On Guinness

Stout is a simple drink that can be brewed anywhere, but people take it very seriously. Because of the Guinness Family’s Loyalism and the brewery’s location in the Pale, Guinness was long known as (at least outside Dublin) as “The Protestant Drink” and hence the existence of regional alternatives such as Beamish and Murphy’s in cities less traditionally Loyalist than Dublin.

The Guinness company moved out of Ireland to the UK in the early 1930s and severed all connections with the new Irish Free State except for the St James’ Gate site, for which it negotiated a ground rent of around €50 per year for several thousand years. In the 18th century this was apparently a good deal. The St James’ Gate site was heavily developed by Guinness during the 19th century into not just a brewery but an entire urban community that was allowed during the worst years of Ireland’s mid-20th century isolationism to become one of the worst slums in Dublin. It’s getting better but, having lived there, it’s tough to up-sell people on buying some of the new apartments when every few days Guinness disgorges some effluent and everything reeks of burning vegetable matter for hours.

The Guinness family was finally driven out of Ireland during following the Irish Civil War and the low-grade ethnic cleansing of Protestants that continued afterwards. You can walk in St Anne’s Park in Dublin and see the remains of the Guinness Mansion that was burned. It’s quite evocative.

The way Guinness appropriated all the symbols of the old Kingdom of Ireland (green, harp, etc) and so denied their use by its successor states, and the way it managed to lose its politically dodgy symbolism, is truly remarkable marketing. It’s as big as Coke re-colouring Santa to be red and white all over.

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