Edited by Virginia Byrne:
A cairde (Friends-),
Driving westward along the south coast of Cork in June of 1967, I came upon three identical pubs, each no more than 100 yards apart from the other. The windowless east wall of the first pub displayed a mural proclaiming “Guinness is Good for You.” The message on the side of the second pub was “Beamish is Better.” On the third pub was the image of a strong man carrying a heifer on his shoulders, boasting “Murphy is Best.” I had regarded it as merely an imaginative lesson in marketing and grammar, but history shows there was more to the message.
Amid the tensions between Britain and Ireland in the late 1800’s over establishing domestic self-government in Ireland, called “Home Rule,” militias formed on both sides. The Ulster VolunteerForce, a unionist militia, was founded in 1912 to block Home Rule for Ireland, which was under British rule. Irish nationalists formed a rival militia, the Irish Volunteers, to defend Home Rule. In April, 1914, the Ulster Volunteer Force welcomed 25,000 German-made rifles and three million rounds of ammunition that had been successfully smuggled into Larne, a port north of Belfast.
Historian and Professor Ruán O’Donnell, of Limerick University, said the Guinness family, who were Irish unionists, donated the then-fortune of 10,000 pounds, the largest of the donations to the UVF arms fund. Brewery founder Arthur Guinness had been a Protestant unionist and had opposed to Irish independence. In response to the family’s UVF donation, nationalists boycotted Guinness products and drank Murphy’s instead. The “Home Rule Crisis” was halted by the outbreak of World War I in August, 1914.
Is Guinness really “Good for You?” Is there an answer? Ask any Corkman, over a pint of stout. Nor is there any record of Samuel Smith’s Brewery in Yorkshire, maker of oatmeal stout, supporting the Ulster Volunteer Force. When it comes to “black” politics, Guinness seems to win the loyalty prize.