As St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated across the globe, revelers will commonly share one thing in common: Guinness beer. A boon for the company, over 7.5 million pints are expected to be poured on March 17. Astonishingly, one fifth of all of the Guinness consumed comes from an unlikely country: Nigeria.
Such worldwide appeal for the beer makes sense, seeing the drink was commonly exported to Britain’s colonies and later Commonwealth nations. In the 1870s, India, Australia, Brazil, and the West Indies accounted almost £1 million in sales.
So, when celebrating the Catholic saint, Patrick, the choice is clear for many: drink Guinness.
Oddly enough, there has been rumors for years that the Guinness brewery refused to hire Catholics until the 1960s. Did this Protestant company really scorn the drinkers they depended on?
From most reports, the founder of Guinness Brewery, Arthur Guinness, was a strong proponent of the Catholics. Arthur was born and raised in the Church of Ireland, cousin of the Protestant Church of England. His grandfather, Richard Guinness, was the Archbishop of the church. It was the death of Richard which gave Arthur inheritance money which he used to build his first brewery at St. John’s Gate in Dublin.
Note: the lease for the premise was for 9,000 years. Nice move, Arthur.
Arthur Guinness was a liberal business owner who supported Catholic emancipation and parliamentary reform. However, when he died in 1855, his liberal leanings were not shared by his other family members. Arthur’s life wasn’t free of anti-Catholic controversy, however. In 1812, reports began sprouting that Arthur had been one of many who signed a document which advocated against reforms toward Catholics. While most regard the document as fake, more rumors were being spread, including that Guinness mashed up Bibles to put in their “Protestant Porter”. Arthur and religious authorities quashed these rumors, seen by many as simply a marketing ploy for other beers.
What cannot be disputed is the hiring tactics Guinness employed for a number of years. In 1911, only 35% of workers for Guinness, then the largest industrial employer in Dublin, were actually from the city. According to the company, “few town-bred men could satisfy requirements to the company regarding physique”. While men had to stand between 5’7” and 6’1”, with an additional weight requirement, it is a stretch to think Dublin men could not meet these standards. The best guess is that Guinness discriminated against Catholics, many of whom were considered strong drinkers, because Catholics weren’t dependable. Simply put, Protestants drank less, so Guinness hired them.
That said, it is not like Catholics weren’t hired. In James Joyce’s Stephen Hero, an autobiographical novel, Stephen, a Catholic, is recruited to work as a clerk at Guinness, by a Jesuit priest.
Cover image from Creative Commons.