Heineken calls time on historic Beamish brewery
AN ERA proudly stretching back six centuries ended last night as beer giants Heineken called time on Ireland's oldest brewery.
The axe fell on Cork's Beamish & Crawford with the loss of 120 jobs after corporate consolidation put paid to a brewery that survived uprisings, famine, wars and depressions.
The Dutch drink giants confirmed it would shut the brewery next March as a result of their multi-billion euro takeover of Scottish & Newcastle.
Heineken boss Gerrit van Loo described the Beamish closure decision as the most difficult faced by the Dutch brewing giants since they first arrived on the Irish market in 1983.
The Dutch firm took a foothold in Ireland through the purchase of Beamish's century-old rivals, Murphy's.
"We have genuinely made every effort to identify as many employment opportunities as possible for Beamish staff. However, retaining two breweries is not sustainable and the loss of so many jobs remains a sad but unavoidable outcome," he said.
Heineken will now transfer all beer production to their existing Murphy's plant on Leitrim Street -- on the other side of Cork city centre.
A total of 40 Beamish workers will be transferred -- but Heineken confirmed they will be making the remaining 120 staff redundant.
Heineken had been given the go-ahead to takeover Beamish on October 3 last. The decision to shut the Beamish brewery came as operating profits at the Cork brewery slumped by 55pc in 2007 to €2.8m.
This was largely blamed on soaring distribution costs. Turnover climbed to €97m from €92m -- but distribution costs spiralled from €14.8m in 2006 to €18.5m last year, with the company securing €94m in sales from beer and a further €3.1m from cider.
Heineken was urged to maintain the integrity of the Beamish stout brand -- one of Ireland's most historic drink labels, as Cork TD Ciaran Lynch (Lab) said the closure of the brewery was "desperately" sad for the city.
"It truly is the end of an era. The news will come as a bombshell to those working at the plant, and, while the closure will not actually take place until March, Christmas will likely be grim for the 160 workers who now face such financial uncertainty," he added.
Deputy Lynch said "the writing was on the wall" for the Beamish plant from when the Competition Authority (CA) sanctioned the Heineken takeover of Beamish -- a decision he described as "very surprising".
"It is vital now that investment in the Beamish brands, particularly Beamish Stout, continues and that the brand is developed to its full potential."
Deirdre Clune (FG) described the closure as "a body blow" for the Cork economy.
"I am extremely disappointed that more workers could not be accommodated in the new Heineken set-up," she said.
But Heineken last night said the integrity of the Beamish stout brand would be protected.
"We don't see any difficulty in having a second quality stout brand in our portfolio -- and we are actually very excited by the potential of Beamish Stout," one Heineken spokesperson stressed.
Founded in 1792, the brewery of William Beamish and William Crawford was established on a site near the Southgate Bridge in Cork, where beer was brewed since the 1500s.
Less than 100 metres away, the heads of executed prisoners were displayed over the bridge on a metal spike -- in the 18th and 19th centuries.