Following a post on the forums from a member of ICB asking about old breweries, it occurred to me that given my career path -- firstly as a land surveyor working in an archaeological research institution, to developing Geographic Information Systems for organisations such as Ordnance Survey Ireland and the Department of the Environment -- I have had maps and documents pass through my hands that provided a rich foundation for finding out more about where our native breweries were at a time when there were certainly far more than there are now, and when the surveyors recorded the finest detail about their surroundings: the early 19th Century. Armed with an online copy of A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland by Samuel Lewis from 1837, I set out to find all references he made to breweries in the places he describes, and to put them on a map for all to see.
Lewis' Topographical Dictionary is a huge piece of work, boasting an extensive list of parishes, towns and villages, and providing varying levels of detail and facts about those places. Perhaps a dry read, but very entertaining at times, and always interesting, especially if you are familiar with the place about which he is writing. Although Lewis certainly wasn't going to mention every brewery operating at the time, I knew he would probably mention breweries where they were a significant part of a town's commerce, and that would be as good a start point as any.
The first pass of Lewis' Topographical Dictionary produced over seventy placenames where one or more breweries were mentioned. Lewis covered such a wide area, his descriptions varied considerably in depth. I think it was easy to tell places that he only visitied briefly, if at all, where he might say "there is a brewery", to slightly more detailed entries such as that for Ennis, County Clare:
At Clonroad is the extensive brewery of Messrs. Harley and Co., who are also about to re-establish a distillery formerly carried on at that place; and there is a smaller brewery in the town; the Ennis ale is in great repute.
or this entry for Ratass (Rathass?), County Kerry
Messrs. Newell and Grant's distillery and Mr. Bender's brewery are situated at Ballymullen, and together with a considerable portion of the parish, are within the limits of the borough of Tralee, under which head they are noticed. Several neat houses have been built in this suburb, and it is probable that in the course of a few years the buildings will be extended to the town, about a quarter of a mile distant.
Yes, a Mr. Bender owning a brewery in Ratass. You couldn't make this up!
Organising all of this information into a small database with the County, placename, an extract of Lewis' description and my own comments meant each place could be visited in turn to see if a brewery could be found marked on a map. But what maps?
The best maps for that period are without doubt the First Edition Six Inch maps from Ordnance Survey. Between 1829 and 1841 the Ordnance Survey worked from North to South mapping the whole island at a scale of 6 inches to 1 mile (1:10,560 in metric terms). Ireland was the first country in the world to be completely and comprehensively mapped at such a detailed scale. While this was largely for land valuation and taxation reasons, they provide a wonderful snapshot in time of Ireland before the famine, when the population was at its highest, and are a credit to the skills of the surveyors and cartographers of the time.
Once at the right town or parish, it's simply a matter of looking very closely, squinting frequently, to see if the surveyors marked the fact that a brewery was in the town or village mentioned. I'm happy to say that, such was the diligence of the land surveyors of the time, quite frequently a brewery was easily found, along with other building types like distilleries, mills, lunatic asylums, nunneries and tanneries, the latter two of which caused me much confusion at times, as they both look like the word brewery when the text is unclear, and you want it to be a brewery! For a small proportion of those marked breweries, Ordnance Survey had actually labelled the name of the brewery, not just with the generic “Brewery”. Hence “Ovoca Brewery” just north of Arklow, Co. Wicklow and “Cornwalls Brewery” in Bandon, Co. Cork amongst others.
However, there were plenty of other sources that would provide addresses of breweries operating at different periods. Thanks to our own John Duffy (TheBeerNut), who trawled directories from the period in question and extracted lists from books I could not access online, a more complete view of the breweries started emerging, allowing more names to be given to what were, till then, just points on a map. Who else but a librarian would have such dedication? Referencing a work by William P. Coyne which was originally written as a handbook for the Irish pavilion at the Glasgow International Exhibition in 1901 and later revised and expanded, Coyne listed breweries operating at that time, and also lamented the passing of numerous breweries in the preceding decades. Along with references from the classic Directories of the day, such as Thoms', Shaw and the Pettigrew Almanac, these provided names for breweries already identified on the maps, in addition to identifying “new” breweries, allowing us to use the address so a location could be established.
Kieron Goucher (n1mbus), who works for a large archaeological consultancy, was able to provide more detailed documentary and physical evidence based on work carried out by his colleagues. This has provided the history of ownership, dates of establishment and closure for a number of breweries in the Dublin area.
Of course a number of texts and sources have all been pulled together, some with meagre snippets of information, and some which provided the bulk of information for a particular area, for example, The Industrial Archaeology of Cork City and its Environs by Colin Rynne which provided the most detailed location maps for the breweries of Cork city along with the years of establishment. Additional sources are listed below in a Bibliography.
