“Protestant Porter”

In the tumultuous Irish arguments of the early 1800s Arthur Guinness II – a Protestant - was a vocal supporter of greater freedoms for the Catholic population, but he would not support violent overthrow of the English government.  It was a middle-of-the-road stance that saw him attacked from both sides. Some of his Protestant peers rejected his liberalism and Catholics condemned his Protestantism.

Controversy erupted in the winter of 1812-13 when a group of extreme Protestants in Dublin circulated a petition to Parliament against concessions to Catholics. Among the signatures was one Richard Guinness of Nicholas Street and this was seized on by critics of the Guinness family. In fact, the signature was a forgery, and there was no such person in Nicholas Street, but it caused enough offence for the brothers running the brewery at the time – Arthur II, Benjamin, and William – to placed advertisements in local newspapers offering a £500 reward to anybody who secured successful conviction of the fraudsters. 

A few months later there was an even more bizarre attack on the firm. A Dublin doctor, John Brennan, edited a magazine known as the “Milesian Monthly”, which despite its title was published just nine times between 1812 and 1825.   Dr Brennan’s forte was ridicule and his targets were anybody in public life he disliked, often members of his own profession. In 1813 it was the Guinnesses. “Poisonous doctrines were propagated through the medium of porter, principles totally subversive of the Catholic faith,” he wrote.

Brennan claimed that analysis had revealed the brewers of anti-Popery porter had mashed up Protestant Bibles and Methodist hymnbooks in the brew, thus impregnating the porter with the pure ethereal essence of heresy. Over the years, he said, the Guinnesses had consumed 136,000 tons of Bibles and 501,000 cartloads of hymn books and Protestant catechisms. The analyst concluded that drinkers of this tainted brew suffered lax bowels and “sang praises to the Lord through the nose”.

As might be expected, Guinness (and Catholic leaders), rejected charges of any such proselytising through their product.

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