seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

Guinness Registers Harp as Official Symbol

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On April 5, 1862, Guinness formally registers the harp as its official symbol, long before Ireland even has its own government.

The first Guinness labels featuring the now-iconic harp are printed in August of that year according to Guinness’s Brewery in the Irish Economy 1759 – 1876 by Patrick Lynch and John Vaizey.

The harp, which serves as the emblem of Guinness, is based on a famous 14th-century Irish harp known as the “O’Neill harp” or “Brian Boru’s harp,” which is now preserved in the Library of Trinity College Dublin. The harp is also the official national emblem of the Republic of Ireland and can be found on the Republic’s coinage that was phased out when the Euro currency was introduced. The harp symbol is also featured on Irish flags during the 1916 Easter Rising.

However, there is a difference between the Irish government harp and the Guinness harp. As Guinness had trademarked the harp symbol in 1876, the Irish Free State Government of 1922 has to reverse the official government harp so that it can be differentiated from the trademarked Guinness harp. As such, the Guinness Harp always appears with its straight edge (the sound board) to the left, and the government harp is always shown with its straight edge to the right.

It is because of the harp trademark that the Guinness company names its first lager Harp in 1960.

The harp is one of three elements that make up the Guinness brand livery. The other two elements are the word “Guinness” and Arthur Guinness’s famous signature. There have been a number of changes to the design of the harp device over the years including a reduction in the number of strings shown. The current harp is introduced in 2005 when a new brand livery is launched.

The famous Downhill Harp, dating back to 1702, is purchased by Guinness in 1963 to ensure its continued preservation and is on display in the advertising gallery in Guinness Storehouse. The Downhill Harp is made in 1702 by Cormac O’Kelly of Ballinascreen and played in the 18th century by the harpist Donnchadh Ó hAmhsaigh, known in English as Denis Hampsey, Denis Hampson or Denis Hempson. Ó hAmhsaigh plays in the traditional style, plucking the strings with his long fingernails. At age 97, he is the oldest harpist at the Belfast Harp Festival in July 1792, although he is perhaps most famous for his concert for Prince Charles Edward Stuart, or ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’, in 1745.

The harp bears the inscription:

In the time of Noah I was green,
Since his flood I had not been seen,
Until Seventeen hundred and two I was found By Cormac O’Kelly underground:
He raised me up to that degree
That Queen of Musick you may call me.

(From: “When Guinness trademarked symbol of the harp,” IrishCentral,, April 5, 2022)


Author: Jim Doyle

As a descendant of Joshua Doyle (b. 1775, Dublin, Ireland), I have a strong interest in Irish culture and history, which is the primary focus of this site. I am a Network Engineer at The Computer Hut, LLC, which is my salaried job. I am a member of the Irish Cultural Society of Arkansas, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization (2010-Present, President 2011-2017) and a commissioner on the City of Little Rock Arts+Culture Commission (2015-2020, 2021-Present, Chairman 2017-2018).

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