Guinness is Good For You!

Trip Start Mar 01, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Ireland  , County Dublin,
Sunday, December 2, 2012

I can't praise free tours enough. You'll be amazed but what you can learn in a day (or night!). If you're in Dublin, you must join them.

Ireland was populated by Celtic pagans as early as 600 BC, but it has a long history of being invaded by outsiders. In 432 BC, St. Patrick came from Britain, following a dream he had that urged him to "christianize" the Irish.  He used the shamrock to explain the Trinity, and it is still a popular symbol of Catholicism throughout the country. In 775 Vikings came from Scandinavia and in 1169 the Normans arrived.  In 1541 the country was incorporated into the British Empire and the 40 years that followed brought famine and religious discrimination in the form of anti-Catholic laws.  The Irish fought back, but they weren't always successful in their mission.

Our first stop was Dublin Castle, which currently hosts state functions, but it has stories to tell... In January 1592, 15-year old Reggie O'Donnell escaped via the castle tower's 4.5 meter thick walls into the freezing river that flows below. He had been lured into his capture with the promise of liquor and after 6 years of freedom, alcohol got the better of him again when he was murdered with a poison drink.
In 1916, the castle was the headquarters of British military intelligence. The Irish rebels asked the Germans to send them ammunition.  They complied, but the Irish were a day late to pick them up and the British intercept ed the delivery.  The Irish captain was arrested and the rebellion was cancelled.  However, a small group of radical rebels showed up to fight.  There were 19, many of them having arrived on public transportation (can you imagine?).  The Brits had abandoned the Castle and the rebels found an unprotected target, but they feared a secret ambush and left!
The Castle was the site of another historic moment just this year when Queen Elizabeth addressed a crowd- in Gaelic- to officially apologize on behalf of England.

Next, we saw the Chester Beatty library.  I returned for a visit the next afternoon. Beatty was an American. Inside is the 2nd largest collection of Qu'rans outside of Istanbul and ancient copies of the Bible and other old books.  Also on display were his collection paintings.

In the garden outside the Castle is a monument to Veronica Guerin.  She was a reporter, investigating drug lords.  She was murdered in 1996, but leaves behind a legacy of the establishment of the Criminal Assets Bureau.  This new legislation allows the government to confiscate illegal property without the burden of proof, resulting in an exodus of criminals from the country.

We visited Christ Church Cathedral where Handel first performed his Messiah in 1732. It was built in 1170 by the Normans as a Catholic church, but rebuilt as a Protestant church in the late 1800's by distiller, Henry Roe. 90% of Dublin's population is Catholic, but there is currently no Cathedral in the city.

We walked through the Wood Quay area where the largest Viking settlement had been, and where artifacts had  been uncovered in 1978.  Unfortunately, the Dublin City Council had recently purchased the property and despite the discovery proceeded to built their headquarters on the site.  The artifacts are on display in the National Museum (along with a lot of very old, gold jewelry!).

We walked next to the Temple Bar district, Dublin's cultural center and home to the venue which hosted U2's first performance.  Rumor has it that the band headed across the street to the upscale Clarence Hotel for a pint after the show and were denied entry, to which Bono replied, "One day I'll be rich and I'll own this place."  That much is true, and he also owns the pub next door where I returned for a pint the following evening.

We crossed the Ha'Penny Bridge, rebuilt by Horland & Wolfe of Titanic fame, to O'Connell Street. A 120 meter high metal spire was completed in 2003 (it was supposed to be ready to commemorate the Millenium) as a monument to Daniel O'Connell, the city's first Catholic mayor in over 200 years.

Our next stop was  Trinity College, home of the oldest rugby club in the world and alma mater of Oscar Wilde and Bram Stroker.  The old library was used by George Lucas as a model for the Jedi Library.  (I was the only one on the tour who had seen Star Wars...really?!)  Apparently, he used the library without permission, but they let it slide.  Surely they recouped any losses when the producers of Harry Potter paid to use it for Hogwart's Library.

We viewed the Irish Parliament, now the Bank of Ireland, which looked strangely familiar.  The architects, Edward Pearce and later James Gandon after his death, modeled it after the US Capital Building. The current Parliament Building's design was copied by architects of the White House.

