committee on the Rights of the Child stated that ‘Special units for the investigation and management of alleged child sexual abuse are in operation in the major centres of population around the country. Each health board has services in place for the treatment and support of victims of child abuse, some of which are hospital-based while others are provided at community level.’

Unfortunately this is a misrepresentation of the true facts and over the last few years two colleagues and I have been trying desperately to establish such a special unit for children and adolescents (CASATS) to based in Galway and to serve the population of the West and Mid-West of Ireland. Our proposal has hit a wall however ( as it must be admitted many proposals have in these days of Ireland’s economic implosion) somewhere in the Health Service Executive labyrinth. The Department of Justice were not rushing into help either.

Last week my frustration with the whole process boiled over and I lodged a formal complaint with the Ombudsman for Children, asking her to investigate the matter.

While formulating the letter to her office my brain began to, as it is wont to, slide to peripheral aspects. Perhaps our proposal is not making enough of a visual impact I thought? Perhaps we need to present a more formalised image of what we are about? An image that would project a vision of permanence, of ongoing activity, of intent!

A Call to Arms!

From the cartouches of ancient Egypt to the shields of medieval knights I have always been fascinated by the construct, seeming permanence and visual history of these physical marks of identification, of remembrance of people long dead. There was nothing else for it! I would design a coat of arms for our unit and try to get it patented. It would be our calling card… and our memorial.

Complete vanity of course!

Instead of ranting in a corner it seemed a relatively harmless way of distraction from my frustration with the ‘new’ commissars of Irish health care. However what I was not prepared for was the incredibly arcane world into which I was venturing.


Heraldry as we currently understand it began with the presentation of a shield with six golden lions by Henry I of England (a Norman) to Geoffrey of Anjou, his future son-in-law, on Geoffrey’s attainment of knighthood in 1127. This became Geoffrey’s distinctive insignia and was retained by his descendents, the House of Plantagenet.

(As an aside, from Ireland’s perspective, the Angevians or Plantagenet, although related through the Empress Matilda, the grand-daughter of William the Conqueror, to the Normans were no great lovers of them and Henry II, the first Plantagenet King of England, was probably delighted with the opportunity to rid his court of any number of unruly Norman barons when he directed them to assist Diarmit Mac Murchada regain control of his Kingdom of Leinster in 1166.)

After 1135 the granting of a coat of arms rapidly evolved and developed into a science (albeit a very eccentric one) with very specific rules for construction and description of the arms. The control or patent of arms came into the hands (Heralds) of a few select individuals. It became then and remains today very big business. Arms were granted – for a consideration – to noble, commoner and corporate entities such as guilds or towns, and one has only to walk down some of the big shopping malls of this world to encounter a genealogical/heraldic concession plying its trade.

The Blazon

The blazon is the description of the coat of arms, which theoretically allows anybody to reconstruct the arms. The language of heraldry and its blazoning remains rooted in the medieval French of the Normans and Plantagenet.

I will attempt to blazon the arms that I designed as I understand the rules and then briefly explain what it means.

Argent, a lymphad sails furled Or, on waves of sea in base azure; overall in fess an escutcheon bordered Or, a lion rampant Or langued gules; overall in nombril a windrose gules and argent.
On a wreath of Or and gules a phoenix sable with embers gules.
On dexter Asclepius guardant gules and on sinister Themis guardant gules with scales Or
Veritas praevalebit ‘Truth will win out’

Helm closed chief azure mantled azure, doubled gules.

The arms is primarily an incorporation of the arms of Galway city with a superimposed windrose. Galway is chosen because of our location. The Galway arms has a galley known as a lymphad and it is customary to mention in a blazon whether the sails or furled or unfurled. The starting point in the description is the primary colour. In this case it is the metal tincture argent or white. The ship is primarily yellow or Or. When looking at an arms depiction the left as you look is dexter (the right of the shield) and right is sinister (the left of the shield). By convention all depicted galleys are presumed to sail towards the dexter side and thus the direction is not mentioned unless it is different. The bottom of the shield is the base and the top margin the chief. In this case the sea is in the bottom and is blue or azure.

Superimposed on the galley is a smaller shield or escutcheon with a yellow border and a lion rampant with a red (gules) tongue. The position is known as the fess point or centre point of the shield. This is known as a charge and in a charge all rampant lions (erect with claws bared) are presumed to face the dexter side. If the lion is looking out it requires a rampant guardant description or if looking back over its shoulder towards the sinister side it is described as rampant reguardant.

Superimposed again is a windrose at the nombril or naval point of the shield. The windrose is allusive indicating that patients from all points of the compass may be seen, and a reminder for the service to be prepared for whatever the ‘wind’ brings from any direction.

Again, as I understand it, the crest is always included in the blazon of the arms but not the other features surrounding the shield. In this case the crest is of the phoenix rising from the ashes from a torse or wreath and allusive to our aspiration that if our work is done well then the victims are at the start of a renewal in their lives. Again by convention the phoenix is assumed to be a half-bird depiction and this does not need to be specified. I have mentioned the red colour of the flames but am uncertain whether this is done or not.

The supporters are Aesclepius the Greek God of Medicine and Themis the Greek Goddess of Good Counsel and she carries the scales of justice. In an unusual depiction for supporters they are looking outwards and are thus described guardant. In Aesclepius’s right hand is the Rod of Aesclepius with it must be noted the single entwined snake. There is often confused with the Caduceus which is the messengers staff of Iris and Hermes and which has two snakes entwined. The caduceus would be an appropriate symbol for the blazon.

The helm is the helmet on the top and is of the closed type which is appropriate I understand for a civil entity. Again always assumed to be facing dexter unless otherwise which is then described. The mantle or cape is a decorative feature and has a front and a lining (the double) and these are in different colurs.

I have probably bored you to tears with this description but it is an area that I have only scratched the surface of. Anyway design done I logged on to the Chief Herald’s Office in Dublin to determine at what cost I could get this done and patented. The medieval office is now part of the Genealogical division of the National Library and it appears to be in turmoil. The last Herald has retired and there is no replacement as yet. There also appears from the links in the Wikipedia entry to have been significant problems in the work of the office over the past few years and whether it will survive is not certain. The difficulty for taking another approach such as registering the design as a trademark with the Irish Patent Office instead is that its appearance is so similar to hundreds of thousands of other Irish, British and European coats of arms is that the Patent office is unlikely to grant exclusivity.

Thus in the unreal world of heraldry we have already become ghosts. Self-defeating really!

Here endeth the blazon.

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