Guinness Is Not Irish
March 17, 1737, Boston became the first city in the world to celebrate
St. Patrick’s Day. Since that first celebration, the holiday
has grown in popularity throughout the world. Many people will decide
to spend some, or all, of their St. Patrick’s Day celebrations
enjoying the atmosphere of an Irish pub. And it is usually in pubs
when people make the most misguided of decisions. That is because,
in Irish pubs, many people across the world will drink a pint of
Guinness Stout to celebrate Irish culture. But drinking Guinness
does not connect one to Irish culture, because Guinness is not Irish.
From the original brewer, Arthur Guinness, to the current owner,
the Diageo Corporate group, to the policies that have affected the
workforce, it is quite clear that Guinness is not, nor has it ever
Guinness was born in 1725 and was the son of Richard Guinness and
Elizabeth Read. Richard was a protestant land steward in Celbridge,
County Kildare, and was employed by Arthur Price, the Archbishop
of Cashel. One of Richard’s duties was to supervise the brewing
of beer for workers on the estate. When Arthur Price passed away
in 1752, he left Richard Guinness and his godson Arthur £100
receiving vocational training in brewing and a substantial sum of
money, Arthur Guinness signed a lease for a small brewery in Leixlip,
County Dublin, dated from September 29, 1756 when he was 31 years
of age. Arthur began his career in the industry by only first brewing
beer or ale. The brewery prospered and it provided Arthur with the
financial capability to purchase the St. James’s Gate Brewery
in Dublin. On December 1, 1759, Arthur Guinness entered his signature
in the Minute Book of the Brewers and Maltsters Corporation, to
acknowledge his lease of the property at St. James’s Gate,
Dublin. Information provided by Guinness and other popular literature
that celebrates Guinness do not stress Arthur’s elite social
position, but instead describe him as a daring entrepreneur. According
to Guinness marketing literature, “He was the man who, in 1759,
took a chance and signed a 9000 year lease, at an annual rent of
£45, on a disused brewery in Dublin…. The Brewery then
consisted of a copper, a kieve, a mill, two malthouses, stables
for 12 horses and a loft which could hold 200 tons of hay.”
The information provided by Guinness neglects to mention that along
with the brewery, a commodious dwelling house with a spacious garden
that included a fish pond, was also part of the property.
after the beginning of Arthur’s lease, problems arose between
his brewery and the Dublin City Corporation. The problem regarded
Arthur’s refusal to pay for the use of city water.
Dublin Corporation eventually decided to cut off the city water
supply to the St. James’s Gate Brewery. The sheriff was advised
to dispatch two men to the brewery, while corporation workers shut
off the supply. However, Arthur Guinness intervened and prevented
the men from cutting off the water supply. A witness to the scene
reported that: “Mr. Guinness came on the scene, took a pickaxe
from one of the workers, and ‘with very much improper language’
declared that they should not proceed with the job, ‘saying
that if they filled up the watercourse from end to end, he would
open it up again’.”
disagreement was resolved, 20 years after Arthur Guinness was originally
asked to pay for the use of city water. On May 24, 1784, Arthur
agreed to sign an 8,795-year lease that required him to pay £10
a year for the use of city water. (Both this lease, and the original
lease, have been modified since that time.)
the years of the prolonged water dispute, another important development
took place at the St. James’s Gate brewery. Arthur Guinness
first began to brew porter in 1778, and would eventually stop brewing
ale in 1799. Arthur was inspired by a London brewer, named Harwood.
Harwood developed a brew which he called “Entire” that
used roast barley and high temperatures in the brewing process.
(It is the roast barley that gives the drink a dark ruby color,
the nitrogen bubbles you see as the drink settles produces the white
head at the top.) The dark brew was a favorite drink among the street
porters of Covent Garden, London, who drank it for its high iron
content. The drink was nicknamed “porter” and was soon
exported to Ireland. The St. James’s Gate brewery would develop
several types of porter, eventually introducing the word “stout”
to describe its versions of porter. (In the late 1600s to early
1700s, the term “stout” was used to describe a strong
beer.) Arthur was strongly influenced by an English brewer, but
also had other critical connections to England.
one aspect of Arthur’s life which makes the most compelling
case against the claim of his Irish identity would be Arthur’s
political allegiance. Arthur, like many members of the elite minority,
was closely aligned with the forces of English colonialism. Arthur
was directly opposed to any movement toward Irish Independence,
and wanted Ireland to remain under English control. He was publicly
opposed to any political or social change that might threaten the
rights of his property. These political beliefs become even more
apparent in future generations of the Guinness family.
