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The History of Brewing in Dublin

There was a time when Dublin was renowned for its brewing excellence. Over three hundred years ago there were more than 1,500 ale houses and taverns in the capital, serving a population of less than 70,000. But there were also hundreds of breweries producing beers of every description. In the past, visitors remarked even more on the excellence and diversity of the brew available than the number of pubs. One traveller in 1610 commented that brewing was "the very marrow of the commonwealth of Dublin". In 1696 King Charles II incorporated the Brewers of Dublin by saying: "There are in or about our city of Dublin and the suburbs, liberties and two miles of the same, very many persons of the trade or mystery of brewers who might might be better ordered and governed, and ale and beer to sell may be better and wholesomer boiled and brewed, if the said persons of the said trade or mystery of brewing were incorporated."


By the end of the eighteen century with twelve breweries along the river Liffey, producing a host of beers, Dublin was a home to a thriving and truly cosmopolitan brewing industry. At that time the oldest establishment in the city was housed on Usher Street. Founded in 1740, it was called the Anchor Brewery and rapidly became the second largest brew house in Dublin.

By 1782 it was owned by Kavanagh and Brett, which was brewing "under the direction of Mr. Charles Page, of London, porter of a very superior quality, which will be found on trial to equal any imported from England" (1798 ad). In 1818 the business was bought by John D'Arcy for £35,000. He died in 1825 and was buried in Kevin Street cemetery; his headstone describes him as a brewer from Usher St. The newspapers at the time had a little more to say: "When his funeral procession from Francis St. reached St. Kevin's, the Rector met it at the gate and forbad Catholic Prayers being recited at the grave side; they had to be said on the roadway." (Daniel O'Connell used the scandal provoked by this to such effect that he was able to get through the legislation in establishing Golden Bridge (1829) and Glasnevin (1831) cemeteries.)



The brewery was then passed to his son, also called John D'Arcy (who founded Clifton in Co. Galway) and then to his son, Matthew. Both were prominent figures within the Dublin business community. John was Lord Mayor of Dublin, and Matthew was deputy lieutenant and magistrate for Cos. Dublin and Wexford, as well as being a regular M.P. for the latter county. Being active in politics at the time, they had a close involvement with Daniel O'Connell, whose son (also called Daniel) was involved in the brewing business, having acquired the Phoenix brewery in 1831. O'Connell and his partners temporarily changed the name to "O'Connell's Brewery". By 1832, the Liberator was forced to state that he would not be a political patron of the brewing trade or his son's company, until he was no longer a Member of Parliament, particularly because O'Connell and Arthur Guinness were political enemies. Guinness was the "moderate" liberal candidate, O'Connell was the "radical" liberal candidate. The rivalry caused dozens of Irish firms to boycott Guinness during the 1841 Repeal election. It was at this time that Guinness was accused of supporting the "Orange system", and its beer was known as "Protestant porter". When the O'Connell family left brewing, the rights to "O'Connell Dublin Ale" was sold to John D'Arcy.


The nineteenth century was the high point for the Anchor Brewery. Their most famous brew was "D'Arcy's Dublin Porter". The entire brewery premises were considered unique for many reasons. Technically the company was at the forefront of the industry, with wells that could pump 30,000 gallons of water per hour (this had cost £20,000 to build), with one of the country's largest mill-rooms, the largest "mash-tun" in Ireland (25 foot in diameter) and the biggest copper vessel in the world. This copper had a capacity of 1,300 barrels and took 13 months and £3,000 to build. But they was also noted for their attention to quality, with emphasis on cleaning and correct temperature storage. Of the ten breweries that were operating in Dublin in the 1870s, Anchor, was the second largest. It produced 250,000 barrels in 1886 (compared to over 1 million by Guinness), whereas the other breweries in Dublin produced no more than 100,000 barrels between them. Even in the 1920s this firm's premises covered a huge area, employing hundreds, and exporting its famous porter around the globe.


The demise of D'Arcy's Anchor brewery as well as breweries owned by Brennan, Sweetman, Fortune & Co., Manders, Caffrey, Watkins, Greenmount and City of Dublin Brewery was chronicled by Dr. Daly, the foremost economic historian of nineteenth century Ireland. She believed that Guinness was both directly and indirectly responsible for the collapse of the independent brewing industry in Dublin. Indirectly because the company was simply so successful that it left little room for competition. Directly, in the following way: Guinness was continually trying to undercut its competition in the nineteenth century, but it took some time before it was large enough to do so independently. With the advent of the canals in the 1820, it became possible for Guinness to put pressure on the country brewers and build up a dominance of the rural market over the next forty years. The Dublin Brewers set down price regulations governing the whole trade in 1856, and Guinness initially adhered to them as it had done in earlier years. For example, in 1855 Guinness signed a formal agreement with D'Arcy stating it would not undercut the transport costs that Anchor charged on its customers in Co. Kildare. In 1859 the Dublin Brewers signed another agreement stating that trade discounts would only be allowed to customers whose trade reached 100 hogs heads. But Guinness found a way to bypass this. The agreement explicitly excluded "agents", the people who conducted much of Guinness's business throughout the country. Hence the agents could sell at lower prices.


