It used to be my party-piece ... the story of how, back in the late 1770s, Arthur Guinness (1725–1803) was brewing some traditional ale when he made an error and accidentally ‘burnt’ the malted barley and, in so doing, ‘discovered’ porter, the black nectar that now bears his name.
It was almost as if I had been there, hiding in the shadows, watching Arthur, his sleeves rolled up, his cap at a jaunty angle, holding a pint glass of unintended ‘blackness’ as he scrutinises the error of his ways.
Already exhausted from having fathered 21 children, and about to throw the black stuff down the drain, he takes a whiff and then a sip and, as the consternation on his face slowly morphs into a grin, then a broad smile, he lets out a whoop of delight.
His whooping becomes infectious and his workforce, sensing life-changing news, toss their caps in the air while the joy of anticipation resounds round the Dublin brewery, the 9000-year lease for which Arthur had acquired a few years earlier.
As Arthur’s workers scramble around the floor looking for the right cap, the man himself rushes off to check the lease, still unaware that his brewing screw-up will give the world a new word ... Guinness.
A great story but, alas, apart from the 9000-year lease bit, complete nonsense and one of many that seems to surround the brewing legacy of the Guinness family. Nevertheless, and give him his due, he did father 21 children though probably not by the age of 34 when he signed the lease on the brewery.
Porter had been around since Arthur was a teenager but it was not until 1778 (by which time he could well have fathered close to 21 children) that Arthur Guinness started selling his porter and began his journey towards world domination.
The Guinness family became respected and venerated but it was Arthur Guinness’ great-grandson, Arthur Edward Guinness (1840–1915), who was to become the next notable in the family tree, so much so that there are those who still think it was he who first brewed Guinness, a myth still perpetuated on what appear to be knowledgeable websites.
Frequently described as an Irish businessman, politician, and philanthropist (the latter accolade for returning St Stephen’s Green to the people of Dublin), Arthur Edward Guinness was Irish by birth but born into an Ireland which at the time was a satellite of Britain and with the same propensity to reward its well-off families, particularly those who were not inclined to upset the apple cart in respect of Irish Home Rule.
It was not surprising therefore that, having been a Conservative MP for the City of Dublin, in 1880 Arthur was raised to the peerage and became Baron Ardilaun of Ashford in the County of Galway.
Just as his great-grandfather gave the world the name Guinness, it was Arthur Edward who gave us the name Ardilaun, a distinguished name that, no matter how hard you try, does not roll off the tongue when you add the words ‘a pint of’, does it?
Alas, all this talk of Guinness is giving me a thirst and sadly, at the time of writing, neither I nor Ardilaun guests can slake our thirsts in the authentic and relaxing ambience of an Irish, drink-only, bar. That said, the sights and sounds remain in the mind’s eye, a place where bar-tops and tables are covered in expertly-drawn pints surrounded by the chatter, good-humour and outstretched hands of local people.
When things do get back to normal, remind me to take you on a mini-tour of Ennis in search of the best pints of the black stuff.