The Guinness Family
Arthur Guinness retired from the brewery, his son, also named Arthur
(1768-1855), assumed control. Along with sharing the same name,
the two had similar political outlooks. In the general election
of 1835, the second Arthur Guinness not only opposed Daniel O’Connell,
but seriously considered running against him. O’Connell fought
for the repeal of the Act of Union, and therefore the independence
of Ireland. Arthur Guinness voted against him, and continued with
the Guinness loyalty to English rule. Supporters of O’Connell
called for a boycott of Guinness, but O’Connell eventually
dismissed such actions.
Lee Guinness (1798-1868), Arthur’s son, took full control of
the brewery after his father’s death in 1855. Around this time,
he purchased what was then worth between £20,000 and £30,000
worth of land in County Mayo. He would also later buy a luxurious
estate in Ashford, County Galway. Benjamin purchased this land during
the years surrounding the massive starvation in Ireland. He was
an extremely wealthy man who possessed the ability to aid evicted
and starving farmers, but opted instead to exploit a prime investment
opportunity in real estate.
also entered politics by being elected Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1851.
In 1865, he was elected within the Conservative interest to the
Irish Parliament. And naturally, he was a strong Unionist. Referring
to nationalists, he stated: “Those wicked and worthless adventurers
who would not only deprive our country of the advantages which,
as a part of the British Empire, we enjoy, but who would overturn
all the social arrangements of society.”
Fenianism, Benjamin stated: “Irishmen [sic] generally abhor
the projects of Fenianism; and the sentiments of sedition and rebellion
which its followers inculcate have emanated from a foreign land,
and been spread and nurtured in this country by emissaries, who
hope by deception and by pillage to grasp from its owners their
Benjamin’s death in 1868, the brewery was transferred to his
two sons, Arthur Edward and Edward Cecil (1847-1927). Edward Cecil
eventually bought out his brother, who showed little interest in
the business. Edward continued the same political outlook as his
father. During a time of optimistic Irish nationalism, Edward used
his position as High Sheriff of Dublin to assist in the organization
of the state visit of the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII. This
act later earned him his baronetcy.
1886, Edward Cecil made Guinness a public company to be quoted on
the London stock market. The decision therefore placed Guinness
as an English company. He chose Baring Brothers as his merchant
bank, and the company floated for £6 million. The most remarkable
aspect of the deal was the favoritism showed toward the wealthy
elite. Shares of the company were hoarded by the rich, which left
the public little opportunity to invest. Although the event was
then legal, it led to vast public criticism.
Cecil divided control of the brewery between three sons, with Rupert
Edward (1874-1967) succeeding him as the Chairman of the company.
Rupert won a seat during the General Election of 1906, as another
Conservative Guinness who opposed Home Rule. Soon after this, members
of the Guinness family spoke in the House of Commons to recommend
the execution of the leaders of the 1916 rising, an event that clearly
revealed the family’s long held political beliefs.
ownership of Guinness shares was kept within the family through
inheritance and this continued until 1986, when Ernest Saunders
became CEO of the company. Until then, there were board members
related to Edward Cecil’s three sons. The percentage of family
ownership decreased through continual division of shares, and mergers
with other interests. For example, the takeover of Irish Distillers
reduced their share percentage from 22 percent to 4.5 percent.
Saunders, who is not an Irish citizen or related to the Guinness
family, was arrested along with others in March 1987 on charges
related to insider trading. Before his appointment to Guinness,
Saunders was a highly skilled marketing and public relations man
who worked in Geneva for Nestle. During this time, Nestle discouraged
mothers in Third World countries from natural breastfeeding, and
promoted the use of Nestle’s powdered baby formula. The formula
had to be mixed with the infected water of these areas, which led
to the widespread sickness of babies. An international boycott of
the company ensued with the aid of the World Health Organization.
Saunders was involved with attempts to reconcile Nestle’s image
with the public. Guinness was aware of this incident before they
offered Saunders the position of CEO.
