The Guinness Family, Dublin
Updated: Dec 15, 2020
It is commonly known that Arthur Guinness founded his now famous brewery at St. James’s Gate in Dublin in 1759. What is most probably not known is that he first established a brewery with his brother Richard in Leixlip Co. Kildare three years earlier, in 1756. That brewery was called Castleview as it was in the shadow of Leixlip Castle which itself dates back to 1170.
Arthur was born in 1725 near Celbridge Co. Kildare and his first job was as a land agent for a local land owner. When his employer passed away Arthur quickly realised he needed a new career. At age 27 he received an inheritance of £100 from his Godfather, Arthur Price, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Cashel. Armed with his inheritance, Arthur in partnership with his brother Richard, established The Castleview Brewery. It was almost an instant success and allowed Arthur to broaden his portfolio, he began to invest in property including the leasehold of a terrace of houses on Main St. Leixlip called The Mall.
It was with this success behind him that he could undertake the now famous 9000-year lease on the site of a dis-used brewery at St. James’s Gate, at an annual rent of £45.00. The original site extended to 4 acres Arthur rapidly expanded the business and at its peak the brewery consisted of an area of 64 acres. Richard continued to operate the brewery in Leixlip, and in 1763 he bought out Arthur’s share. After Arthur’s death in 1803 Richard sold up and retired to Portarlington.
The St. James’s Gate brewery continued to expand and first began exporting in 1769 all be it on a small scale. It was around this time Arthur noticed that a dark beer was being imported into Ireland from England and it was growing in popularity. In a brave move, Arthur stopped brewing ale and began to exclusively brew the darker beer or stout as it became known. It was also known as porter as it was a drink much favoured by the porters at Billingsgate Market in London.
In 1761 Arthur married his wife Olivia and they had 21 children but unfortunately only 10 survived into adulthood. Despite having that many children Olivia took an active role within the business. It was under the leadership of his grandson Benjamin Lee Guinness that it became the largest brewery in Ireland and soon after the largest in the world. Although it has lost that crown it is still the largest brewer of Guinness in the world.
The Guinness family have always kept their connection to North Kildare, Arthur was buried close to his birthplace. They maintained the ground rent on many of Arthur’s properties until the mid-20th century. A member of the extended family, The Honourable Desmond Guinness, purchased Leixlip Castle in 1958 and it was he who was instrumental in setting up The Irish Georgian Society.
Throughout their lives the Guinness family have been very generous to the citizens of Dublin with their philanthropic deeds:
Benjamin Lee Guinness renovated St. Patricks Cathedral at his own expense
Edward Cecil Guinness, in a bid to clear some of Dublin’s worst slums, built Iveagh Buildings, Iveagh Bath House and The Iveagh market
Arthur Edward Guinness better known as “Lord Ardilaun”, drained, landscaped and gifted St. Stephens Green to the city
Rupert Lord Iveagh Guinness, the grandson of Benjamin Lee Guinness, gifted his residence Iveagh House to the state and it is now home to The Department of Foreign Affairs to mention but a few of their generous actions for the city...
I suppose it is safe to say that though the Guinness family were very good to the citizens of Dublin, however, the citizens worked hard to return the favour by downing lots of pints of the black stuff.