We ended the tour in St. Stephen's Green near a statue of Wolfe Tone who gave Ireland its flag.  The flag resembles the French national flag, because Tome based his fight for Ireland’s independence upon the French Revolution.  The green stripe represents the Gaelic Catholics, the orange the followers of England's Protestants and the white is the peace between the two.

Most of us headed back to the pub for lunch.  The stews, sausages and potatoes you find in all the pubs are perfect for the cold weather.  And I needed some food in my belly before embarking on the tour to the Guinness Storehouse.  Like many visitors, this is why I had come to Ireland and I couldn't wait!

Our guide, Robbie, is not about to let us drink our first pint without a bit of history.  The story begins with 100 and a 9,000 year lease.  Arthur Guinness, the same Arthur whose signature is on every can, inherited 100 from Archbishop Arthur Price in the 1740’s.  His stepmother owned a pub in Sellbridge.  Legend has it that the yeast used to brew the first pint of Guinness came from her pub, and is still used today with a portion safely locked in a safe. In 1759 he signed a lease on St. James Gate Brewery for the sum of 45 per year for the next 9,000 years. Just like the coffee from Sant’ Eustachio’s in Rome, for Guinness it’s all about the water. The property sits on the old city limits and has access to the river; free water was included in the lease agreement.  Arthur built an underground railway to carry water from the river- which is fed by the pure springs of the Wicklow mountains- into the brewery and finished brew onto the ships for delivery.

Arthur used his influence as a member of the Brewer’s Guild to secure a seat in Parliament. In 1779 he successfully lobbied to remove the tax on Irish beer, which at the time was five times that of the tax on British beers. In the same year, Guinness became the official beer supplier to the Dublin Castle.

On the way to St. James’ Gate, we passed by St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which was built in 1185.  Arthur donated money to found the first Sunday school and his cousin was commissioned to create a stained glass window depicting Rebecca by the well.  Its caption reads, “I was thirsty and you gave me drink.” Legend has it that it was the earliest Guinness advertisement.  

Advertising has played a big part in the company’s success and in the storehouse they have samples of the various ad campaigns, starting with the first in 1930.  The harp is such an iconic symbol in Ireland that it’s on the back of the Irish €1 coin. But because it is protected by trademark as the Guinness logo, the one on the coin is a mirror image. I’m not sure if it’s true, but someone told me that in order to purchase and play a harp you had to secure permission from the government.

In commemoration of Guinness’ founding in 1759, in the fall of 2009 at 17:59, they hosted a 250th anniversary celebration.  They gave away 50,000 free pints to all of the pubs serving the brew.  The marketing campaign paid off; that day they sold 3 million more pints than any other day in Ireland. It recurs each year.
I took a few photos of my favorites ads, but the most well-known feature either a toucan or the catch phrase, "Guinness is good for you!" which actually began as “Guinness is good for you.  See what one or two can do!” Two can—toucan—you can see where the pun originates.  The source of both seems to be from the belief that doctors recommended Guinness for its health benefits- full of vitamins and iron...  Apparently, if you were in the hospital overnight, you were offered coffee, tea, cocoa or Guinness.  

In the 18-19th centuries, Guinness was an innovator in humane labor practices.  In 1904 tuberculosis was rampant throughout Ireland.  People were living in tenements with an average of 17 people per room. The lead surgeon visited the homes of 1,800 Guinness employees and found 35% of them to be unfit for human habitation.  As a result, Guinness built the first employee housing in the square in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  It had green spaces, indoor toilets and central bathhouses.  They even built the Ivy Market so merchants would serve the community. Guinness was also the first company in the world to provide widow’s pensions and paid its employees 20% higher than any other company.  It offered 50% pay to employees serving in the military and even shipped a bottle of Guinness at Christmas to every soldier in the British military during WWII.

When we arrive at the Storehouse, I skip the museum exhibits and head straight to the bar where I can pour my own pint.  We’re instructed by a professional who demonstrates the proper technique.  First you pull the tap forward, pouring the Guinness into a tulip shaped pint glass at a 45 degree angle.  Then you must wait.  It takes several minutes for the beer to settle.  The beautiful head on a Guinness never disappears- it takes practice to drink one without an embarrassing Guinness mustache.  This is a result of introduction of nitrogen into the recipe by a scientist 50 years ago. Once the beer settles, you then push the tap to fill the rest of the glass.  I think this limits the nitrogen flow, but I was so excited about my beer that I stopped paying attention.  Delicious.

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