But even this exclusive exemption was not enough. Between 1820 and 1862, Guinness had built up a dominance of the rural market in Ireland, and through effective use of the new transport system, it was able to seriously undercut small local breweries, which previously existed by selling beer within a 20/30 mile radius of their breweries. By achieving dominance in the countryside of Ireland, it could then turn its attention to the Dublin market, where it was not the most popular beer in town and instead had to compete with at least a dozen breweries that were supplying a city of 400,000 thirsty people. (Interestingly enough, the Licensed Vinters Association, (Dublin pubs) which was established in 1817 and was then known as the Fair Trading Vinters Society, has records of every meeting from 1831 to present. To quote themselves "minutes were kept regularly and continuously, right up to the present day, except for a gap of nearly twenty years commencing in 1844".) In 1862 Guinness decided to start dropping the axe on the Dublin breweries, it unilaterally broke both the price and discount agreements, and without consulting any of the competitors, introduced a flat discount of 1.25% to all its customers.


Thereafter Guinness paid little attention to its rivals' interests. Between 1860 and 1880, Guinness' profit margins went down by about 30%. The biggest price cuts took place in the 1870s. Its rivals simply could not keep pace with this sort of competition, especially when their tied houses were keen to break free and enjoy the bigger profits offered by Guinness. The first casualty was the long-established Manders brewery. Manders left the price agreement in 1868 because of the pressure Guinness was putting on its margins. In 1883 it was declared bankrupt. Sweetman's brewery was demolished by Lord Iveagh, the Guinness chairman, in 1900 to make way for an old clothes market. Phoenix, the city's third largest brewery, built an ale plant in 1895 in an effort to escape Guinness's competitive clutches. But ten years later the company was declared bankrupt and then bought out by Guinness. Other smaller firms were forced to merge in an effort to survive. For example, in the late 1880s the North Anne Street brewery absorbed Jameson Pim and Co., and in 1904 they merged with Joseph Watkins. By 1913, with the competition firmly routed and home rule threatened, the Guinness board of directors decided to open a British plant in Park Royal. The head office was moved to London in 1922 during the treaty negotiations on a free state. If the "Sinn Feiners" were going to be in charge then it was out of town. The Anchor Brewery which was founded in 1740, finally succumbed to this cut throat competition and at an emergency general meeting of the members of the company, held on 20 Aug. 1926 at the brewery premises on Usher St., the following resolution was passed: "That the Company be wound up voluntarily under the provisions of the Companies (Consolidation) Act, 1908. In 1933 the City Corporation bought most of the old brewery premises on Usher St. under the Housing of the Working Classes Acts (1890-31) and the Housing Act (1932) and started building the Oliver Bond Street flats. In 1949, Findlater's brewery near Mountjoy Square finally closed down, leaving Guinness as the only brewer in Dublin.

A city that was once host to over 30 breweries was now reduced to one. Guinness was so dominant in Ireland, that when it started its first advertising campaign in England in 1929 it felt it was a complete waste of money to spend anything in Ireland. Consumers either drank its beer or gave up drinking. According to the "History of Guinness Advertising" it spent an average of £10,000 per year on marketing in Ireland between 1929 and 1959. Part of the Guinness strategy was whenever a small brewery closed or was bought out by it, its sales representatives were sent out to buy up all the memorabilia/posters etc. from the pubs that were previously supplied by that brewery. In that way it could remove the history of that company from the popular imagination. Stalin employed similar tactics in Russia after the revolution, by removing people from photographs who had fallen out of favour with the new regime. Their history could be erased and they no longer officially existed. With Dublin reduced to one brewery, Guinness set about cleaning up the rest; Smithwicks & Co in Kilkenny, and Macardles in Dundalk were bought out in the 1960s. Beamish & Crawford, and Murphy's in Cork only survived due to both of them having large tied estates in the Munster area.

In 1996 the Dublin Brewing Company was set up in Smithfield, in the old James Crean soap factory. As the only other brewery in Dublin to Guiness, Dublin Brewing Company represented a small but real challenge to the Guinness monopoly. Initially its reaction was "it won't work because, Irish people were brand loyal" and wouldn't change to anything new." However by November 1997 Guinness could see an increasing threat from a number of new microbreweries which were opening up around Ireland; it built its own microbrewery called St. James's Gate Beers. In the words of their Weekly News No: 44 "the four unique and distinctive draught beers are designed to meet perceived demand amongst ale and lager drinkers over the age of 28 for a wider choice of tastier draught beers."



The project team had spent 18 months conducting exhaustive R & D into the Irish drinking palette before the launch. This research included taking samples of Beckett's and D'Arcy's from public houses in Temple Bar and returning it to their citadel of brewing science for further analysis. Just exactly how do those "Fun Lovin Brewers" in Smithfield make beer? The code word for this return to basic brewing was affectionately known among company staff as "Operation Wolf".

The Dublin Brewing Company, amongst other small breweries was going to be lambs for slaughter. Of course, when you have a virtual monopoly on tap space in most bars, it's no problem launching no less than four beers in twenty pubs in Dublin overnight. Luckily drinkers in this country know what they want, and if they want a real beer they support the increasing number of microbreweries in Ireland, not a monopoly brewer masquerading as a small producer. The attempt at what was called "full taste" beers turned out to be a disaster. By October 1998 the operation was quietly closed down. However, now that St. James Gate is no more (£3-5m expenditure), we have its latest treat, Breo, being launched with the usual bravado Guinness display on these occasions - 10/15 kegs of beer free for every publican that takes it in. The pub gets the higher number of kegs if they take something else out. As the only other brewery in town, the Dublin Brewing Company is back on the firing line. The Dublin Brewing Company would like to dedicate D'Arcy's Dublin Stout to the memory of those old Dublin breweries.


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