Greener is also not an Irish citizen or related to the Guinness
family. He joined Guinness in 1987, and eventually negotiated the
merger of Guinness and Grand Metropolitan in 1997 to form the Diageo
corporate group. After the merger, Diageo held controlling interests
in Guinness, Burger King, Haagen-Dazs, and Pillsbury. Queen Elizabeth
knighted Greener in June 1999 for his role in creating Diageo. The
Diageo corporate group has since sold off its holdings in Burger
King, Haagen-Dazs, and Pillsbury, and has acquired Seagram’s
to further consolidate its position in the international drinks
history, the ownership of Guinness is unable to claim any true connection
to Ireland. It is more accurate to state that the beliefs of Guinness
ownership have always been anti-Irish. This point becomes more evident
through the examination of the Guinness workforce.
people consider Guinness to be Irish because they believe the workers
who brew the beer reside in Ireland. However, a closer look at the
structure of the Guinness workforce reveals a clear reflection of
the political philosophy of Guinness ownership. This begins with
the segregation of the workforce, and continues with the elimination
of more and more Irish jobs in the name of rationalization.
Guinness workforce was segregated from the very beginning. For most
of its history, Guinness management has been dominated by the Protestant
minority of Ireland. Catholic workers were barred from holding a
management position. In fact, it was not until the 1960s that a
Catholic worker entered management, after facing strong opposition.
In other words, over 200 years had passed since the signing of the
lease at St. James’s Gate brewery before a Catholic was allowed
promotion to a management position.
maintained its headquarters in Dublin for many years, and many Dubliners
found employment at the brewery. Despite the absence of internal
promotion, Guinness workers were highly paid in comparison to other
jobs in Dublin, and received health and other benefits before they
were introduced to other occupations throughout Ireland. Many of
the jobs at the brewery required great skill, however the vast majority
of them have since been eliminated. Job reductions were caused by
the introduction of new technologies at the brewery, but also the
new philosophy that currently influences the Guinness operation.
the structure of the Guinness workforce is less driven by the apartheid
system of sectarianism. It is now more controlled by the agenda
of corporate capitalism. Workers at the brewery are less likely
to be oppressed due to their religious beliefs, but now face being
victims of a rationalization plan. The effects of the Guinness family’s
allegiance to British rule have been replaced by the effects of
the ownership of the Diageo corporate group.
effects of the Diageo ownership became clear in July 2000, when
Guinness announced plans to close the brewing and packaging plants
in Dundalk, located just north of Dublin. The move came as a shock
to workers and the community of Dundalk. This was the first Guinness
plant closing ever to occur in Ireland. The closing eliminated over
300 jobs in a small community, as management justified the move
as part of plan to remain globally competitive.
famous brewery at St. James’s Gate has also seen tremendous
change. During the 1930s, Guinness employed over 12,000 men in Dublin,
nearly 10 percent of the male population. Today, there are only
an estimated 500 workers left at the St. James’s Gate brewery.
Many departments that once existed at St. James’s Gate have
been moved to the Park Royal brewery in West London, which has long
been considered the headquarters of Guinness. As Guinness now operates
breweries in several countries, Irish workers presently form a minority
of the Guinness operation.
all areas of the St. James’s Gate brewery have faced reduction.
The tourist facility at the brewery has recently received tremendous
investment. In 2000, the £32 million Guinness Storehouse was
opened at St. James’s Gate brewery. The Storehouse invites
visitors to experience the history and wonders of Guinness Stout
by exploring a Guinness museum, enjoying Guinness at the Gravity
Bar, and purchasing Guinness merchandise at the retail shop.
the same time as the opening of the Guinness Storehouse, talk began
of a possible move from St. James’s Gate. The Diageo management
is still considering moving the brewing operation from St. James’s
Gate to a location just outside of Dublin, in order to improve the
efficiency of distribution. Brewing would completely cease at the
site, leaving behind only one responsibility at St. James’s
Gate, the production of marketing messages by the Guinness Storehouse.
is not to say that St. James’s Gate brewery would no longer
be an essential part of Guinness, as the brand image production
of Guinness is very important to the company. This tradition dates
back to April 5, 1862, when the O’Neill harp, (an icon of Irish
history that has been associated with Nationalist movements), was
chosen as the Guinness trademark. From that time through to recent
promotions that gave away Irish pubs to Americans on St. Patrick’s
Day, Guinness has always invested heavily in portraying an Irish
image to particular markets.
should Guinness be involved in St. Patrick’s Day and other
Irish celebrations? Absolutely, but it should be used as a point
in conversation to better understand the events of Irish history.
This would be a great improvement on the more popular activity of
merely contributing to a legacy of inequality and greed.