By Fr James Good
COATS of arms first came into existence to fulfill the same purpose as football-jerseys - to identify the participants in a competition. Their most frequent use in the Middle Ages was to identify knights at their favourite game of jousting - riding their horses at one another at full tilt, each knight trying to unhorse the other with a long lance.
Later on, Popes and bishops and royal families adopted coats of arms. Soon the style and design became very complex, usually with warlike symbols - lions, battle-axes, shields and so on.
Up to very recently, all coats-of-arms carried a motto in the Latin language, which for many centuries remained the lan¬guage of diplomacy and heraldry.
Without even looking at the Latin motto underneath, we can see the general meaning of our Cork coat of arms. It depicts a ship sailing in between two towers - into a safe harbour and that is what the Latin motto tells us.
It reads: STATIC BENE FIDA CARNIS, meaning "a harbour quite safe for ships".
And of course most Cork people are proud in the knowledge that their harbour is one of the biggest and best harbours in the world.
Many people will be surprised to learn, however, that when the motto first appeared in Print, it meant exactly the opposite of what it says today. It was penned by the Roman poet Vergil (who died in the year 19 B.C.) in his epic poem the Aeneid. He was describing a very dangerous harbour. He wrote; "Static haud bene fida carinis" - "a harbour in no way safe lor ships".
Sadly, we have no way of knowing who was the smart Corkman who dropped the world "hand" (in no way) and left us with the beautiful motto that we have today for our coat-of-arms: "a harbour quite safe for ships".
It is a great boost to Cork people to see their city's coat-of-amis displayed so prominently in so many places.
Alas! I saw a "howler" of a misprint recently in the coat-of-arms as displayed on one of our prominent buildings in Cork city.
It would perhaps be unkind to "name and shame" it, but perhaps somebody in that academic institution will spot the error in the accompanying photograph and rectify' it. Even Homer sometimes nods.
Can you spot the error? Any idea where it appears?
Fr James Good, Douglas, Cork.