Turning the harp
Bogus Irish history for what end?
Over the last number of years, I have come across what appears to be a little-known event in Irish history – the turning of the harp on the 21st of January each year to restore the sovereignty of Ireland. From investigating it, I have discovered that it is entirely bogus.
This bogus history makes for intriguing possibilities in Irish history but when investigated properly it makes for utter nonsense. For people like me who are keenly interested in history and politics, particularly Irish republican politics, it is exciting to learn more about what was done by organisations such as the United Irishmen, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Irish Republican Army, Fianna Éireann, Cumann na mBan, Sinn Féin and others.
Due to the turbulent history in Ireland over the centuries, there were many events and activities that were done secretly or were not part of the mainstream of Irish political life, so they are frequently unknown and mysterious. Some examples of little known Irish history include the planning of the 1803 rebellion by the United Irishmen under Robert Emmet, the establishment of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1858, the setting up of the Irish National Brotherhood and the Irish National Invincibles (two splinter groups from the IRB), and the establishment by Dáil Éireann of the National Arbour Day when half a million trees were planted across Ireland on November 30th 1919.
Turning the harp
There is a small body of people, who style themselves the Irish Republican Brotherhood, lead by a man called William McGuire from Luimneach. Mr. McGuire claims that he is the President of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
When I discovered some years ago that the IRB was still in existence, I was surprised and extremely curious to say the least. I was under the impression that the IRB had disbanded in 1924. So why were some people still acting as the IRB?
This latter-day IRB claims that there was a seal created for the Irish state. It is a silver harp with the words Éire under it and perhaps on the Irish tricolour of green, white and orange. Furthermore, it needs to be turned each year on January 21st, the anniversary of the founding of Dáil Éireann. This turning ceremony needs to be performed in order for the state to be legitimate and for things such as laws, courts, commissions etc. to be legal. This is very exciting stuff indeed. Could it be that for all these years, the Irish state has not been acting legally? Was there a secret ritual done in 1919 that was forgotten to history?
The narrative is that:
“On the morning of the 21st January, in Vaughans Hotel on Parnell square, a man named Tom McGuire elevated and turned the Sovereign Seal of Dáil Éireann, from the rising sun to the setting sun, from north to south and from east to west, and from Pagan to Christian to Sovereign; As in the 1916 Proclamation, claiming sovereignty over the elements, earth, air, fire and water and all there in and there of, on behalf of the Sovereign people and the Sovereign Republic of Éire.”
On first reading, it sounds very interesting and full of power and majesty. But read it again. What is this about the rising and setting sun, Pagan and Christian, the elements of earth, air, fire and water? It seems a little odd when talking about republican politics and the sovereignty of Ireland.
But it must be genuine as there are hints that this is real history – the date of the 21st January when Dáil Éireann was established in 1919, the mention of the 1916 Proclamation, the use of Éire, the Irish name for Ireland, the reference to a sovereign republic and to the exact location of Vaughan’s Hotel in Parnell Square in Baile Átha Cliath which was a favourite meeting place of republicans such as Michael Collins and Dick McKee. These are all real facts so it seems plausible that this event could have also happened but it is a little known fact from this period. The Irish Republican Brotherhood was a secret organisation after all so it can’t be certain what they did at their meetings.
What the so-called IRB claim
William McGuire and his followers call themselves the IRB. Actually they call themselves the “Irish Republican and Fenian Brotherhood” – a body which never existed. There were two different organisations – one called the Irish Republican Brotherhood in Ireland and the other the Fenian Brotherhood in the USA. McGuire insists that his grand-uncle Tom McGuire was tasked by the IRB in 1917 to buy Vaughan’s Hotel in Parnell Square in Baile Átha Cliath to use as a base for republicans to meet in. The Fenian Brotherhood in the USA bought a large house in Manhattan for that organisation to use as a headquarters, so this type of activity occurred before.
