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What Musical Instrument Appears on the Label of Guinness Beer?

The musical instrument that appears on the label of Guinness Beer is a harp. It can also be referred to as the Downhill Harp. You could also probably get away with just calling it the Guinness logo.

A can of Guinness Draught Stout with the Harp on the label
It's right there, the Brian Boru Harp

Guinness, through it’s usage of the Irish harp, hitched its wagon to the official symbol of a nation. And thus, you’ll always remember the chief export of the brewery at St. James’s Gate.

The Guinness harp within the logo is modeled after the “Brian Boru”. The Brian Boru, like Guinness today, is a symbol of Ireland and its rich artistic traditions. Brian Boru, the historical figure, was a former King of Ireland who ended the rule of the Uí Néill.

According to a website dedicated to the Battle of Clontarf, the harp serves, “As the official emblem of Ireland it also appears on the Presidential seal, every Irish passport, and is used in the coat-of-arms of the National University of Ireland as well as being recognised (backwards) around the world as the symbol of the black stuff: Guinness, the quintessensial drink of the Irish.”

It should come as no surprise then that the first lager that the Guinness Brewery ever made was, in fact, Harp. It’s not the only brewery with a logo depicting a wire-strung instrument. Well actually, that may be true, as Washington state’s 12 String Brewing recently closed.

When did the Celtic Harp become the symbol of the Guinness brand?

The Guinness-Storehouse suggests that, “The harp, which serves as the emblem of GUINNESS®, is based on a famous 14th century Irish harp known as the "O'Neill" or "Brian Boru" harp which is now preserved in the Library of Trinity College Dublin. The harp device has been synonymous with GUINNESS since 1862 when it was used as a symbol on the first bottle label for GUINNESS. It was registered as a Guinness company trademark in 1876.

That’s long before the craft beer revolution here in America. However, it’s certainly after the life of Arthur Guinness, the Irish entrepreneur who started everything.

Changing the Harp

The Guinness brand has altered the harp symbol’s orientation, shape, and string count over the years. For instance, the 1862 Harp had 20 strings. The current Harp logo only has 11. 2005 represents the most recent iteration of the Guinness harp logo.

Fun fact: 11, is less than a million times the amount of of pints of Guinness consumed on St. Patrick's Day worldwide.

Where else can you find the Harp? states, “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 was also featured on Irish flags during the 1916 Easter Rising.”

Wrapping Up

Next time you’re in Belfast - or, a Gaelic bar stateside - take note of the usage of the harp. It may just surprise you as to how often it gets used. Even better if the bar has an actual harpist playing.