Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Great War at the Guinness Storehouse

During this year, the 100th anniversary of the first full year of WWI, there is a clatter of talks, seminars, plays, re-enactments and the rest taking place throughout the country.

Myles Dungan, known to the public for his weekly history show on RTÉ radio and his book on WWI, brought his Great War Roadshow into partnership the the Guinness Archive for a day to give us an excellent conference on various aspects of the war.

The Archive contributed this fine hall in the Guinness Storehouse, along with an early morning coffee and pastries, and, once inside the building, you could do the tour for free during the lunch break.

Trish Fallon

Trish Fallon, from the Archive, welcomed us all in great style, brought us up to date with the location's housekeeping, and offered us the continuing cooperation of the Archive in our historical and genealogical endeavours.

Myles Dungan

Myles Dungan, effectively MC for the day, kicked off with his own contribution, appropriately titled Lions, Donkeys and Paddies: The Irish Experience of the Great War.

He took us through a wide range of material, including the Gallipoli campaign, and identified some of the donkeys whose names had a familiar ring, Haig and Gough among them. Others I had not heard of but they didn't bring any credit on themselves or their country.

Ciarán Wallace

Ciarán Wallace, of UCD, in a talk entitled Keeping the Home Fires Burning: Civilian Life in Wartime Ireland, gave us a fascinating overview of the home front, a front that tends to be forgotten in the heat of battle. We heard of families trying to cope with rising prices, of the munitions factories which gave some employment, of the resistance to conscription, and of the dreaded telegrams from the front.

Upside down union jack, shell factory, Parkgate St.

I was amused by this detail from his picture of the Shell Factory at Parkgate St. One of the few occasions I have seen the Union Jack portrayed upside down. Those who know me will know that this is my version of bird watching.

Gordon Power

Gordon Power gave us Irish Military Genealogy 1900-1922 - Tracing your WW1 Ancestors.

He showed us the painstaking work involved in teasing out the whole story from genealogical and other records and dazzled us with his analysis of photographic material. Sherlock Holmes was only in the halfpenny place beside this guy.

Deirdre McParland

Deirdre McParland, the Guinness Archive Manager, spoke on Guinness and the War. A huge number of employees joined up with the encouragement of the company. Preference, if you can call it that in hindsight, was given to single men but volunteers came from all ranks and grades within the company right up to board level. Jobs were held open for those lucky enough to survive the conflict and this applied whether or not they were fit for work on return.

Incidentally, a very abbreviated version of the Guinness Archive can now be interrogated online and if you find an employee who is a direct ancestor you can get a copy of their employment records.

So, if you are doing your family tree and are related to, but not descended from, a Guinness employee you'd better buttonhole a surviving direct descendant to accompany you on your trip into the Archive. I was lucky enough to get in before these restrictions applied and I have the records of some of my cousins. They are absolutely fascinating. [Lest I get anyone into trouble, I should say that I have shared these records with my cousin, who is a direct descendant, and he is perfectly happy with me having them.] So, if you're in my position, get hold your Guinness descendants while there are some of them still around and get in there quick.

Brendan McQuaile

Finally, Brendan McQuaile gave us March Away My Brothers in which he acted out the journey of a young lad, Lar Kelly, from Bridgefoot Street in the Liberties. This took us just up to the 1914 Christmas Truce, soon after which Lar was blown to smithereens. Based very loosely on a real person, this was a combination of acting and song, got across with great gusto.

Memo: Four Generations of Coopers in Guinness - my cousins the Flemings.


Anonymous said...

Jobs were open to those who survived the conflict, whether or not they were fit to work? How times have changed in treatment of veterans!


Póló said...


Yes, the contrast is quite startling. A little different from smuggling body bags home under darkness and vets going gaga and ignored in isolated and underfunded vet's hospitals.

At the same time, you need to remember that Guinness was very much a socially responsible employer. If you got a job there you were looked after for life, provided you didn't dirty your bib.

Cadbury's was a similar type of firm in England at that time.

There was no welfare state as such. The state old age pension had only been introduced in 1909.

Guinness had long had occupational pensions and, as we were reminded by Deirdre at the conference, young girls were advised to marry a Guinness man as he was worth nearly as much dead as alive, so to speak.

My mother's people were brought up in James's St. beside the brewery so I have a particular interest in the area. An uncle and cousins of hers worked in Guinness's.

Having said all that the general story of returning vets from WWI is not a good one. The national mood had changed during the war, partly as a result of the 1916 rising and how the British authorities dealt with it, and partly due to British efforts to impose conscription, which were successfully defeated but which ignited much nationalist feelings. So coming home after having fought for the enemy, so to speak, frequently did not work out well.