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In the 1700’s the population of Dublin stood at just under 70,000. They were served by more than 1,500 taverns and hundreds of small breweries producing every manner of beer. In 1696 King Charles II incorporated the Brewers of Dublin by saying: “There are in or about our city of Dublin and the suburbs, liberties and two miles of the same, very many persons of the trade or mystery of brewers who might be better ordered and governed, and ale and beer to sell may be better and wholesomer boiled and brewed, if the said persons of the said trade or mystery of brewing were incorporated.”
However Kilkenny would be the home to Ireland’s first large commercial brewery which was founded by John Smithwick in 1710. The brewery was situated on the site of a Franciscan abbey which had brewed ale since the 14th century. John’s son Edmund (1800-1876) rebuilt and enlarged the brewery in 1827 and by the time of his death the company had built up a large export business. You’ll uncover a record Slater’s Directory on Findmypast which shows Edmund is listed as one of two brewers in the town.
In Dublin there were twelve breweries along the River Liffey by the end of the 18th century. The two largest being Guinness’s which had been founded in 1759 by Arthur Guinness in a disused warehouse and the Anchor Brewery, founded in 1740. Arthur Guinness was given the title of a Freeman of Dublin in 1790 as revealed in records on Findmypast.
The brewing boom continued with the opening of Beamish & Crawford brewery in Cork City in 1792. Daniel O’Connell even got in on the act helping his son Daniel junior to purchase the Phoenix Brewery in Dublin in 1831. They produced a popular brand known as “O’Connell’s Ale” until O’Connell junior decided to leave the brewing business to pursue a career in politics. A second Cork brewery would also open in 1856, Murphy’s Brewery.
The twentieth century would see a prolonged period of consolidation in the Irish brewing industry with Guinness going on to revolutionise the brewing and distribution of beer in Ireland. In turn they would roll over the competition of smaller brewers and buy out most of those based in Dublin, including O’Connell’s Phoenix brewery.
However the late 1990s witnessed a renaissance in micro-brewing in Ireland, which had been all but wiped out by the dominant Guinness and Murphy’s breweries, with the establishment of Biddy Early’s brewpub in Co. Clare in 1995 and the Dublin Brewing Company in Smithfield, Dublin in 1996. This was followed by a slew of other brewpubs and micro-breweries which have opened around the country in the last decade ensuring the continued health of Ireland’s brewing history.
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*Originally published in April 2015