What is Arthur’s Day? And who’s this Arthur?
Is this a day when they celebrate King Arthur in England? No. And besides, King Arthur is part of Welsh, not English, mythology. The Arthur of whom I speak is the Creator...of Guinness. And Arthur Guinness actually does have a good deal of myth surrounding him. Legends of Guinness are shrouded in myth and extraordinary fact. “Did he really have 21 children?” “Is the drink's water sourced from the not-so-clean River Liffey?” “Did he really begin the Guinness empire with just the £100 in his pocket that he received as an inheritance?” And the simple questions like “Did he invent that Guinness drink, then?”
Yes. No. Not exactly. And no, surprisingly!
Arthur had a little bit more than the £100 his godfather gave him and, amazingly, Arthur Guinness never invented what you and I know as Guinness!
When he started his brewery at St. James’s Gate in Dublin in 1759, Arthur was brewing ales. In the 1770s, he started brewing porters. Porter is ale made with roasted barley, hence the black colour. In 1779, he decided to brew only porters. In 1826, it was his son who developed the recipe for the stout porter that you and I know today as Guinness Stout.
So does that mean that when we’re celebrating Arthur’s Day it’s really just a lie? And that this annual event which the Irish have celebrated since times immemorial (or 2009) is based on nothing? I wouldn’t say that. Arthur’s Day was first celebrated in 2009 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the Guinness Brewery at St. James’s Gate. And, in keeping with the number 1759, 17:59 or 5.59pm is the culmination of the working day, when drinkers “raise a glass to Arthur” in appreciation of his achievements. These achievements include not only setting up one of the most renowned and successful breweries in history but also his and his family’s contribution to Dublin and Ireland. Sir Benjamin Guinness funded the restoration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, his second son, Edward Guinness, Lord Iveagh, set up the Iveagh Trust to house the poor and homeless (which continues today in Ireland and Britain), and Lord Ardilaun, Benjamin’s eldest son, bought and landscaped one of Dubliners’ most treasured sites – St. Stephen’s Green.
The brewery and the family itself are very interesting to research. And I know well myself, giving, as I do, The Black Tale of Guiness Tour every weekend during summer and every Saturday in the off-season. It’s a great way to learn more about the legends, the man, and the great neighbourhood of The Liberties. And it takes you right from St. Patrick’s Cathedral to the entrance of the Guinness Storehouse.
Of course, the Guinness brewery is a business and sure even though we’d be celebrating the irrelevant 253rd anniversary, why wouldn’t they keep the celebrations going every year? It’s nearly regarded as a St. Patrick’s Day II by Dubliners who love an excuse to celebrate. So I will be raising a glass to Arthur. Yes, even though he didn’t create that beautiful smooth stout.
Well, to be honest, I’m pulling yer leg a bit.
You see, Arthur Guinness’s son was also called Arthur Guinness.
If you're headed to Dublin or anywhere in the 32 Irish counties, be sure to check out one of the 500 free live music events celebrating Arthur's Day on September 27. You can learn more about the 2012 celebrations and see a schedule of events here: Arthur's Day 2012.