In 1197 a group of semi-monastic knights were founded by the Bishop of Riga to propogate the christian faith in the Baltic Provinces of the Holy Roman Empire and to protect the new Christianity against the pagan nations. The Ensiferi (or Swordbearers) of Livonia were temporary crusaders and not very successful in their crusade against the pagans of Europe , so the Pope Innocent III gave them a more permanent status, but threw open their membership to all sorts of adventurers and mercenaries without the distinction of birth rights or what have you. The group lasted a short time, but with their grand masters dead (one killed by others of the order and one on the field of battle) the remaining bunch asked politely if they could actually join the Teutonic Order of Knights if that wasn't too much of a problem and the Pope agreed to let them. the Ensiferi had lasted only about thirty years.
Not very good crusaders!
Their mantle was the red cross of St George with a red sword of St Paul and this is the oldest link I can find with the left hand side of the badge of London Irish (now of course a black sword, but I'll not go there ... yet).
When I found this out I wondered whether I might be on for a Da Vinci Code (or Foucault's Pendulum) style saga that linked London Irish with the Templars or Rosecrucians, and blood lines from the poor carpenter's son but no ... the old City of London chose the red cross of St George and red sword of St Paul (London's patron saint) as its standard partly because of its strong links with the Templars, but that's about it ... not exactly Holy Grail, Holy Blood stuff.
St George was Lebonese
BUT I found details that the red cross and red sword is only the flag for the City of London, that is the old City not what we class as London these days - the big sprawling conurbation that spreads from the Southend to Slough. The old City is the area east of Fleet St and not a big area either (in 1700 an estimated 208,000 people lived in the city, in 2001 that figure was 7,185).
Some rusty irons gates with fancy crest
London Irish have played 'home' matches at a number of grounds around London. Hammersmith, Walthamstow, Catford, Blackheath, Norbiton, Motspur Park, Wandsworth and Sunbury but I couldn't find any that were within the 'walls' of the old City of London. Perhaps, the London Irish badge should have included the crest of the London County Council (formed in 1889 and became the GLC later on before Maggie got rid), since LI were really a team from around London.
Red Ken's lot?
Thankfully no. Wavy blue lines look rubbish. It was Tony Byrne that gave me the details I was looking for as he explained that London Irish had strong links with the London Irish Rifles regiment and sometime around 1908 the regiment became the County of London regiment and their regimental badge is the crest from the City of London above a portcullis.
A bit of marching up and down the square
So there we have it, London Irish's second badge comes from the army links of the old rugby club, well at least the left hand side anyway and the right hand side is Ireland's National emblem? Well no, the shamrock is thought to have been used by St Patrick to explain the holy trinity to the pagans, but then were there ever really any snakes in Ireland before he got there? Anyway, the Harp is Ireland's official national emblem (but don't Guinness have the copyright?) though the shamrock is a popular emblem I understand.
My old Kooga/MG Rover cream shirt and it shows up those Guinness stains a treat
But what of London Irish's first badge, since I've just said that the above is LI's second badge ... again Tony explained. I could see from the early photos in "Passion in Exile" that the red cross/red sword was not the original badge, but couldn't make out any detail in the pictures. Tony told me that this first badge goes back to the London Irish Rifles' (prior to the change around 1908) which was a harp surrounded by shamrocks:
More marching up and down the square
And that probably really explains the shamrocks on the second badge, still used by the Amateurs, the LISC and erm this site. Of course this is all history and around 2003, London Irish decided they didn't have the rights to the badge even though Tony also told me that at a meeting in the early 60s that the issue of shirt and badge ownership had been sorted out. Anyway, I've never seen a clear reason for the change from the red sword of St Paul to a black sword, but my guess is that it was purely aesthetic (the US military use a black sword on an organisation's badge to signify a covert operations unit).
Since this has ended up as a bit of a history lecture, I'll set some homework - but be aware that I'm setting it as I don't know the answer. When London Scottish and Richmond RFC were swallowed up into our fine club, London Irish found space for their crests on our shirt (initially on the sleeve but now on the bottom left of the front of the jersey), but they seem to have changed both crests/badges, so my question is why? They decapitated the red lion of London Scottish and used its head, and the turned the flags of Richmond into a shield. So why?
Richmond RFC's flags
From the sleeve of my old Kooga shirt
The red lion of London Scottish
From the sleeve of my old Kooga shirt