Saturday 24 February 2018

Locals raise glasses to remember days when Guinness was so good for them

Breda Heffernan

A DESCENDANT of famed brewer Arthur Guinness will be toasted in Dublin tonight at a special event honouring the generations of his family who have helped local workers down through the years.

While the world-renowned brewery is no longer in family hands, Rory Guinness continues to be involved in the family's Iveagh Trust, which last year opened a new housing scheme for homeless people.

Fr Michael Mernagh of the South Inner City Community Development Association yesterday said the group wanted to recognise the historical contribution the Guinness family made to the people of Dublin's Liberties in terms of employment, social housing and welfare.

"At one stage half the population of the Liberties was employed there. There was so much craft associated with Guinness, from the coopers to the farriers," he explained.

And a job with Guinness was one worth holding on to as wages at the brewer were as much as 20pc above the Dublin average.

Among the best paid were the coopers and for this reason it was a "closed" trade, with jobs handed down from generation to generation within the same families.

Making the wooden casks required great skill and precision and it took apprentices up to seven years to learn their trade.

In the 1920s there were around 300 coopers -- half the total in the city of Dublin -- employed at the brewery making and repairing casks.

However, the march of modernisation meant that, by the mid-1940s, the wooden casks, which had been around for 200 years, began to be phased out. The last wooden cask was filled at St James's Gate in 1963.

Guinness was the biggest provider of social housing in the city and also provided medical care and recreation and sports grounds for employees.

However, one of the most prized perks of the job was the so-called "beer allowance" whereby each male worker over the age of 21 was entitled to two free pints of the black stuff each day.

Workers could opt to forgo the booze and instead receive a note which could be used in the company's co-op store.

Fr Mernagh said that, with so many changes at the brewers, it was a good time to remember the role played by Guinness and the brewing family in the local community.

"The Guinness family are really going out of the picture, a multinational, Diageo, has taken over and no one from the Guinness family is on the board anymore.

"At the South Inner City Community Development Association, we would see ourselves as doing a lot of what Guinness originally did in the area," he added.

Irish Independent

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