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Friday 24 May 2019

The Man Behind The Black Stuff

Arthur Guinness had a lot to contend with before the iconic stout became world famous, writes Frank Hopkins

The founder of one of the world's largest and best-known breweries, Arthur Guinness was born in 1725 in Celbridge, Co Kildare, where his father Richard worked as a land agent for Arthur Price, the Protestant archbishop of Cashel. Legend has it that Richard Guinness was the inventor of the original Guinness porter as he ran a small brewing operation using his own recipes on the archbishop's estate.

In 1756 Arthur and his brother Richard had a small brewery at Leixlip. Three years later Arthur decided to expand his operation and he obtained Rainsford's Brewery at St James's Gate on a 9,000-year lease at £45 per year.

Arthur had a fair amount of competition on his hands in those days. Brewing was a cottage industry and there were approximately 800 small-time brewers in the country at that time. Two hundred years ago there were at least 50 small breweries in that area of the city, not to mention 25 distilleries.

The River Poddle was still largely above ground and it was considered to be ideal for the manufacture of beer. One hundred years later many of these breweries had gone to the wall and only three -- including Guinness's -- were left in James's Street. The other two surviving breweries, Manders & Powell and the Phoenix Brewery, joined forces in 1890 but had gone bust by the time the First World War started.

Before establishing himself in Dublin, Guinness had considered setting up in Wales because of the heavy government taxes imposed on Irish brewers at that time. Initially, he tried his hand at brewing both stout and beer, and he also experimented with a new beverage called porter. A murky, coloured beer, this was so-called because it was a great favourite with London porters.

Arthur Guinness disapproved of the United Irishmen's Rebellion of 1798. Because of this, the new brew became known as 'Guinness's black Protestant porter'. Catholics and nationalists boycotted the drink for a time, but far from damaging his trade, Guinness used the opportunity to set up a lucrative export trade with England.

For many years Arthur Guinness was at loggerheads with Dublin Corporation who had accused him of taking more than his fair share of water. In 1775 the corporation sent workers to cut off his water supply. He seized a pickaxe from one of the men and threatened the sheriff with it. At that, the sheriff and his men wisely decided to withdraw and the matter was settled ten years later when he was given a lease on the water course of 8,975 years.

Arthur Guinness lived at 1 Thomas Street and was married to Olivia Whitmore, who was related to Henry Grattan. They had 21 children, ten of whom survived. On Arthur's retirement his sons Arthur, Benjamin and William took over the running of the business, with the younger Arthur becoming the sole owner after the death of his father in 1803.

The founder of the Guinness empire died at the age of 78 at his Beaumont estate on the northside of Dublin leaving a personal fortune of £23,000. His remains lie in the family vault at Oughterard near Kill, Co Kildare.

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