The Guinness business

THOSE cunning brothers, lords of the vat" can't really be crying into their porter in paradise this week

THOSE cunning brothers, lords of the vat" can't really be crying into their porter in paradise this week. "Bungiveagh and Bungardilaun", as Joyce's Ulysses described them, must be taking some pleasure in this week's £24 billion merger between Guinness and the Grand Metropolitan group even if the immortal family moniker is reduced to a mere initial.

"GMG Brands" doesn't have quite the same ring to it. But then Guinness wasn't the name of the butler who is said to have burned his hops in the first place. That a staggering seven generations of his master's kin should have been directly involved in brewing the same dirty black pint is some achievement in a world now dominated by faceless movers and shakers in transnational corporations.

The current Earl of Iveagh and the Guinness family are still 23rd on the world's "rich list", and valued at £600 million. But the Guinness family's influence has been limited to a two per cent stake, worth about £176 million, in the brewing business. When the 27-year-old earl inherited a chunk of the silver" from his father in 1992, he received £62 million worth of Guinness shares, but most of the fortune was tied up in property.

The inheritance includes a 23,000-acre estate in Suffolk worth more than £100 million, and extensive assets in Vancouver and British Columbia, Canada, valued at up to £350 million. Long-established trusts ensure that it is spread throughout a family that includes politicians such as the former Tory transport secretary, Paul Channon. He is one of many descendants living in Britain. For just as the clan's link with the pint is now largely sentimental, so is the link with Ireland.


The family has two main branches - the Iveaghs and the Moynes - with Irish properties in Castleknock, Leixlip and, formerly, Ashford Castle in Cong, Co Galway, and St Anne's, Raheny. Desmond Guinness, former president of the Irish Georgian Society and proprietor of Leixlip Castle in Co Kit dare, is probably the most senior member still resident here, while the Hon. Garech Browne, founder of Claddagh Records and leading light in the campaign against an interpretative centre at Luggala in Co Wicklow, has always been known as the "best paddy".

The brewery headquarters moved to London decades a go; and though St James's Gate on the Liffey still changes the date on its entry gate religiously every year, and there is still a lingering whiff of hops in Thomas Street, many forecast that the departure of the Guinness ships - the Miranda Guinness and The Lady Patricia - in 1993 augured ill for the future of the company's presence in Dublin.

But then the same was said when the Guinness barges - the "porteryark's chiggen-chuggers" of Finnegans Wake - were replaced by road tankers in 1961, breaking a Liffey link lasting almost 200 years.

It was back in 1769 that the first export order of some six-and-a-half barrels was despatched to England under sail from the Old Custom House below Essex bridge. By 1868. porter was being shipped by the Grand Canal from the brewery to Dublin port. Five years later, a jetty was built on Victoria Quay between Kingsbridge, now Heuston Station, and Watling Street.

Victoria Quay had a heartbeat then, as the fleet of barges grew. In 1913, the brewery's first cross-channel steamer was commissioned, but it was torpedoed during the war. In 1927, the first of the Farmleigh type of barge had been built at the Liffey dockyard. Skippers developed the Woodbine funnel "drop" into a fine art as they negotiated the nine bridges on their way to the ships.

By then the brewing family which had made so much out of the thirst of the Dublin working classes had repaid a debt in kind. Arthur, who was but one of 200 Irish brewers dependent on the city's water supply in the 18th century, was a benefactor of St Patrick's Cathedral.

His son, also Arthur, became governor of the Bank of Ireland in 1820 and was an advocate of Catholic emancipation. He supported parliamentary reform, but fell out with Daniel O'Connell over the issue of repeal of the union with Britain - leading the Liberator to describe him as "that old apostate".

The brewers survived "horrendous" sectarian boycotts throughout the 19th century, according to journalist Joe Joyce, who has been writing the definitive Guinness history. For commercial reasons, political affiliations shifted from liberal to conservative. Some branches of the family were very opposed to Home Rule at the turn of the century, viewing it as a re-run of the 1840s repeal movement.

By then the Irish market had been well-developed, taking advantage of a revolution in transport, while the British market was just too important to survive tariffs that might ensue in an economic war.

Long before the death of Arthur the second, he had been joined by his son Benjamin Lee who transformed the brewery into the largest in the world. Benjamin Lee was involved in politics, as an MP for Dublin city and a lord mayor; and he paid £150,000 towards the cost of restoring St Patrick's Cathedral. The "merchant prince" lived in a townhouse on St Stephen's Green, which was presented by a descendant, Rupert, to the State in 1939. Iveagh House is now home for the Department of Foreign Affairs.

