I didn’t just read Irish fiction to get ready for my trip; I also read up on the history of the country, which is complicated, to say the least. Everything seems to be political – the religion(s), the music, the symbolism, the architecture, the literature… even the beer has its place in history and politics!
This is how I ended up reading Stephen Mansfield’s The Search for God and Guinness, which I mistakenly picked up thinking it was a straightforward history of the Guinness family and their beer, but which turned out to be an examination of how the Guinness’s faith influenced their business practices.
Mansfield’s book began with Arthur Guinness (1725-1803), the founder of the Guinness brewery, who created the recipe for “the black stuff” that has become so famous around the world, and so synonymous with Irish beer. Back in the day, virtually everyone brewed their own beer; it was often safer to drink than water, and was part of daily life. Pubs, or public houses, operated in every city and county across Ireland, and were popular meeting places after work, where men would come to drink the beer that was often brewed by the pub itself. In Dublin, at the famous brewery at St. James’s Gate, Arthur Guinness began brewing his dry stout and selling it to pubs, where it was not only popular because of the taste, but because of its “health benefits” – Guinness was less likely to get people harmfully or dangerously intoxicated than the cheap gin that was prevalent across the country. In fact, Guinness was marketed as a health drink, with the tagline ” Guinness is Good for You.”
The Guinness family was motivated by a strong Christian faith and by a desire to do good for their city, their country, and their people. Arthur Guinness actually heard John Wesley, founder of the Methodist denomination, preach in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and was inspired by Wesley’s call to do good with his wealth – so that’s exactly what Arthur and all subsequent owners of the brewery would do. Guinness brewery workers enjoyed excellent health care, as did their families, and health inspectors and educators would visit their homes to help them learn how to keep them clean and prevent the spread of disease. Guinness arranged for educational courses on housekeeping, safety, sanitation, and personal development for women, believing that a home would rise to the level of education and success of its mother. They paid for workers and their families to have a holiday in the country, getting them out of the city and into the fresh air. Workers who left to fight in World Wars I and II returned home to find their jobs waiting and their families well cared for by the company. In fact, during World War II, Guinness provided every British soldier with a pint of Guinness for his Christmas meal, to give them a taste of home during troubled times.
This is a really interesting, short book – a quick read that will give you a glimpse into a specific (and very uplifting!) angle of Irish history and accomplishment.