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Arthur Guinness – An Irishman and a Christian


Galatians 6:9-10 And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.

Have you ever had a pint of Guinness? In my humble opinion, – it’s FOUL! I simply can’t understand why anyone would want to go out and drink eight pints of that stuff in one evening. Yet they do!

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So, I’m wondering have you ever seen a bottle of Guinness? There’s a signature on that bottle, or can, ARTHUR GUINNESS. The Guinness company have been promoting that in recent years with their ‘Arthur’s day’ advert, every September, when we are all invited to raise a glass of Guinness ‘To Arthur.’ I would venture to suggest that Arthur Guinness would be turning in his grave at that! So, who was Arthur Guinness?

Arthur was born in 1725 in Ireland, (just 35 years after the Battle of the Boyne) and was brought up within the Church of Ireland. His uncle, Rev Arthur Price was the Archbishop of Cashel, and he left Arthur a legacy, a gift of £100 in his will! That was a huge amount of money, and with that money Arthur opened his first brewery in Leixlip. Now, before we start to criticise Arthur for his chosen profession, let’s remember what living conditions were like in that period in Irish history.

Remember that the people of those days had no knowledge of microbiology or bacteriology. No-one knew how diseases spread, and recycling hadn’t been invented! So when they dumped their rubbish and waste, they often contaminated the very water sources which supplied their drinking water. Worse still sewage waste ran down the streets and into the rivers. The infection rate in towns and cities was high, and many people died.

The result was that people began to drink alcohol instead of water, to avoid the possibility of infection (The alcohol killed the germs). Many were able to take this in moderation and benefit from it, but many couldn’t. And the fact that the government had forbidden the importation of alcohol in 1689, and the people were setting up illegal stills and distilling their own spirits, with high alcohol levels made the situation much worse. The consequences were inevitable. Some historians refer to this time as the ‘gin years’ – when drunkenness, debauchery, robbery and murder made Irish towns and cities very unsafe places to be.

It was this awful situation that inspired people like Arthur Guinness to set up small breweries. He wanted to on prove the social conditions but how could he, when so many were either dying of illness or falling victim to drunkenness? There was one way. He could open a brewery! Arthur wanted to make an alcoholic drink that would be clean and infection free, and full of goodness so that poor people could have some nourishment, and of course, compared to the poteen the illicit distillers were making, its alcohol content was very low indeed. Guinness killed the germs that were in the water, and was actually nutritious! (So the old Guinness advertisement was rightly able to claim, “Guinness is Good for You!”) A bottle of Guinness a day is still a great tonic, and until we became politically correct every patient in the old geriatric wards of our hospitals had a bottle of Guinness every evening to drink.

So, young Arthur Guinness soon became very wealthy, and eventually opened up his new brewery in Dublin. As recent Guinness ads have reminded us, he took a 9,000 year lease on the 4-acre brewery at St. James’s Gate for an annual rent of £45.

It was there in Dublin that he attended a service in St Patrick’s Cathedral, to hear an evangelist called John Wesley. Wesley preached about Christ, and Him crucified for sinners. Those meetings continued and during those services Arthur Guinness the brewer came to saving faith in Christ! What a difference that made! He’d been set free from sin through the unconditional love of the Saviour, and his determination to help others in service to Jesus became the driving force of his life.

Arthur dedicated his life and his wealth to the service of those who were poor. He founded and financed the first Sunday Schools in Ireland. He was one of a number of men who founded and run a hospital for the poor, he donated vast sums of money to charity, to care for the poor and he spoke out against the materialism and the selfish uncaring attitudes of the wealthy classes.

To work for Guinness in those days was a great privilege. In a day when people laboured almost slavishly for meagre wages, Arthur cared for his workers. He was the best employer in Ireland, provided them with homes to live in and medicine and good salaries.

Arthur married Olivia Whitmore, whose father was a grocer in the Temple Bar area of Dublin. The married in St Mary’s Church in 1761. Together they had 21 children, – infant mortality rates were high, and only ten of them made it to adulthood. Their family descendants have included politicians and statesmen, bankers, missionaries and pastors. The Marquess of Dufferin and Ava (Bangor) was a Guinness descendant. A Guinness was for a time the Speaker of the New Zealand Parliament. Oz Guinness is a popular Christian apologist and author. He tells the story of an Irish widow who had fled to Scotland with her own two children; her intention had been to commit suicide. But in Scotland she heard the gospel and was saved! She returned to Ireland where she met one of the Arthur Guinnes’s boys and they married. Every day she prayed for their children – not just her own children, but for the next twelve generations of Guinness children. As an answer to her prayers, that line of the family has kept the faith of their forefather Arthur, and four generations later her family are believers in Christ! What faith! She took God at His word, ‘For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.’ Luke 1:49-50

Arthur was a huge influence for good in Irish society. He died in September 1803, and his mortal remains are buried in Co. Kildare. We will meet him in glory!

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