His successor, Edward Cecil, was also a fairy godfather, as was his older brother, Arthur this pair being Joyce's Bingiveagh and Bungardilaun, garnering the succulent berries of the hop" to "mass and sift and bruise and brew them and mix there with sour juices and bring the must to the sacred fire and cease not night or day from their toil". Arthur, Lord Ardilaun, endowed the capital with St Stephen's Green, and also with St Patrick's Park adjoining the cathedral. The younger brother set up the Guinness and Iveagh trusts to provide housing for the working classes in areas such as Dolphin's Barn. They also built the Iveagh market, and gave many gifts to Trinity College and to Dublin hospitals.

Rupert Edward Guinness, the second Earl of Iveagh, built the Park Royal brewery in London in 1935 to supply the south and south-east English market. By then, the black stuff had already reached the South Pole. He initiated modernisation of the engineering and brewing plant at St James's Gate.

But it was in agriculture that he made his mark, and he was obsessed with time: He owned some 18 gold watches and insisted that all the clocks should chime the hour at precisely the same milli-second in the family's Suffolk residence at Elveden. Small wonder that his periodic visits drove the Elveden carpenter, who was responsible, for the synchronisation, "round the bend

Rupert took over chairmanship of the company at a time when sales of stout in England had slumped. before the second World War. Reluctantly, he sanctioned an advertising campaign, which had been studiously avoided up till then. He had always drunk a bottle of Guinness every day for health, and agreed to the final suggestion drawn up by the advertising agency: "Guinness is good for you".

The health link would never be dropped, though the beer became synonymous with imaginative publicity. Such was the success of the tag that a journalist who was button-holed by a political activist in 1979 had to listen 12 complaints about money being wasted on advertising. You take Guinness for example," the man said. "But it has no influence on me. I drink it because it's good for me." The dynasty has had its share of controversy and tragedy. The first Lord Moyne, who was a friend of Winston Churchill, was assassinated in Egypt in 1944 - having been sent by Churchill to serve as Minister Resident in the Middle East. In 1961, a Guinness heiress, Tara Browne (21) died in a car crash. In 1978, Lady Henrietta Guinness, then 35, threw herself off a bridge in Italy. She had been treated for depression for some time, having married an Italian chef and taken the Catholic religion.

In the same year, a four-year-old son of John Guinness, a British diplomat, also died in a car accident; a 17-year-old family member never recovered from a suspected drug overdose; and another direct descendant, Major Dennys Guinness, was found dead in a Hampshire cottage with an empty pill bottle by his side.

DESMOND Guinness, whose mother was Diana Mitford, has been quoted in the past as dismissing the so-called "family curse", particularly when it is extended to distant relatives like Olivia Channon, daughter of the former Tory minister and another drugs-related fatality. Any big family will have its share of grief, he has said. With his former wife, Princess Mariga of Wurttemberg, and subsequently his second wife, Penny, Desmond has been associated with the glamorous side of Irish society since the 1970s. Rock stars including Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, his wife Jerry Hall, and chanteuse Marianne Faithfull have been regular guests at Leixlip Castle. Faithfull subsequently moved into Shell Cottage on the Carton estate.

The Georgian Society which Desmond and Mariga founded is best remembered for saving Castletown House in Celbridge, Co Kildare. Other restoration work tackled by its volunteers included Tailor's Hall near the Liberties in Dublin, and Georgian houses in Mountjoy Square, Hume Street, Thomas Street and Henrietta Street, Dublin. Through its fundraising activities, the society provided an entree to the world of title, satin and glitter, while its president undertook US lecture tours. Desmond's ex-wife was buried, after a civil ceremony, beneath the Connolly folly in the grounds of Castletown.

Controversy has been associated with the business network, which had extended to China, the world's second largest beer market, by 1995. The 1980s Ernest Saunders affair, involving a former chief executive's role in the takeover of Distillers, was not without precedent. When the company was floated by Edward Cecil in the 1880s, there was a similar scandal over shares, according to Joe Joyce.

Recently, its infamous advertising attracted controversy - ironically from the political party to which it had been affiliated for decades. Last January, the company bowed to complaints from senior Tory MPs over an ad which was perceived to depict a sado-masochistic Tory supporter. And last year, Guinness employees in Dublin were dealt a bitter blow, when they were told that their company tipple was now subject to a charge. The company practice of giving free beer to workers, which dates back to 1759, had come to the attention of... the Revenue Commissioners.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times