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The Standing Council of Irish Chiefs and Chieftains
Members of the Irish Standing Council of Chiefs and Chieftains meeting with President Mary Robinson in October 1991
(the hoaxer Terence MacCarthy 'Mór' is at far left, Chief Herald Begley who recognised him is at far right,
and MacCarthy's grand-uncle Maguire 'of Fermanagh' is fourth from left with briefcase)
It is of course a democratic right and indeed it makes sense for Irish chiefs and chieftains to have their own organisation, which is called the Standing Council of Irish Chiefs and Chieftains, in Gaelic, Buanchomhairle Thaoisigh Éireann. However, it is not acceptable to create a false history for the said body or to gloss over controversial aspects of its story. The Council does not appear to have its own website, but Wikipedia, that fount of reliable information, claims that it was 'was established by the then President of Ireland' (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Standing_Council_of_Irish_Chiefs_and_Chieftains, accessed 23 March 2010). While President Robinson met with members and had a role in promoting the Council as we shall see, she did not in fact found the body.
In a worthy move the Standing Council has in recent years instituted an Irish Chiefs Prize in History in association with the History Department of Trinity College Dublin, which awards €500 for the best essay dealing with an aspect of Gaelic Ireland. Online documentation relating to this prize provides us with some more information about the Council, its aims and members:
About the Standing Council of Irish Chiefs and Chieftains
(Buanchomhairle Thaoisigh Éireann)
The Council was formed to promote the following objects:
(a) To consider matters affecting the Irish Chiefs, Chieftains and the Clans they represent;
(b) To submit its views and interests to Government, to Departments of State, to local authorities, to Press and Public and to Associations
connected with Clan and Family in Ireland and overseas;
(c) To educate the general public in matters connected with the rights, functions and historical position of Irish Chiefs and Chieftains;
(d) To take such steps as may seem expedient to protect the titles, armorial bearings and other appurtenances of Chiefs and Chieftains from exploitation or misuse in trade or otherwise;
(e) To promote and preserve the Gaelic heritage of Ireland;
(f) Any other objects related to the above objects.
Members of the Council are:
Joyce of Joyce's Country
MacDermot Prince of Coolavin
The McGillycuddy of the Reeks
The O'Brien of Thomond
The O'Carroll of Eile
The O'Dochartaigh of Inishowen
The O'Donnell of Tirconnell
The O'Donoghue of the Glens
The O'Donovan of Clan Cathail
The O'Grady of Kilballyowen
The O'Kelly of Gallagh and Tycooly
The O'Long of Garranelongy
The O'Neill of Clannaboy
The O'Ruairc of Breifne
(http://www.tcd.ie/history/pdf/furtheressaydetails2.pdf, accessed 23 March 2010)There is no mention here of the date on which the Council was established, but in a notice about the awarding of the 2009 Irish Chiefs Prize to one of its scholars, the History Department of University College Dublin states that the body 'was formed after sixteen chiefs, descendants of leading families such as MacCarthy, O’Conor, O’Donnell and O’Neill, were received by the then President of Ireland, Mrs Mary Robinson, at Áras an Uachtaráin in October 1991' (http://www.ucd.ie/news/2009/08AUG09/070809_history.html, accessed 23 March 2010). Here we are getting closer to the truth, but still have to travel a little further to reach our destination.
The name MacCarthy provides the main clue, for with his grand-uncle Terence Maguire, the hoaxer Terence MacCarthy of Belfast was the key mover in the establishment of the Standing Council of Irish Chiefs and Chieftains in 1991. The details are themselves becoming lost in the mists of time, but the writer has endeavoured to elucidate them on the present website as well as in a book published in 2004, Twilight of the Chiefs: The Mac Carthy Mór Hoax, which will be found on the shelves of leading libraries, including those of the National Library of Ireland, TCD and UCD. There will be other books on library shelves presenting rather more uncritical accounts of claimants to Irish chiefships, as demonstrated for example by the following quotes from a classic of its kind published in 1999:Let us be quite clear about it, Terence MacCarthy was never a genuine Gaelic Chief, 'The Mac Carthy Mór, Prince of Desmond', nor was his now deceased grand-uncle really 'The Maguire, Prince of Fermanagh'. It is true that both MacCarthy and Maguire were issued with certificates of recognition by the Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland, but it is now clear that even if the two gentlemen in question were genuine chiefs, which again they were assuredly not, the office lacked the legal authority to recognise chiefs or even to conduct its principal business of granting arms (see the writer's 'An Irish Arms Crisis').
The current MacCarthy Mór, Prince of Desmond, is one of the most active and outspoken of the Irish princes, who runs his household in the same courtly manner as his ancestors. . . . . . He represents the fifty-first generation in unbroken male line descent from King Eoghan Mór. No précis could hope to do justice to the long and fascinating history of his ancestry and the fortunes of his house.
The current Maguire, Prince of Fermanagh, traces his descent from Cormac Mac Airt, High King of Ireland (AD 226-28), considered the most learned and wisest of all the pre-Christian kings of Ireland. . . . . . He recognises that the old Gaelic title can only be meaningful if passed down under Brehon law and he is conscious that his title should proceed under such laws.
(Peter Berresford Ellis, Erin's Blood Royal: The Gaelic Noble Dynasties of Ireland, Constable, London 1999, pages 114, 258, 265; following MacCarthy's exposure the author produced a revised but largely unapologetic edition of this book which was published by Palgrave of New York in 2002, featuring some acidic comments concerning the present writer's work).
While Terence Maguire is recorded as the one who suggested the establishment of the Council of Chiefs and he was its first chairman, one has a suspicion that Terence MacCarthy was the brains behind the idea and he was certainly a very influential member (Twilight of the Chiefs, page 63). Prior to or after an inaugural meeting in Jury's Hotel in Dublin on 5 October 1991, members of the Council met with President Mary Robinson at Áras an Uachtaráin at her invitation, which event is recorded for posterity in the above photograph. The scene on the face of it represented an historic moment, with representatives of the old Gaelic order meeting with the icon of the new forward-looking, liberal Ireland. In fact the photograph records the triumph of an historical fantasy, indeed of a hoax which would net for its originator MacCarthy a fortune through the sale of titles and membership of his spurious order the Niadh Nask. MacCarthy's claim to chiefship and right to sell titles were rubber stamped by documents issued by the Office of the Chief Herald, while photographs indicating the apparent approval of the Irish Head of State could not be said to have discouraged the hoax. The MacCarthy Mór affair is so bizarre that some prefer to believe that the events described never happened, but rest assured they did. They say that those who forget their history are condemned to repeat it. The Standing Council of Irish Chiefs and Chieftains would be well advised to present an account of itself which is in accord with historical facts, including the reality that some of its founder members were charlatans and that its current membership still includes a few whose claims to chiefship are problematic to say the least (see the writer's 'A Register of Irish Chiefs').
Sean J Murphy MA
Centre for Irish Genealogical and Historical Studies
5 April 2010