The day that Dáil Éireann was established on January 21st, 1919, William McGuire claims that his grand-uncle Tom took a large silver harp and turned it over the Irish tricolour. The purpose of this ceremony was to establish the sovereignty of Ireland. It is claimed that this ceremony was done on the 21st of January every year since.
McGuire claims that it is mandatory for the Taoiseach, Ceann Comhairle and Chief Justice to witness this ceremony, as their seal of office derives from and under the Sovereign Seal. All members of An Garda Siochána and defence forces must wear the harp on their buttons, seven strings for Gardaí and eight strings for soldiers. It appears on all government documentation, and again allegedly, all licences and coinage must bear it. The euro notes do not bear the words ‘legal tender’ on them so allegedly they are not legal.
The sovereign seal is the harp with the word Éire below it and supposedly it must be elevated above every judge in every court. It consists of 12 strings (devised from the four elements, our five senses and the trinity). A 13th string was adapted as it is the execution string for the judge to secure a just determination in court. It was originally worn as a torc by the brehon for the same purpose as it would tighten around the neck if the ruling was against the principles in law.
Most of the above two paragraphs are taken from the websites and press releases of McGuire. A few questions need to be asked. Where is it stated that it is mandatory for the Taoiseach, Ceann Comhairle and the Chief Justice to witness the ceremony? There is no mention of it in Bunreacht na hÉireann. Likewise, where is it stipulated that members of An Garda Síochána and the defence forces have to wear uniforms containing the harp? Why must there be a seal above judges? Why must licences bear the harp?
Notice the reference to “the four elements, our five sense and the trinity” and to the mention of the unscientific history about a torc around a judge’s neck. It is a bit odd to mention these things when talking about sovereignty and the duties of the most important office holders of the state.
Which is the legitimate government of Ireland?
McGuire claims that the government of Ireland and the Dáil from which it is elected is not really sovereign and they were created by the English king. They call the Oireachtas “the Provisional Oireachtas”. There is some grounds for this idea but it no longer applies in the Ireland of 2017. The British government in 1921 refused to recognise the Irish Republic and forced the Irish negotiators to accept a treaty making Ireland a dominion of the British Empire with the British monarch as head of state and the members of the Oireachtas had to swear allegiance to the British monarch. This meant that the attempt at establishing an independent Irish Republic was destroyed and the Irish Republic was defeated in 1922. While the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 did create an Irish Free State with the British monarch as the head of state, the election of Fianna Fáil in 1932 on a republican platform ushered in a new phase of Irish politics. Fianna Fáil abolished all the odious parts of the Treaty settlement such as by abolishing the oath of allegiance to the British crown. In 1937, Fianna Fáil took the biggest step by drafting a new constitution for Ireland, Bunreacht na hÉireann, which made Ireland a completely sovereign and independent state. There was no longer any constitutional connection with the British state. The constitution states that the people of Ireland are sovereign and only the people can change the constitution. The Irish people voted for this constitution so this is what gives it legitimacy. It was not imposed upon the Irish people like the Anglo-Irish Treaty was. Therefore the government of Ireland is the legitimate government of Ireland. It is elected democratically every five years.
Contradictions in his claims
Mr. McGuire rails against the “Provisional Oireachtas” imposed on Ireland by the English King in 1921. This body is not the sovereign government of Ireland and therefore they are illegitimate. Dáil Éireann is the real government of Ireland.
That seems easy to understand. But then why does Mr. McGuire insist that the Taoiseach, the Ceann Comhairle and the Chief Justice need to be present when the harp is turned? Surely if you are opposed to a political system and do not want them to have power and deny their legitimacy, then you would not want them involved in your political events.
McGuire is seen in photographs and videos holding up a copy of Bunreacht na hÉireann but then on his own website, he claims that there is a different constitution for the so-called Sovereign Republic of Éire.
It is a complete contradiction and further destroys the credibility of his claims.
The demolition of this bogus history
All of the claims by McGuire and his supporters can be demolished piece by piece leaving no doubt that what he claims is bogus and a fabrication.
