14 July 2020
Robert Gair, a racist
from Rathmines who
invented his own clan
I have written in recent weeks about the bogus and competing claims made by Victorian clergy in Ireland to be chiefs of the O’Hanlon Clan and to hold the title of ‘The O’Hanlon.’ I have written about Lady Fitzgerald who lived in Victorian Lichfield, and whose husband and sons used an Irish title of baronet to which they had no legitimate claims.
But the most preposterous charlatan and deceptive and conceited claimant to titles I have come across must be Robert Gair or Gayre (1907-1996), the Rathmines-born son of a pastry baker who went on to claim he was a Scottish clan chief and laird, an anthropologist, an ethnologist and an expert in heraldry.
But he was neither Scottish nor was he a clan chief. He was born in Dublin, was a genealogical charlatan, and was a congenital confidence trickster and cheat who invented a Scottish clan as well as his own genealogical charts and orders of chivalry. He set up and edited his own pseudo-scientific journals, The Armorial and Mankind Quarterly, to advance his own claims in subjects as diverse as heraldry and anthropology.
To this day, he is still remembered in academic anthropological circles as a racist with Nazi sympathies who promoted eugenics.
Robert Gayre was actually born George Robert Gair on 6 August 1907 at 4 Woodland Villas, Rathmines. His father, Robert William Gair (1875-1957), and his mother, Clara (née Hart), had been married at the Methodist Church in Clonliffe, Dublin, on 28 July 1906.
Robert Gair, the father, was born in Glasgow on 9 December 1875, and he began his working life as a pastry baker in Belfast. At his wedding, the groom said he was a confectioner, living at 50 Shelbourne Road, Dublin, and a son of Robert Gair, ‘deceased.’ The bride was a daughter of David Hart of 68 Serpentine Avenue. Later, the family also lived at 20 Sandymount Green (1909 and 1911).
However, the future Robert Gayre later invented pedigrees claiming that his father Robert William Gair (1875-1957) was ‘born abroad’ in 1875, and the son not of Robert Gair, as he said at his wedding in Dublin in 1906, but the son of William Gillies Gair (1842-1906), a portrait painter from Greenock in Scotland.
In fact, both accounts are deceptive. The painter William Gillies Gair never married and Robert Gair, the pretender’s father, was an illegitimate son of the painter’s sister, Jessie Gair (died 1897). Two years after the child’s birth, she became the second wife of William Sutherland (1835/6-1881), a recently-widowed plasterer who lived in Glasgow and who may have been the pretender’s real grandfather. Indeed, the child who was Robert William Gair was known as Robert William Sutherland for much of his childhood, and had older two stepbrothers who may have been his half-brothers: William Sutherland and David Sutherland.
Robert Gair or Gayre, who was born in Dublin in 1907, would spend decades embellishing his pedigree and acquiring heraldic accessories. He concocted colourful but bogus pedigrees and genealogical claims that found their way into the records of the Genealogical Office in Dublin, the College of Arms in London and the Court of the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh, as well as appearing in a number of publications by Burke’s Peerage.
Robert Gair graduated with an MA in geography from the University of Edinburgh, and then studied anthropology at Exeter College in Oxford, although there is no record that he received any degree at Oxford. Later, he claimed three doctorates from three different Italian universities, all dating from 1943-1944, at a time when Britain was at war with Fascist Italy.
During World War II, he was an army reservist in the Royal Artillery and was with the British expeditionary force in France. He also claimed that after World War II he worked in Italy and was involved in setting up the Italo-Indian Institute in India.
However, I now have to question even these claims to military rank, and the only supporting footnotes and references to his military career in his biographical entry in Wikipedia are to his own, self-published books. After World War II, he may have held the rank of a reservist captain, but he described himself as a ‘lieutenant-colonel’ – perhaps because he was once made an honorary lieutenant-colonel in the Alabama State Militia.
After his war-time experiences, Gair devoted considerable energy to claims that his surname should be considered among the authentic clans of Scotland and that he was the heir to the head of the Clan Gayre.
In 1947, he self-published Gayre’s Booke: Being a History of the Family of Gayre. There, without any reference to his illegitimate descent, he set out an ancestry that he claimed established his claim to be the chieftain of the Clan of Gayre. However, no clan or sept by that name is mentioned in any record prior to Gayre’s use of it in the second quarter of the 20th century.
Gair’s father died at Sprotborough near Doncaster on 13 March 1957, and at the age of 50 Gair legally changed his surname from Gair to ‘Gayre of Gayre and Nigg.’ Around the same time, he bought Minard Castle on the banks of Loch Fyne, and assumed the fraudulent and ficticious feudal title of Baron of Lochoreshyre.
