Motto, Coat of Arms, Crest and Badge

Full Achievement (Coat) of Arms of the Earls of Glencairn
Argent (which is the French word meaning silver) is represented as the white color in this rendition of the Full Achievement of the Glencairn Arms and is symbolic of purity, innocence, beauty, or gentleness. The actual device known as the "charge" (the ensign of an armorial family) is a sable shakefork. (pitchfork)

Cunningham Motto

There are a variety of colorful stories relating to the Cunningham's motto and coat of arms.  The best known story has a connection with the historical Macbeth. After killing Duncan (1st Historical King of Scotland), Macbeth sent his men to kill Duncan's son, Malcolm Canmore.  While being chased by Macbeth's men, prince Canmore took refuge in the barn of a lowland farmer, Malcolm, son of Friskin. Understanding the danger the prince was in, the son of Friskin told Malcolm Canmore to hide under some straw in the barn. The farmer received help covering the prince and called out to his companion, "Over, fork over," as they worked to heap layers of straw over the prince. Another version says the prince ordered the son of Friskin to quickly put straw over him, telling the farmer to "Over, fork over!" When Macbeth's men approached the barn a few moments later, they asked if the farmer had seen the prince. Malcolm, son of Friskin replied he had not, saving the prince's life.  (King Malcolm III, left)

When Macbeth was later defeated in battle and killed seventeen years later by Malcolm Canmore, he came to the throne as Malcolm III. He did not forget the son of Friskin's heroic deed and awarded the farmer the Thanedome of Cunninghame, arms,  and  motto.  The motto, "Over fork Over," recalled the event that saved the king's life. Sir George Mackenzie however relates in his opinion that, although the story about saving Malcolm III's  life is charming, the "charge" is actually a reference to the office of Master of the King's Stables.

Another explanation is that the Cunningham "charge" and motto are a reference to a family friendship.  The Cunninghams were great allies of the Comyns, whose shield bore sheaves of corn.  The Comyn's and the Bruce's were bitter enemies. When the Comyn dynasty was overthrown by the Bruces, the Cunninghams sided with the Bruces, but adopted the shake-fork as an ingenious reference to their former allies. The shakefork was used to fork over sheaves of corn (Comyn shield and charge, at right).

Ardrossan Academy in Ayrshire holds that the Cunninghams got their motto and coat of arms fighting for Robert the Bruce. The English held a powerful castle called Linlithgow. It was too powerful for a frontal assault, so the Scots had to figure out a way to penetrate the castle's defenses. Using guile and possibly borrowing a page from Homer's story of the Trojan Horse, the Cunninghams concealed themselves in carts under bales of hay and surprised the English guards at the castle's gate. Jumping out from under the hay, the Cunninghams "fell upon them with their forks, tossing the English into the air like hay and shouting their cry 'Over, fork, over!" They secured the gate and let the rest of Bruce's force enter and take control of the castle.

The Unicorn bust or head is the crest on the full achievement of arms of the Earls of Glencairn, and is also displayed on the Clan Cunningham strap and buckle crest badge. The Unicorn in association with heraldry is usually depicted as a horse with a single long twisted horn, lion's tail and the legs of a stag. The Unicorn symbolizes extreme courage, strength and virtue.
The original myth of the unicorn is said to have originated in Syria or Palestine after a mistaken observation of a wild antelope. The actual word "unicorn" means single horn and is derived from two Latin words, "unis" (one) and "cornus" (horn).  In medieval times, the horn was thought to have magical healing powers.

Historically, the crest was worn on the clan chief's helmet so that he could be recognized by his warriors in battle.  

Strap and Buckle Crest Badge
In addition to being placed above the helmet on the coat of arms, the unicorn is found on the clan badge placed within a leather strap and buckle garter, upon  which is inscribed the clan motto. Today clan badges can be worn by clansmen to show their loyalty to the clan.

Back to top of page

Visit our Clan Cunningham Global - Motto web site page
Visit our Clan Cunningham Global - Crest web site page
Visit our Clan Cunningham Global - Badge web site page
2003 Clan Cunningham Society of America, Inc. All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, for any Personal or Commercial use without the expressed written permission of Larry A. Augsbury, High Commissioner & Chairman of the Clan Cunningham Society, Inc.