1. There is no mention of the harp turning in the witness statements in the Bureau of Military History
The definitive account of the struggle for Irish freedom can be found in the witness statements in the Bureau of Military History. These are thousands of first-hand accounts from the people who participated in the Easter Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War. These have been made available for people to read and learn. I highly encourage anyone to read these accounts to know what people did during the 1913-23 period. There is no witness statement from a man called Tom McGuire nor is there any mention by any witness that a harp was turned in Vaughan’s Hotel on the 21st January 1919. If there is no mention of this event in these thousands of statements from people who were involved in the fight to free Ireland, it is proof that it is bogus. There was a Commadant-General Thomas McGuire in county Maigh Eo but he is not mentioned in relation to Vaughan’s Hotel.
2. There was and is no such state called the “Sovereign Republic of Éire”
On Monday April 24th 1916, the Irish Republic was proclaimed. It was called Poblacht na hÉireann in Irish. In January 1919, when Dáil Éireann was being set up, there was a debate among some of the newly elected Sinn Féin representatives whether to call the Irish Republic Saorstát Éireann or Poblacht na hÉireann. Some felt that the word saorstát was the best Irish equivalent for the idea of a republic. Saor meant free and stát meant a state. The aim of these people was to make Ireland a free state. Poblacht was a neologism coined by Liam S Gógáin as a term for republic. His inspiration for the word came from the Irish word for kingdom, ríocht. A ríocht is a country which is ruled by a rí, so using the same idea, a poblacht would be a country ruled by the people, pobal. Ó Gógáin used the ending of ríocht “ocht” and attached it to pobal and therefore created the word poblacht. From 1919 to 1921, both Saorstát Éireann and Poblacht na hÉireann were both used as Irish equivalents for the Irish Republic. After 1922, Saorstát Éireann was used as the name for the new Irish Free State, so Poblacht na hÉireann was the only name in Irish used for the Irish Republic.
In 1921, Éamon de Valera alternated between using the name Irish Republic and the Republic of Ireland in his official correspondence. There are some semantic differences that these titles convey i.e. an Irish Republic means that the republic has more distinctly Irish characteristics such as the use of the Irish language etc.
Notwithstanding the subtle differences of the Irish and English names for the Irish Republic, the name “the Sovereign Republic of Éire” was never used. No state by this name was proclaimed nor was there any state called by this name. It is a fabrication.
3. The supposed constitution of the Republic of Ireland
Billy McGuire on his website has a supposed constitution of the Republic of Ireland. This interesting document has never been seen before and is never referred to by any historian or political commentator. Adding further weight to my comments above about the Sovereign Republic of Éire, the name used for the state on the front page of this constitution is the Republic of Ireland, not the Sovereign Republic of Éire.
While it makes for fascinating reading, it was never a constitution for Ireland. When Dáil Éireann was established, a provisional constitution was enacted by the Dáil. THIS WAS THE ONLY CONSTITUTION created by Dáil Éireann.
Some people have pointed out that McGuire took a document written by republican Teachta Dála Mary McSwiney in 1928 and claimed it as the work of the IRB in 1919. This is a pathetic action by McGuire. McSwiney wrote it as a draft document to be potentially used as a constitution for a future Irish Republic. While it is an interesting document, it reeks of sectarianism. Thankfully it never became law.
4. The Irish Republican Brotherhood disbanded in 1924
It has been recorded by many historians and actual former members that the Irish Republican Brotherhood voted to disband itself in 1924. It had been in existence since 1858 and had been instrumental in organising many campaigns and political activity in Ireland over the centuries. It secretly took control of organisations such as the Irish National Petition Association, the Irish National Foresters, the Land League, the Irish Parliamentary Party, an Cumann Lúthchleas Gael, Conradh na Gaeilge, Sinn Féin, and most importantly, Óglaigh na hÉireann/the Irish Volunteers.
