Guinness uses the harp of Brian Boru, or Trinity College Harp as their trademark. This circa 14th century harp which is still visible at Trinity College, Dublin has been used as a symbol of Ireland since the 16th century. Guinness adopted the harp as a logo, however it is shown in a form that faces left instead of right as in the coat of arms.
The harp is also the official national emblem of the Republic of Ireland and can be found on the Republic’s coinage. 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, had to turn the official government harp the other way to differentiate between the trademarked Guinness harp and the official State emblem. The distinguishing feature between the two harps is that 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.
Arthur Guinness, the father of Guinness, was Protestant, and a committed unionist. Ireland’s Guinness was once called ‘Guinness’s black Protestant porter’.
In the run-up to the Easter Rising, members of the Irish Volunteers who worked in Guinness’ were discouraged from openly parading. Frank Henderson, a captain in the Irish Volunteers who took part in the Howth Gun Running and the Easter Rising, said Guinness’ staff were wary that they may be victimised in their workplace.
During the fighting in 1916, trucks used by Guinness’ were converted into improvised armoured fighting vehicles by the British Army and used against republican forces. One such Guinness truck used by the British was made by bolting four boilers onto the rear of a Guinness’ flatbed truck. These were believed to have been the first armoured cars used in Ireland. There are conflicting reports over whether these vehicles were commandeered by the British Army or donated to them by Guinness & Co.
On 29 April 1916, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers murdered civilians William John Rice and Algernon Lucas (along with two off-duty British soldiers) in the grounds of the Dublin brewery. The sergeant who ordered their execution claimed they were members of Sinn Féin. Two of the men were Guinness employees. Guinness Company Director H. W. Renny Failyown said:
‘There was nothing in the evidence of the recent court martial to justify any suggestion [the staff] were in any way connected with, or in sympathy with, the Sinn Féin rebellion.’
Indeed, the company took a hard line with anybody displaying any form of support for Irish republicanism or nationalism.
Following the 1916 Rising, Guinness was one of a number of companies that dismissed its staff suspected of involvement in the rebellion or sympathetic to those who took part.
Photo: Guinness Brewery, St James Gate, Dublin, © Ian C. Whitworth Photography