Tuesday 13 November 2018

300 years of brewing is no small beer for historic ale

Ray Cleere

ARCHAEOLOGY tells us that brewing has been in Ireland for more than 3,000 years -- so perhaps three centuries seems like small beer.

But that didn't stop the historic Smithwick's brewery proudly delving into the archives to celebrate its 300 years in Kilkenny city.

The brewery has been in the ownership of the Smithwick family since it opened in 1710.

And over the centuries it has built up an international reputation that has attracted Hollywood actors and US presidents to sample a pint.

The images unearthed from the archives document the brewery's colourful history throughout the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.


World figures including Ronald Reagan are included -- he is pictured drinking Smithwick's with his wife Nancy, during a visit to Ireland in 1984.

The brewery was founded by John Smithwick, who moved to Kilkenny in 1710, but as a Catholic suffered from the penal laws of the time which forbade property ownership.

Nevertheless he went into the brewing business with Richard Cole on a piece of land leased from the Duke of Ormonde. Shortly afterwards, the lease was passed to his sole ownership and business was brisk.

By 1865, Smithwick's was the largest brewery outside of the cities of Dublin and Cork.

A water wheel fed from a dam on the Breagagh river served the brewers as a source of power until 1951.

In the early 1900s, the brewery was given a makeover, and the equipment installed was used until the 1960s.

In 1899, with James Smithwick at the helm, it became a limited company.

When financial problems hit, auditors advised closure -- but the family dug deep into its own resources to keep the 200 staff employed.

The first decades in the 20th century were not easy for Smithwick's. It was able to take over its city rival Sullivan's but the number of brands was cut to just two after its first strike in 1920.

But their luck turned and by 1949 sales had reached a record 51,540 barrels per annum. The following year, Smithwick's started exporting to the US.

In 1964, Guinness and Company, bought a controlling share in the business.

Irish Independent

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