'In all the talk about housing, real people often get lost or forgotten'
The Guinness family has fulfilled a noble aim with its affordable housing trust. Rory Guinness spoke to Liam Collins
I've always wanted to have a pint of Guinness with a Guinness, but when I put it to Rory Guinness, he politely declines.
"Would you mind awfully, if I didn't?"
"It's a bit early for him," put in his beautiful smiling wife Mira, it being three o'clock on Thursday as we stand near a bar in the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.
"You're not going to make fun of me?" he asks, about to capitulate and join me for what turns out to be a very fine pint of stout.
"Of course not," I lie, although it has never been my practice to twist any man into having a drink unless they wanted one - let alone a scion of the famous brewing dynasty and board member of the Iveagh Trust, with among others, Lord Iveagh (his elder brother Ned).
Rory was happily hosting a Christmas gathering for residents of the Iveagh Trust, the affordable housing association set up by his ancestor, the 1st Earl, in April, 1890, and now has almost 1,500 apartments and hostel places in Dublin.
Despite his lofty status, Rory stood at the door of the function room, very much a man of the people, greeting each of arriving guests personally, many of them by their Christian names.
"It saved my life," said one of them, the colourful Kevin Fox, wearing a straw hat. He ran away from home at the age of 15 and like many of the Iveagh Trust residents enjoyed a varied life before finding accommodation six years ago in Moyne House, one of the trust properties in the city of Dublin.
Rory was accompanied by his wife Mira, who has just come through two years of intensive treatment for breast cancer, and their daughters Aoife (12), Beatrice (10) and son Aidan (five) who all appeared to be having great fun helping out, dancing with the elderly guests and being generally unselfconscious and charming.
"This really brings home to us the issue of homelessness and how important a home and a community can be," says Rory, on a short break from tearing about making announcements, introducing people and going from table to table, ensuring that all the guest are having as good a time as he appears to be having.
This afternoon tea in the brewery is an annual event he never misses, taking his job as a trustee very seriously indeed.
"One of my first jobs was washing the floors in the Iveagh Hostel, I won't forget that," he says, with a bright smile. "It is so special to come over with my own children for this event today, so that they can see how important it is to look after other people. The trouble is that in all this talk about the housing crisis, real people often get lost or forgotten."
But there were plenty of ''real people'' at the trust lunch enjoying the atmosphere, the music and the company of friends, including Rory and Mira and their children.
Kay Nicholson has been living in Mount Anthony for the last 21 years. "There is a wonderful community, Lady Miranda (Rory's mother) came for her afternoon tea with us, she was a great woman and we've named a new building Miranda Lodge after her, it's the only place she's recognised."
Ian McLeich, another tenant and avid fan of Guinness in liquid form, talks about his 86th trip to Morocco, where he celebrated his 70th birthday. Despite his best efforts he hasn't been able to introduce ''the black stuff'' to Agadir, but he hears that a new Irish pub is due to open in the city and he's hoping his quest to spread ''the gospel of Arthur'' might at last be successful.
Rose Rooney is the only female estate manager with the Iveagh Trust and one of their ''live-in'' managers, in Bull Alley. "It's a very interesting and varied job," she says, "we're dealing with people all the time. Come on and I'll introduce you to some of the people from the Iveagh Hostel."
"My name is Gerry Daly, I'm not afraid to say where I am living, I'm very proud to be living in the Iveagh Hostel. I have a room of my own, my own key, I'm going on four years there" says Gerry. "I left school at 14 and worked in the White Swan Laundry and one of my first jobs was going to the Iveagh Hostel and guarding the linen - I never thought I would end up living there myself, but that's the way it works."
John Haleyn is 22 years in the hostel. "It's a lovely place, there are nice people there. Through drink I lost everything. I buried my wife, my daughter and my son."
He grew up in the tenements in Holles Street and still poignantly recalls Linda Byrne and Marion Vardy, aged seven and eight, being killed when the building collapsed on them as they sat on the front steps of the tenement.
"I see it in my dreams, I see the building coming down on them," he says poignantly, one of the few people in the city who still remembers those two girls and the dreadful conditions of the working people back then.
Barbara Kennedy-Kenny, from Annamore Courts, has been there for 14 months. "I love it, I worked in Guinness, so I knew about the Iveagh Trust and the work it did and I'm delighted with it," she says.
Another tenant, Liam Burke, is an actor currently in a Dunnes Stores ad and he's Santa in the Wax Museum this Christmas. He always wanted to be an actor, but as one of six children from a poor family he couldn't afford the luxury and went into the hotel business. He eventually became a stage hand with the MacLiammoir/Edwards Company and things were going well until he was offered a job on a film being shot in West Cork called Catholics. He couldn't get leave from The Gate, but he went anyway. "It was a big mistake" he laughs, "but at least I can say I got to throw stones at Martin Sheen."
Another trustee, Patrick Guinness, the Kildare cousin, has also come along for the occasion. "Within the business and within the family there are no big divides," he says reflecting on how long the Iveagh Trust has survived when many other similar philanthropic efforts eventually failed or ran out of steam.
"The Iveagh Trust had a very good business model when it was established," he says. "The cost of money was about 3pc in 1900 and the rents were about 6pc, the whole point being that the 3pc extra allowed the trust to maintain the properties properly and get good people to look after them.
"There was a bit of a blip during the 1960s due to rent control and suddenly the surpluses just weren't there, but since the 1990s everything has come right again.
"The Iveagh Trust is a two-way process," adds Rory, "we provide the property but there always has to be someone in charge. In some of the houses like Mount Anthony there are live-in managers, so they know what is going on at all times."
And he's looking forward to an Irish Christmas. "I'm really delighted to be here today, and for the first time in 20 years we are spending Christmas in Dublin.
"My last time here we were living in the family home, Farmleigh (House). This time won't be quite as grand, but we're all looking forward to it."
Mira adds: "He's always talking about Christmas Eve in St Patrick's Cathedral, so that's where we'll be as a family for the first time."
There is music and dancing, food to eat and bring away and pints of Guinness and wine, and lots of talk among the residents of various trust properties.
But the high point is a recitation by Rory’s daughter, Aoife, of a poem called Warning by Jenny Joseph, below, which struck a chord with the rather elderly gathering, both for the words and her confident delivery.
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple,
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves,
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter. I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired,
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells,
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth. I shall go out in my slippers in the rain,
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens,
And learn to spit.