It was the IRB that provided the leadership for the 1916 rising and the War of Independence. Michael Collins was the President of the Supreme Council of the IRB and it was he and his supporters who ensured that the Anglo-Irish Treaty was accepted. Having lead to the creation of the Irish Free State, the IRB had more or less achieved its objective and once the civil war had ceased, the IRB found itself without a purpose so it voted in 1924 to disband. The funds left over were used to pay for the erection of a statue to Theobold Wolfe Tone in St. Stephen’s Green in Baile Átha Cliath.
The secret revolutionary tendencies that previously existed in the IRB continued in the anti-treaty IRA and remain there to this day.
Therefore, the IRB that Billy McGuire claims to lead is a new organisation and nothing to do with the real IRB of 1858 to 1924.
5. People do not get their sovereignty from a symbol, they are sovereign by legal status.
While it might not be obvious to McGuire and his supporters, people do not get their sovereignty from a symbol such as a harp. People are sovereign due to their legal status. In Ireland, the people are sovereign so a referendum must be held in order that Bunreacht na hÉireann can be amended. The people must give their consent to any change to the constitution. The same cannot be said for the United Kingdom. In the British kingdom, the people are not citizens nor are they sovereign. The people are subjects of the monarch and the parliament is sovereign.
How did this happen? The people of Ireland voted for it in July 1937. The new constitution declared that the people are sovereign and must give their consent to political change. A symbol such as a harp does not make them sovereign. The symbol of Ireland, the harp, is only a pretty symbol but nothing more. It has legal status in that the Irish state is the only entity permitted to use a certain version of the harp but the national symbol has no importance other than that.
6. McGuire gets basic historical facts wrong
McGuire claims that 1918 general election was somehow held out of Vaughan’s Hotel. Utter nonsense. Sinn Féin had its head office in 6, Harcourt Street, Baile Átha Cliath – the other side of the city. This is easy to prove by reading the books “Four Glorious Years” written by Frank O’Gallagher (aka David Hogan) who worked with Harry Boland in 6, Harcourt Street in organising the Sinn Féin election campaign or “The Victory of Sinn Fein” by P.S. O’Hegarty who also worked in 6, Harcourt Street organising the Sinn Féin election campaign. What is important about the latter book is that it was written in 1924 from a now almost forgotten viewpoint – that of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. O’Hegarty was on the Supreme Council of the IRB for many years so he knew what he was writing about. It is the real history of the real IRB, not the bogus history McGuire claims.
McGuire claims that the War of Independence was declared in Vaughan’s Hotel. It was not declared. It began in Soloheadbeg by the initiative of local Irish Volunteers. There was no need to declare a war.
Dáil Éireann did not establish courts in Vaughan’s Hotel as McGuire claims nor did they occupy the building called the Four Courts. That occupation occurred in 1922. This can be checked in the Dáil minutes and in the statements in the Bureau of Military History.
McGuire likes to claim that his grand-uncle and his supposed IRB were responsible for pretty much all of the important events in 1919 but a quick check with historical documents shows the truth.
7. McGuire and his followers made an untrue statement about their records being in the University of Limerick
On the website of the supposed Irish Republican Brotherhood, there is a statement that the Vaughan Hotel papers were donated to the University of Limerick and that people interested in them should contact the university.
For history of IRB relatives records, please contact the University of Limerick where the Vaughan’s Hotel papers with all the information on everything is held. These papers were handed over to the university many years ago.
As a former student of the University of Limerick, I was interested in seeing the papers so I contacted the university.
Here is the reply I received from Ken Bergin, the librarian in charge of special collections:
Dear Mr Ó Coistín,
Thank you for your email. I am aware of Mr Maguire’s claims about the papers from Vaughans Hotel but these papers are not in the UL archives under my care nor in the special collections archives held by the library.
I cannot find any mention of them in the UL archives and I have worked in Special Collections since 1999.
I am sorry that I cannot be of any more help in this matter.
In a reply I asked Mr Bergin if he will be contacting Mr. McGuire to remove the false statement on the Irish Republican Brotherhood website. Mr Bergin replied:
“I have spoken to Mr Maguire about his claims on several occasions.”
This says it all. Not only does the University of Limerick not have any papers from Mr McGuire, he has been asked by the university to tell the truth about the university not having papers from him.
