Terence McCarthy ‘Mór’ and Peter Berresford Ellis

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 4 (July/August 2011), Letters, Volume 19

Terence McCarthy ‘Mór’ (left) and other members of the Standing Council of Irish Chiefs and Chieftains with President Mary Robinson at Áras an Uachtaráin in October 1991.

Terence McCarthy ‘Mór’ (left) and other members of the Standing Council of Irish Chiefs and Chieftains with President Mary Robinson at Áras an Uachtaráin in October 1991.

Sir,—In his article ‘The talented Mr MacCarthy Mór’ (HI 19.3, May/June 2011) Seán J. Murphy quite rightly points out that the 1999 edition of my Erin’s blood royal carried a foreword by the man who was then recognised by the chief herald of Ireland, and therefore by the Irish state, as ‘the MacCarthy Mór’. This man was also recognised by several other heraldic jurisdictions, including the Ulster and Norroy King of Arms office in London. Mr Murphy points out that in the 2002 edition the foreword was omitted. What Mr Murphy omits to say is that the book also had a new foreword and a chapter on how Mr Terence McCarthy was able to perpetrate his hoax on the Irish state and the other heraldic jurisdictions.
In writing my book, I admit to making the mistake of accepting the competence of the Irish state’s genealogists and chief heralds, having examined the proofs that had been in their files for many years and granting such recognition to Terence McCarthy. I firmly believed at the time that such officers were academically competent enough to authenticate such matters. Other heraldic jurisdictions seem to have taken their cue from the Genealogical Office in Dublin and accepted their authentication.
The day after my book was published in 1999 I was asked to meet Brendan O’Donoghue, director of the National Library and new chief herald of Ireland. In the Genealogical Office he then showed me the files that Terence McCarthy had submitted over the years as well as the report from the firm of Paul Gorry, who had been called in to investigate them. It was obvious that McCarthy was a fake. Even I, as a historian and not a genealogist, could see the glaring errors that had been accepted previously by the Genealogical Office.
My publisher agreed to my request for the withdrawal of the 1999 edition, or at least those copies that had not yet been sold. At a pre-arranged book launch lecture for the 1999 edition, I explained this to those attending, and some newspapers and journals published my statement. Sadly, many did not, preferring to run with what had been in that first edition of the book (as it seems Mr Murphy does).
Mr Murphy neglects to mention that in the revised version of the book the new foreword, ‘The man who would be prince’, and a chapter on ‘The MacCarthy Mór affair’ clearly outline all the facts behind the fraud, based not only on the materials shown to me by the Genealogical Office and the details of the investigation carried out for the office by Paul Gorry, but also on my eighteen months of research in tracking down Terence McCarthy’s family in Belfast. I am afraid Mr Murphy has been a little disingenuous in his selected reference to my work, which was an account of those native ‘chiefs’ then recognised by the Irish state and why I believed the Irish state did not have the authority to make such recognitions of Gaelic titles under modern Irish law.—Yours etc.,
PETER BERRESFORD ELLIS

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