He claimed knighthoods, roles, medals and gongs in a diverse range of chivalric orders with differing grades of legitimacy and credibility, including the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem, the Order of Lippe, the Order of the Crown of Italy, the Military Constantinian Order of Saint George of Naples, and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
To bolster the pretensions of his own invented orders of chivalry he founded the International Commission on Orders of Chivalry (ICOC) in 1964.
But there was more going on in the background. Along with his interest in heraldry and genealogy, he had extreme views that amounted to undisguised racism. In claiming ‘scientific’ support for his racist views, he divided humans into species and subspecies based on brain sizes.
In an early book, Teuton and Slav on the Polish Frontier (1944), while World War II was still being fought, Gayre called for redrawing Germany’s boundaries in order to ‘improve the racial homogeneity’ of Germany, so that ‘Germany would become considerably more Nordic.’
As early as 1945, the New Statesman questioned Gair’s suitability to have a role in army education in France. Gair sued for libel, but without success.
Graham Richards, in Race, Racism and Psychology: Towards a Reflexive History goes even further and describes Gair as a ‘self-professed Nazi.’ He was a champion of apartheid and claimed white people ‘excelled in intellectual skills.’
In 1960, Gayre founded and became the self-appointed editor of the Mankind Quarterly, later described as ‘a notorious journal of “racial history” founded, and funded, by men who believe in the genetic superiority of the white race.’
In one edition, he published a photograph of an elderly Zulu with a nose ‘which is distinctly Jewish’ (The Mankind Quarterly, 1962, p 112). Other papers included attributed quotations from the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.
Gayre’s links with British fascists came to light when five members of the Racial Preservation Society, affiliated with the National Front, were prosecuted in 1968 under the Race Relations Act for publishing racist material. The defendants included Alan Hancock, a former member of Mosley’s Union Movement, the openly Nazi Colin Jordan and Martin Webster of the National Front.
When Gayre was called as an ‘expert witness’ for the defence, he described black people as ‘feckless,’ claiming they ‘prefer their leisure to the dynamism which the white and yellow races show.’ The other ‘expert witnesses’ included Dr John Mitchell, who was court-martialled during World War II for his pro-Mosley and pro-fascist sympathies, and Joy Page, who was involved with racist organisations such as the Immigration Control Association.
Gayre was an open advocate of apartheid, regularly visited South Africa and Rhodesia, contributed to the Afrikaans Journal of Racial Affairs, and claimed there was a ‘Jewish world conspiracy.’ Indeed, his views were extreme even by South African standards at the time and the Mankind Quarterly regularly published articles defending apartheid.
He failed in a libel against the Sunday Times in 1973. Glasgow University was shamed into returning £96,000 he donated to fund a chair of Scottish literature after he was exposed as a far-right racist.
Gayre founded his International Commission for Orders of Chivalry 1960, with Gayre as its chair, but claiming the patronage of heads of formerly sovereign families and of individuals of doubtful identity and claims.
Many viewed the commission as a ploy by Gayre to boost the legitimacy of the Order of Saint Lazarus, then the object of hostile attention from the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Members arrived at meetings with ‘their suitcases full of mantles and medals’ as they prepared to recruit and swear-in new members, lecturing Eastern Patriarchs and ticking off deposed heads of former royal houses for their supposed lapses of protocol, and hearing petitions for recognition by self-styled chivalric bodies, each more bizarre and preposterous than the next.
Those involved in this Ruritanian intrigue included pretenders to the throne of France, the would-be head of the House of Bourbon-Two-Sicilies, and the deposed King Peter II of Yugoslavia, who was living beyond his means in Paris, Cannes and Chicago, with a reputation for bouncing cheques.
Gayre’s later genealogical claims, although they were accepted by many legitimate authorities, were fraudulent.
The Glasgow Herald wrote in 1975, ‘Robert Gayre, of Gayre and Nigg, is singular among genealogists, dynasts and the like, if only for the reason that, alone among them, he has been able to create a Scottish clan from scratch, providing it with traditions, rituals, precedences and privileges ...’ The ‘clan’ even added its own tartan.
But the scope and magnitude of his fraudulent claims did not come to light until after his death.
Gayre was a close associate of the bogus Gaelic chief, Terence MacCarthy ‘Mór,’ who convinced many he was the ‘Prince of Desmond,’ and who sold off bogus titles and membership of a chivalric order of his own invention.
MacCarthy effectively took over from Gayre at the International Commission on Orders of Chivalry and existence and reactivated it after Gayre died on 10 February 1996.
However, the recognition of Terence McCarthy as The MacCarthy Mor in 1992 had been based on a series of audacious falsehoods. The pedigree he registered with the Genealogical Office in Dublin in 1980 was decreed to be ‘without genealogical integrity.’ He resigned as president of the ICOC in 1999.
Gayre’s own bogus pedigree, also registered in Ireland, did not come under scrutiny at this point. Nevertheless, in 2003 the Genealogical Office in Dublin ended the practice of granting courtesy recognition to chiefs.