Sunday 17 December 2017

Last orders: breweries set to close with loss of 100 jobs

Ex-St Francis Brewery workers John Gowen and Declan Maher chatting about the proposed closure in 2013 of the Kilkenny city brewery
Ex-St Francis Brewery workers John Gowen and Declan Maher chatting about the proposed closure in 2013 of the Kilkenny city brewery

Luke Byrne and Eimear Ni Bhraonain

TWO of Ireland's most historic breweries with a combined tradition stretching back 415 years are set to close next year with the loss of nearly 100 jobs.

Yesterday drinks giant Diageo confirmed it would close the St Francis Abbey Brewery in Kilkenny and the Great Northern Brewery in Dundalk.

But the Guinness maker said it would spend €153m to redevelop its St James's Gate site in Dublin. The planned construction of a new brewhouse, a grain intake building and silos on the site will almost double brewing capacity, it said.

But it added it was too early to discuss the terms of any redundancy package for the Dundalk and Kilkenny workers. Staff in both locations had been working under a cloud since 2008 when Diageo announced plans to shut the two outposts by this year, but they won't now close until 2013.

Ex-brewery workers in Kilkenny drowned their sorrows last night as it emerged that the 300-year-old "institution" would close. The St Francis Abbey Brewery in Kilkenny city has brewed Smithwicks since 1710.

Former fitters, electricians, security men, operators and line managers, who worked for the brewery for decades met yesterday as news broke that Diageo would shut the site.

The pensioners, who worked for between 32 and 41 years for the company, continue to meet once weekly for social drinks since they retired.

Yesterday they reminisced about the "good old days" when jobs were "steady".

Electrician Malcolm Hogan remembered how there were 500 people employed in the brewery when he first joined the company after his "inter-cert".

"I was over 32 years in it. It was a great, steady employer. I put three kids through third-level on my wages so I can't complain. The company was great to sponsor the community for years. It's a terrible pity about the demise, there used to be great camaraderie in it -- and it was good for Kilkenny," he said.

A total of 44 jobs will go with the closure of the Kilkenny brewery in December 2013, while the closure of the Dundalk plant in July 2013 means the loss of 55 jobs.

Dundalk's Great Northern Brewery, the home of Harp lager, is the second largest in the country after St James's Gate.

Officially founded in 1897, it's understood that the roots of brewing on the site go back as far as the middle of the 19th Century. In the late 1950s the plant was bought by Smithwicks and then by Guinness, which later merged with food and spirits company Grand Metropolitan in 1997 to create Diageo.

It began brewing Harp in 1960 with the help of German master brewer Hermann Muender who combined his recipe with the water of the Cooley Mountains.

The facility currently makes 20 brands including Carlsberg, Smithwick's and Satzenbrau -- but it will close in July of next year. Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton welcomed Diageo's investment in Dublin and said that the other plant closures had been "clear" since 2008. "All the supports of the state agencies will be available to the workers affected," he said.

"What was not known before today however was the level of Diageo's commitment to Ireland and this investment is hugely welcome," he added.

Irish Independent

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