Mr McGuire mixes Irish history with a strange blend of make believe about the importance of the harp. He emphasises the importance of the harp, turning it in different directions, looking at in a mirror, the significance of the number of strings, how it can be used in various ways for the benefit of mankind etc. There is frequent mention of a bizarre piece of information about a “Psaltery AD 12 strings, a Christian symbol and ethos” and the “Harp BC 12 strings”. A harp is a harp no matter which way you turn it. Does it matter which way a guitar is facing? It is still a guitar.
The whole thing is bizarre nonsense and gets infuriating when you read it in letter after letter that Mr McGuire wrote. It is bullshit of the smelliest kind. It is like as if Mr McGuire has to keep mentioning these confusing pieces of information in order to, in his mind, recharge the harp with some power that it plainly does not have. I feel sorry for anyone who received one of his letters. They must seem very strange and difficult to understand.
It does not help that he wrote most of them by hand. This was done deliberately as it is part of his philosophy which is about sovereignty.
The Sovereignty Movement
Why is it so important to write a letter by hand? It is part of a strange and dangerous political philosophy about being a sovereign citizen. A sovereign citizen is a person who is free and does not live by the laws of the state. He or she does not need to as they are sovereign. Now you can see why Mr McGuire goes on about a Sovereign Republic of Éire and a sovereign seal. Writing letters by hand rather than typing them show that you are a real person and your signature is, wait for this, a “sign of nature”. What about that for false etymology? You see, your handwriting is a sign that you actually exist and therefore that you are free or sovereign. In case you did not know, the etymology of signature is: Middle French, from Medieval Latin signatura, from Latin signatus, past participle of signare to sign, seal.
So your signature is not a sign of nature but the past tense in Latin of to sign.
By claiming that the Irish state is not sovereign, then it can be McGuire’s idea that Irish people do not have to live by the laws of the state. This is why it is so important for him to keep talking and writing about the sovereignty of Ireland and a sovereign constitution.
On his website, he has information about how to maintain your sovereignty.
How does Billy McGuire benefit from this charade?
As a little bit of investigating proves, Mr McGuire’s claims are all bogus. So the question has to be asked why does he do this? How does he benefit from propagating a bogus history and trying to portray himself as having some special position with unrecognised legality?
He is an intelligent man. So why would he do this? Does he make money from this? He and his crew sell certificates “Certificates of Irish Sovereignty“, based on the unsuccessful Certificates of Irish Heritage, for people who witnessed the turning of the harp. Sales of these certificates would not amount to much – a few hundred euro, if even. So what does he get from it?
Perhaps it is a deep psychological need to feel important. Everyone has this desire in some way but people find ways of feeling important with their family and friends, their jobs, sport, music, community activities etc. Most people do not concoct a false history and claim to be someone of importance when the whole thing can be easily disproved. It just makes the person doing it seem like an utter idiot or mentally unsound.
In his letters, Mr. McGuire adds on title after title:
“President of the Irish Republican Brotherhood
President of the Sovereign Republic of Éire
President of Óglaigh na hÉireann Court
Keeper of the Sovereignty of the Sovereign Republic of Éire
Keeper of the Sovereign Trinity and The Sovereign Seals and Harps of the Sovereign Republic of Éire
President of the Sovereign Dáil Éireann Government
Head of State of the Sovereign Republic of Éire”
It smacks of desperation to be important. All of these titles are made up.
It is not clear what Mr McGuire’s objective is but he has no legs to stand on. The whole thing is bogus. William McGuire and his followers should be exposed for fabricating Irish history and ignored for their nonsense.
* * *
(Just in case there is some validity to what Mr McGuire claims, he should be prepared to publish all documents and photographs regarding his claims. In particular, he needs to show photographs of the turning of the harp in previous decades such as the 1920s. He needs to prove how the IRB continued in existence after 1924 and how his father and himself ended up controlling it. He needs to provide evidence of who designed and created the harps that he turns every January. He claims that he has all the documents so he should publish them).