So, what are the results of all of this? I wanted to create a map to make it easier to visualise the distribution of breweries in the nineteeth century, and what better way to present this than Google Maps? Google Maps will allow you to visualise the locations in the modern context at least, and it is a vastly changed landscape from that in which these breweries originally operated. If you would like to see the breweries in their original context, I suggest taking yourself to a local library that has access to Ordnance Survey Ireland's historical maps online, which provides you with free access to these beautiful maps. I believe you can even print extracts for a small fee.
But before you do that, here is the map of the breweries mapped to date as part of this project. There are over 160 breweries on this map, so you will need to zoom in to those areas where they are densly clustered to see the individual locations. And of course click on the marker symbols to get some information on the brewery itself.
Green markers mean that both a document and map reference was found. Orange signifies that just a map reference was found, typically a building marked as Brewery on the map. Red indicates a document reference, but no exact location has been determined yet.
To put things into perspective, the list below presents a county-by-county count of the breweries mapped at the time of writing.
The Lost Breweries Project
You'll notice that I have not provided details of individual breweries in this article. This is for two reasons. One, you can see some summary comments linked to the marker symbols in Google Maps and Google Earth, just click on them. And really, a picture does paint a thousand words in this case. But the information attached to these points on the map is short, and essentially captures what we had to work with initially.
Secondly, and most importantly, we have decided to establish a Community Research project, which we are simply calling the ICB Lost Breweries Project, based on a Wiki. We will set up the framework and populate it with what information we currently have, and then it's up to you, the members, to contribute what knowledge you can from your own local research. There is nothing like local knowledge to really fill in details, and if you can find photos, recipes, or even just stories from old men whose great grandfathers drank a pint of something made in one of these breweries, then they won't be forgotten.
The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that we have left out several "significant" breweries that are currently in operation. While these breweries (Guinness, Murphy's, Beamish & Crawford etc...) all have a long history, the main reason for creating this database and Wiki is to gather information about the forgotton breweries of Ireland; those that fell under the weight of industrialisation, and finally the globalisation and homogenisation of the brewing industry in Ireland. The big boys have enough written about them, and they certainly dominate the texts we have been using on this first pass of research. We hope to try and redress this imbalance, albeit in our own small way, by getting the community to reach back in time and help assemble as much about the lost breweries as possible in one online resource.
Once we decide on a platofrm that provides the flexibility we require to open this to the commiunity, we'll get you to do some detective work.
However, in order not to be looking at the past with extremely rose-tinted glasses, I'll end this piece with another classic quote from Hely Dutton, who writing of County Clare in 1808, said:
The beer or ale of this county is a most abominable compound, indeed not worse than the trash made in almost every part of Ireland; it is astonishing how those of better rank can taste it, but habit will lower the palate down to any standard of depravity; happily the brewers are gradually receiving their just punishment, in the encreasing use of water at table in preference to their poisonous mixtures. It is not a little surprising that, some one honest brewer does not break through this abombination against the health of the public, and brew, as formerly, pale ale with hops and malt alone; but they have been so long used to drugs I suppose they have lost the art: if such a man could be found, an ample fortune would attend him. It is very extraordinary, that those, who are fond of good and wholesome beer, do not brew for themselves, for, independent of having a wholesome beverage, they would have what is very difficult to be procured, good barm, which, as every family must bake, becomes a matter of no small moment; from want of this indispensable ingredient, heavy unwholesome bread may frequently be seen at the tables of the rich, though, where it can be procured, the bread of this county is generally excellent.
Living history; pure entertainment!
Sincere thanks are due to the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Ireland, for kindly allowing me to use the First Edition Six Inch maps, and for permission to reproduce sections on this website.
I would also like to thank Gareth John of the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (NIAH), Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government for creating an extract of the NIAH database for me that contains references to breweries within the archive. This will be used to provide links to the NIAH Buildings of Ireland website where appropriate so more details of extant buildings can be accessed.
This is a list of works used in this first pass of the mapping project. A full Bibliography should grow along with the Wiki.
Coyne, William P. (ed.), Ireland: industrial and agricultural (Dublin: Browne and Nolan, 1902), pp. 451-493.
Dutton, Hely, Statistical Survey of the County of Clare: With Observations on the Means of Improvement (Dublin: Dublin Society, 1808). Available online.
Dutton, Hely, Statistical Survey of the County of Galway: With Observations on the Means of Improvement (Dublin: Dublin Society, 1824). Available online.
Lewis, Samuel, A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (London: S. Lewis, 1837). Available online.
Rynne, Colin, The Industrial Archaeology of Cork City and its Environs (Dublin, Stationery Office, 1999), pp. 40-57.
Spellissy, Seán, The History of Limerick (Limerick: Celtic Bookshop, 1998), pp. 187, 189.