Before Christ was born, there was BC. Before Arthur Guinness, there must have been a BG, when nobody in Ireland went for a pint. At least, not a pint of Guinness. Today in the world ten million pints of Guinness are drunk, every day. Walking around Dublin it would be difficult to find a landmark which is not in some way connected to Ireland’s most famous family, from Farmleigh in the Phoenix Park to Stephen’s Green, from St Patrick’s Cathedral to the Iveagh Gardens. All over Ireland and all over the world the name is emblazoned and the word itself is as synonymous with Irishness as St Patrick and the shamrock.
At the time when young Arthur, -with remarkable foresight- signed a 9,000 year lease on St James’s Gate, they only drank pints in the cities. Country people stuck to poitin, whiskey and gin. Arthur’s contemporaries were not hopeful for his chances, but like any great visionary, he paid them no mind. Having been blessed with an inheritance of £100, from the Archbishop of Cashel and armed with a secret recipe for porter that was already wowing the clergy, he set to work and transformed drinking habits all over the world.
Arthur Guinness aspired to great things, morally, economically and socially. At that time it was unheard of for a tradesman to pass himself off as gentry, there were special entrances in the big houses, for that kind of person. Brewing was ranked among the less desirable trades, because of the connotations of ribaldry that it suggested. Arthur needed to do very well indeed, if he was to move up the ladder. The brewery was leased in 1759 and by 1761 he had married Olivia Whitmore, a well-born young lady with connections to Henry Grattan and an inheritance of £1000. He was elected Warden of the Corporation of Brewers in 1763 and the following year he was living in Beaumont, his stately home in the suburbs. How much further the great Guinness could go was as yet unknown, but he was beginning the family tradition of civic-mindedness and good works. He founded Ireland’s first Sunday school, donated huge sums for the restoration of St Patrick’s cathedral and became the Governor of the Meath Charity Hospital.
Only ten of Arthur’s twenty one children survived. Elizabeth, the eldest, married the Lord Mayor. Hosea, the next, was called to the clergy, a fate which was to befall an inordinate number of Guinnesses, down through the generations. Captain John, the youngest, was a teetotaller, who founded the missionary line of the family. Edward was to be the black sheep, unsuited to earning a living. Arthur the second was born at St James’s Gate in 1768 and it was to him that his father’s mantle was to pass. As like his father in nature, as in name, according to biographer Michele Guinness, Arthur had inherited the family flair for business, already being exhibited by Uncle Samuel, a prosperous goldbeater who was to father the famous Guinness Mahon banking line of the family.
By the time Arthur the second took over, he had a host of relations with money problems to deal with. He dealt with the ne-er do wells graciously, as graciously as he dealt with his workers and with the poor of Dublin, having also inherited his father’s high moral standards. His eldest son William joined the clergy and the business passed down to his younger sons Arthur and Benjamin, the elder of whom, the next Arthur, was hopelessly in debt and incapable of managing his affairs, being of an artistic bent. Benjamin Lee was obviously better at business and became the richest man in Ireland, after his father died. He bought himself a house at number 80 Stephen’s Green and bought the house next door as well, creating a Palladian style mansion, which is now Iveagh House, the Department of Foreign Affairs. Having contributed further to the betterment of the city, particularly St Patrick’s Cathedral, the Dean said of him ‘with the resources of a Prince and the public spirit of a true citizen and patriot, he has reared a temple on whose every stone and cornice his name might be inscribed.” In her wonderful book on the Guinness country residence, Ashford Castle, Olda Fitzgerald points out the irony of the stained glass window at St Pats which says simply ‘I was thirsty and ye gave me drink”. Benjamin became Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1852, and was given a baronetcy in 1867.
By that time, the brewery was the largest in Ireland and in 1881, they would be selling a million barrels of the black stuff a year. Arthur Edward, Benjamin’s eldest, was educated in England, at Eton and Cambridge and had no interest in brewing. He was, however, passionate about politics and particularly the poor. He and his brother, Edward Cecil established a free dispensary for workers and their families and he bought and planted St Stephen’s Green, for the people of the city to stroll in. He also rebuilt the Coombe Hospital and restored Marsh’s library and cleared the slums of St Patrick’s and the Liberties. The Guinnesses had always believed in looking after their workers and the wages they paid were twenty percent higher than other firms were paying. A practical philanthropist, Arthur’s statue is the only one of his class not to have been removed by the republicans, during the 1916 uprising.
Arthur had married into the aristocracy, when he married Lady Olivia White, of Bantry House and Olivia did not approve of brewing, as a profession. One evening, the couple were strolling in town when a Guinness bottle landed on Olivia’s toe and she decided that enough was enough. The next morning, Arthur resigned his position at the family firm and handed it to Edward Cecil, his brother. He and Olivia went to Ashford and proceeded to turn it into a castle fit for royalty. Edward Cecil was himself elevated, by being made into the first Earl of Iveagh, a title which had previously been in the Magennis family, of Co. Down. Regarded as the greatest philanthropist of his age, he undoubtedly deserved it, but as Edward walked into the house of Lords, wearing his robes, somebody remarked ‘Here comes the Beerage!” Brewing was still considered quite non-u, whichever way you looked at it, but things were going to change.
