THE HANDSTAND

JULY 2007

 

 

Guinness's Dublin home faces threat of sell-off to developers

By David McKittrick, Ireland Correspondent

2007 Independent News and Media Limited

Published: 23 June 2007

For two and half centuries it has been one of the most famous features of the Irish capital. But now, the Dublin headquarters and spiritual home of Guinness, one of the world's best-known brands, may be sold to property developers.

For 250 years the site, at St James's Gate on the quays of the river Liffey has been a hugely important part of Dublin life, producing millions of pints of what is known as the "black stuff".

It has been a symbol of Ireland and a major employer, and today is a popular tourist attraction. In previous times the firm was known both for its paternalistic attitude towards its employees and for its wider philanthropy.

The Guinness family made many donations to the Irish state, one being Iveagh House, which serves as headquarters of the Irish diplomatic service.

But the business is now owned by Diageo, the world's largest drinks company, which said it was "considering a number of important investment decisions on upgrading and renewing its brewing facilities in Ireland" but no final decisions would be made until its assessment was completed.

The company added: "Diageo fully recognises the huge importance of St James's Gate in the history of Guinness and Dublin and this important aspect of our brand and heritage will be fully embraced in the assessment."

Consumption of Guinness is on the wane in Ireland, partly because of competition from other drinks such as foreign beers, cider, wine and spirits. It is also partly attributed to the decline of the Irish pub culture: although the beverage is readily available in bottles and cans, purists say it is at its best when on draught.

Although it is now brewed at about 50 sites worldwide, the Dublin brewery turns out about 500 million litres a year and is regarded, perhaps sentimentally, as the heart of the concern.

The site is hugely valuable, covering 64 acres of land adjacent to the river Liffey. It is close to Dublin city centre, making it prime real estate which, if put on the market, could be expected to sell for billions of euros.

The building of apartments, offices and hotels has been proceeding pell-mell for some years in the city, with large cranes dominating its skyline. Clearly, any business would be tempted to undertake a move which could deliver huge amounts of money.

The business was started in 1759 by Arthur Guinness, who eventually switched from brewing beer to producing a stout which, though traditionally regarded as black, is actually ruby-red. It was a decision that created enormous wealth for the family. Arthur, who had 21 children, took out a 9,000-year lease on the riverside site, which originally covered four acres.

Arthur's great-grandson, Edward, the first Lord Iveagh, is credited with generating much of the wealth. Down the years members of the family adopted a variety of political attitudes and was, until the 1940s, known as a firm whose top management tended not to include Catholics.

It nonetheless maintained popularity with its workers due to its long-standing policy of providing them with substantial welfare benefits.

The Guinness family were described by James Joyce as ceasing in St James's Gate "not night or day from their toil, those cunning brothers, lords of the vat".