Guinness is Good for You

For St. Patrick’s Day 2024, I’m taking a look at a new collection on Ancestry of Guinness records.

Guinness, in case you didn’t know, is one of Ireland’s most famous exports. The Guinness Store House is a top tourist attraction in Dublin. I actually don’t much like the black stuff, but I do recognise the cultural & historical importance of it and the family behind it. Far more interesting than the stout is the enormous contribution of Guinness family to Ireland. They were made peers in 1919 (the earldom of Iveagh). They were involved in brewing, banking and politics. The late music impresario Garech Browne, was a Guinness scion. His brother, Tara, inspired the Beatles’ song “A Day in the Life”. An incomplete list of properties/land which once belonged to them and are now owned by the state includes

Inside Iveagh House (my own photo)

They also were and are great philanthropists. The Iveagh Trust has provided social housing for over a century. My great-grandmother, Agnes Reilly, née Long, was widowed at a young age and had to support 4 children on her own. The Iveagh Trust provided her with a flat on Kevin’s St in Dublin, and my grandmother grew up there. Later, her two sisters lived there, and I remember visiting it as a small girl in the 1980s. I was able to get their application form from the Iveagh Trust, and I mention this to illustrate that there is much more in the Guinness archives than just the records of those who worked there.

Guinnesses were recognised as decent employers and people who worked for them were perceived to have a good job & well looked after. I thought there was a possibility that Agnes’s husband, Peter Reilly, may have worked for Guinness in some capacity, so I used his name as my test subject.

Ancestry previously had an index of employee names and then you would progress to the Guinness archives website to get material held offline. They have (or at least had) their own archivist who was very helpful. I’ve used them for client projects. The new collections on Ancestry are much more comprehensive. They’re free to use until 22nd March and then available to subscribers as usual. You can see from these dates that they cover a very long time.

The first collection has the most genealogical potential. Some of these records are just a name on a page, some of them pertain to pension entitlements, weekly wage rolls, etc. I didn’t find my Peter Reilly but I did find someone of the same name, who died in 1963. It listed his wife, when they married, children (including dates of birth), address, details of his employment, health and what was paid to him. He worked for Guinness for 13 years, and they paid a pension after his health declined. This single document would open the door to many other types of record for this family.

Elizabeth Reilly pension record

The Trade Ledgers are accounts mainly dealing with pubs purchasing Guinness for sale. If your ancestor ran a pub, you might find his name in these records. They have enormous potential for a social history project.

John Joseph Fox, Pelletstown, Blanchardstown

The third collection covers the largest period of time (1702-1945) but is also the smallest. Coopers were barrel makers, an essential part of brewing trade. It’s an alphabetical listing with dates and addresses, but could still help rule in or out someone with a common name.

Whatever you’re doing this St Patrick’s Day, make sure to celebrate the Irish people in your life or your ancestry. Choose your own drink though!

Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona daoibh.

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