Wednesday 27 March 2019

Tradition has many strings to its bow

Liam Collins

Liam Collins

ON JANUARY 21 every year, a member of the Maguire clan turns up in the Mansion House in Dublin and "turns" the sovereign seal of the Irish Republic, which was first unveiled in the building on that date in 1921.

Last Saturday week was the 85th anniversary when Billy Maguire, a large man from Askeaton, Co Limerick, performed the eccentric ritual. He has continued the tradition of his late father since 1967. In the presence of 12 onlookers - some devotees of the first Dail, others mere curiosity seekers - he performed the yearly ritual which, he claims, gives validity to the Irish Republic.

At 12 o'clock as the big long case clock in the hallway chimed midday, Billy Maguire donned his grandfather's grey felt hat and, with the solemnity of a bishop, held the seal aloft.

"We've been doing it for the last 85 years," he explained afterwards. "My father and my grandfather did it before me."

Billy's grandfather was owner of Vaughan's Hotel in Parnell Square, Dublin, a haunt of Michael Collins and other revolutionaries of the War of Independence - and the venue for Tom Barry's wedding. Another of his ancestors is Sam Maguire, whose cup is held aloft each year by the captain of the winning All-Ireland football team.

The Irish sovereign seal consists of a harp with 12 strings, and in effect the seal, or variations of it, makes everything legal in this republic. For example, there are eight strings on the harp symbol of the Army, 9 strings on the passport's harp, 13 on official documents of Dail Eireann and 14 on coins.

Billy Maguire invests in this an awful lot of symbolism, and indeed has tried to reprimand the president for flying a standard containing a harp with the wrong number of strings.

According to Mr Maguire, peace in Ireland will not be truly reached until the British monarch removes the Irish sovereign seal which still takes up a quarter of the royal standard. Not many people know that.

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