Rewind - St James's Gate Brewery

By Sean Heffernan 

For this week’s piece we have walked through the big door with the five carvings surrounding it, and back out into the open.

We will walk down Kilmainham Lane, James’s Street, Bow Lane West and lastly turn into Echlin Street to the world famous St James’s Gate Brewery.

rewind guinness

Thousands of barrels of Guinness stacked up in the St James's Gate Brewery 

A whopping 1.7m people visited the Guinness Storehouse last year, an increase of 64,000 on the previous year, and as the ever growing numbers of tour buses parking up outside testify, it continues to go from strength to strength.

Recent adverts for the world’s most popular stout had the moniker “To Arthur”, but who is this gentlemen they loudly proclaimed?

Arthur Guinness was born in Celbridge in 1725, and his father worked in the small brewery on lands owned by the Archbishop of Cashel Arthur Price.

Price’s father was a good friend of the very powerful and enormously wealthy MP William Connolly (who the famous “Speaker Connolly” the watering hole in Firhouse is named after) which ensured many doors would open for him in his life, and hence he became an Archbishop, one of the most powerful positions in the country back then.

When the esteemed Cleric passed away he left a substantial sum of £100 in his will for young Arthur.

Arthur used this money to setup a brewery in Leixlip in 1756, but three years later his brother took over the reins, as the creator of the world renowned stout set off for Dublin, where he signed a 9,000 year lease on the four-acre site at St James’s Gate, for a fee of £4 per annum.

St James's Gate 

The existing brewery on the lands at St James’s Gate were in very poor condition, and the quality of product it produced was literally undrinkable.

Despite this, the brewer knew the sites closeness to the River Liffey would prove vital to his plan to upscale the business, as the more water you had, the more alcohol you can make.

Porter had been developed in London and was rapidly gaining in popularity in the UK Capital’s alehouses, and it was this success story that led Arthur to bring it to Ireland via his new operation.

It is said that what came out of the taps was a stronger more rounded Porter than what they were making across the water, and within 100 years it would go on to become the most popular alcoholic beverage in the world, and over that time the brewery had expanded it’s footprint over 15 times it’s original size where it now spans 64 acres.

His wife Olivia Guinness gave birth to no less than 21 children, but sadly only 10 survived.

Arthur passed away in 1803, aged 78 (an eternity back then) in his palatial residence Beaumont House; a structure that today has a public house in Dublin 9 named after it.

His son also named Arthur took over the business then.

By this stage the two canals, had been developed, and the Guinness barges were to be seen travelling as far as Longford on the Royal Canal, and as far as Rathangan Co. Kildare on the Grand Canal.

The famous big powerful Dray horses clip-clopped their way around the streets and rural roads of Dublin City and County, hauling big carts containing multiple barrels of porter to the myriad of licensed (and in some cases unlicensed) premises that were dotted around the capital.

In 1833, the Dublin Porter overtook Beamish as the biggest selling in Ireland, and it is a lead it has never relinquished, with it now vastly outselling it’s Cork rival, and another Rebel City creation Murphy’s to boot.

In the 1850’s Arthur Guinness II passed away, and his son Sir Benjamin Lee took over control of the massive business, and he was also to serve as Lord Mayor in Dublin.

One of his most notable acts was to donate £150,000 (around €4.5M in today’s money) towards the massive restoration of St Patrick’s Cathedral in the city centre.


It is said that in 1906, 1 in 30 of the people in Dublin were employed directly or indirectly by Guinness or companies whose main business was supplying equipment and the like to the brewery.

(The would be the equivalent of around 40,000 jobs in 2018).

It had grown it’s offerings from just a very popular stout, to also offer the also popular lager Harp, which it made in a factory in Dundalk Co Louth, as well as Smithwick’s and Kilkenny ale’s, brands which Guinness purchased from Walter Smithwick in 1965, and Bailey’s Irish Cream.

In 1997, the Irish behemoth merged with Grand Metropolitan, and now counts Smirnoff Vodka, Gordon’s Dry Gin and Johnnie Walker whiskey among the many brands it owns and sells all over the world.

The big beasts may no longer be clip-clopping down Thomas Street, and the also iconic barges are long since decommissioned, but walk into any public house in the country, and you will still be greeted by a plethora of products co-owned by Guinness offered up to the customer to enjoy.

It is quite a thing to comprehend how a gift from a persons will, equating to about €22,000 in today’s money has now grown exponentially to become half of a company that recently reported an eyewatering profit of €1.22 Bn in just 12 months.

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