Wednesday, 23 January 2019

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23 January 1803: The death of Arthur Guinness on this day. He founded a Brewing empire in 18th century Dublin whose products have spread around the World. 

At 27, in 1752, Guinness's godfather the Archbishop of Cashel, bequeathed him £100 in his will. Guinness invested the money and in 1755 had a brewery at Leixlip,  just 17 km from Dublin. He married his wife Olivia Whitmore in Dublin in 1761 and they had 21 children, 10 of which survived till adulthood. He wrote years later that:

" of my sons* is grown up to be able to assist me in this Business, or I wd not have attempted it, tho' prompted by a demand of providing for Ten Children now living out of one & twenty born to us, & more likely yet to come..."
* Arthur - his 2nd son

His big break came in 1759  when he came to Dublin City and set up his own business. He took a 9,000-year lease on the 4-acre brewery at St. James's Gate Dublin for an annual rent of £45. Dublin was then one of the great cities of Europe and expanding rapidly. There was a growing population of thirsty souls and a demand for cheap good ale to slake their thirst and drown their sorrows in a city of great wealth and abject poverty. Ale was overwhelmingly a drink of the lowers orders though. A good businessman had to come up with a product that would attract the attention of its customer base and sell at a price they could afford to spend on it. Ten years later, on 19 May 1769, Guinness first exported his ale: he shipped six-and-a-half barrels to Great Britain.

At the time Red Ales were all the rage and at first that is what Arthur Guinness produced. But a beverage dubbed ‘porter’ was becoming increasingly popular. It was a  beer the company has become most famous for – porter stout – which was based on a London ale, a favourite of the street porters of Covent Garden and Billingsgate markets in that city. Arthur tried his hand at it from 1778 and it took off - it made Arthur a very wealthy man. 

Arthur Guinness was not just a businessman though but took an active if not prominent part in the commercial and local government of the city of Dublin. He was one of the four brewers' guild representatives on Dublin Corporation from the 1760s until his death. Politics in Ireland was highly volatile at the time and Arthur Guinness steered a middle path through the dramatic and eventually bloody events of those years. He favoured Catholic Emancipation - but opposed the United Irishmen who wanted a complete break with Britain through Revolution. 

When he died in 1803 he left a thriving business that continues to this day. But the direct involvement of the Guinness family came to an end in the 1980s and it is now part of an international conglomerate known as Diago. It is still produced at St James Gate Brewery Dublin and the Guinness Visitor Centre there is the most popular tourist attraction in the Country.

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