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The office of the Chief Herald of Ireland, (sometimes, though incorrectly, called the Office of Arms) is the Irish Republic's authority on all heraldic matters relating to Ireland. Dating since 1552, it is the oldest Office of State, the title was previously Ulster King of Arms until 1 April 1943.
All Irish citizens, male or female, may petition the Chief Herald for a Grant of Arms. A Grant of Arms may also be made, upon petition, to persons normally resident in Ireland; persons living abroad who are of provable Irish descent in either the paternal or maternal line; persons with significant links to Ireland; corporate bodies within Ireland; corporate bodies with significant links to Ireland but based in countries with no heraldic authority. A Grant of Arms is then made to the petitioner by the Chief Herald on, and with the authority of, the Government of Ireland. Arms granted by the Chief Herald are vested in the grantee and his/her descendants forever. In the past this has usually, but not always, been through the male line. Nowadays, should a woman choose to retain her natal surname and transmit it to her children, she may transmit her Arms with her name.
After the Battle of Kinsale in 1601 and the subsequent Flight of the Earls, the old Gaelic aristocracy scattered throughout Catholic Europe. Some of them were officially recognised by the Chief Herald as Chiefs of the Name, signifying that they are the most senior members of their family, but following official blundering that allowed several impostors to receive recognition in the 1990s this practice was abandoned in July 2003. The tradition of the Irish abroad seeking grants of arms from the Chief Herald continues to the present. Responding to this demand is an expression of the nation's "special affinity with those of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage" (Article 2, Constitution of Ireland)
At the request of the Irish Government a Grant of Arms was made to John Fitzgerald Kennedy, President of the USA, in 1963, and to Ronald Reagan, US President, in 1984. The Kennedy Arms, prepared by Gerard Slevin, Chief Herald, are still considered a masterpiece of heraldic design.
Gerard Slevin, as Chief Herald Of Ireland, suggested the circle of 12 golden stars on a deep blue background as the flag of the Council of Europe. It is now the flag of the European Union. This achievement was widely acclaimed in European heraldic circles and won him membership of the Academie International d'Heraldique.