At Ashford, in 1905 a visitor came who was capable of conferring the status that the family had aspired to and this visitor could not be contended with for he was none other than the Prince of Wales, soon to be George the fifth. Having become Lord Ardilaun, Arthur was considered a suitable host and the English newspapers recorded the visit by saying ‘Lord Ardilaun did everything in princely fashion. The Prince must have found it hard to realise that he was in far off Connemara…which is supposed to have escaped the wand of civilisation.” If you visit Ashford today, you can read the letter which King George wrote, thanking the Ardilauns for what was possibly the best shoot of his life, the details of which are to be found in the Guinness Book of Records.
The next Arthur was the only one of his brothers to be passionate about brewing and cared deeply about the workings of the plant, where he spent a great deal of his time. Having been given five million pounds by his father Edward for his twenty first birthday, Arthur was well placed to indulge his passions and purchased four aeroplanes, becoming the first Irishman to own his own plane. He loved boats as well and had his yacht ‘Fantome” specially redesigned to his own specifications, at enormous cost. At Ashford, he employed two hundred staff and often joked that they simply stood around all day, leaning on their brooms, waiting to be knocked over. Perhaps he was most passionate about the product that he produced, the pint of Guinness and he refused to drink any other kind of drink. One day, while out sailing his yacht, his beautiful daughters Aileen, Oonagh and Maureen, the girls persuaded him to drop anchor and lunch on dry land. A restaurant was notified and a case of Guinness was sent ahead and put on ice. When Arthur saw the bottles had been iced, however, he threw a wobbler and stormed out of the restaurant, dragging the girls behind.
Each of Arthur’s daughters was more beautiful than the next and all were fabulously wealthy and married well, retaining their titles after the demise of their marriages. Aileen, the eldest married the Hon Brinsley Sheridan Plunket. Being a socialite was financially draining, and Aileen managed to get through her entire fortune by the time she was seventy, having decided that that’s how long she could expect to live. When she went on to live to be ninety four, it is said, she was horrified. Maureen married the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, who died young, but she retained the title through her next two marriages. Oonagh, the intellectual married Baron Oranmore and Browne and was given Luggala to live in, which is perhaps the most magical of all the Guinness estates, nestling in the Wicklow mountains on the shores of Lough Dan. Tragically, Oonagh lost both a son and a daughter. Tara, her eldest, was a twenty one year old playboy when he was killed in a car crash, prompting The Beatles to write ‘A Day In The Life”. Tessa her daughter had already died of an asthma attack at the age of fourteen. Today, Luggala is occupied by her son Garech, the founder of Claddagh Records and the man responsible for The Chieftain’s success. If you happen to be in Roundwood, you can pop in and see him having a pint with Paddy Moloney and you might also spot his wife Princess Purna, an indomitable fundraiser from India who continues the family tradition of philanthropy mixed with glamour.
The double tragedy prompted speculation about a Guinness curse. Maureen’s son Sheridan died of Aids, another Guinness, Henrietta, killed herself and later on Olivia Channon overdosed on drink and drugs. It is said that the Guinnesses either drink to excess or not at all, but how true this is, it is impossible to say because there are so many of them, all over the world.
Walter, the first Baron Moyne was an avid politician who hadn’t wanted a title because he was happy in the House of Commons. When he did accept the title, he became Minister resident in the Middle East and in 1944, he was assassinated in his limousine, while returning to the Embassy in Cairo, shot at point blank range by Stern Gang terrorists. His son Bryan, the next Lord Moyne married Diana Mitford, one of the famous Mitford sisters. She left him with two sons, Jonathon and Desmond and ran off with Oswald Moseley, the leader of the Fascist Movement. Her sister Unity was said to have been in love with Hitler and attempted suicide when her affections were not returned. Bryan remarried and had nine more children.
Bryan and Diana’s youngest son Desmond married the Princess Marie-Gabrielle of Urach, otherwise known as Mariga and together they returned to Ireland, and moved into Leixlip Castle, in the village where the first Arthur had begun brewing. The young and very beautiful couple founded the Irish Georgian Society and were passionate about the preservation of buildings such as the Georgian houses in Dublin’s Mountjoy Square and Castletown House which they bought and restored. They also found time to entertain such luminaries as Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull, making it seriously hip to be into old buildings. Desmond went on to marry Penelope Cuthbertson, a muse and model of Lucian Freud’s and the couple still live at Leixlip where they are often joined by their grand-daughter Jasmine, the famous supermodel who looks like her great granny and continues in the tradition of fashion and fundraising, raising money for Clothesline. Her aunt Marina lives in nearby Celbridge and has inherited not only the beauty and the generosity of spirit that permeates the family, but also the wit and humour. Having seen what can happen to beauty, if you aren’t careful, she is preparing herself for decaying grandeur by only looking at herself in antique mirrors with cloudy patches.
The Guinness brewery is now owned by Diageo PLC, a global conglomerate and the family no longer run the firm. The pint is brewed in fifty countries now. Arthur the first would be proud of the sales figures, which run into hundreds of millions annually, but he would be even prouder to know that his special ingredient, whatever it is, is still a secret. And wherever in the world Guinness is brewed, that special ingredient has to be delivered from St James’s Gate, to be included in the recipe. The family, too, has spread far and wide. A group of tall, blond surf-gods recently came to Ireland from Australia on a visit. They were called Arthur, Desmond and Ernest Guinness and were descended from the Reverend Hosea Guinness who was the first Arthur’s eldest son. The family no longer brew the black stuff, but Guinness spirit lives on, not just wherever Arthur’s descendants are found, but wherever in the world a pint of stout is poured and somebody wonders if Guinness really is good for you .