Sep 302019

This is the concluding part of my various blogs re-visiting some of my Irish-themed posts – a repeat of a post made seven years ago when I paid a visit to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin:

As a young boy at boarding school (yes, thanks for reminding me, I am talking about half a century ago…) I recall the excitement of opening a parcel from Guinness containing a poster designed to go on the side of a London bus. Proudly I stuck it up on two walls of the dorm: there in foot-high letters was the slogan known to everyone –  “GUINNESS IS GOOD FOR YOU”. Fast forward fifty years and no doubt there are laws against encouraging minors to partake of alcohol, just as there are rules in small print urging the consumer to ‘drink sensibly’. And of course, the slogan itself is banned. It is enough that we all know it does us good, but Guinness is not allowed to make the claim because it cannot be proved…

And what of the man, good old Arthur? For years no-one was quite sure of his date of birth, which made it awkward to have a decent bi-centennial celebration to mark the occasion. So, when it came to the 275th anniversary some Dr Spin at Guinness decided that the great day was actually … 24th September 1725. No matter that Arthur’s gravestone at Oughterard states that he was 78-years-old when he died on 23rd January 1803, indicating that he was in fact born sometime in 1724 or early 1725. A specific date is easy to commemorate, and slowly the custom of ‘Arthur’s Day’ is catching on. The first ‘Arthur’s Day’ took place on 24th September 2009, to celebrate 250 years of the Guinness Company – 250 years since Arthur signed the lease on the St. James’s Gate brewery. This year it occurs on 27th September (cue much musical celebration and consumption of dark liquid). Rumour has it that in fact the timing of Arthur’s Day has more to do with the fact that it is roughly six months after St Patrick’s Day – a good and timely marketing ploy! At one minute to six o’clock (that is, at 17.59) there is a toast to commemorate the 1759 founding of the Guinness brewery empire.

Quite a bit is known about Arthur’s family, most of it contradictory! His father was Richard Guinness, and when he was a young man he moved to County Kildare and one story has it that he sold milk from a roadside stall near Celbridge, just down the road from a stall run by local farmer William Read (who sold home-brewed ale). The two became friends, no doubt in part over a drop of home-brew, but also because Read had a daughter called Catherine. Richard and Catherine decided to get married.

One other resident in Celbridge was a certain Dr Price, a man whose religious calling did not preclude him from owning a small malt-house in Celbridge (where a pub called The Mucky Duck now stands). Dr Price was busy moving up his professional ladder, ending up in 1744 as Archbishop of Cashel. His responsibilities meant that he needed a land agent – someone responsible for collecting the episcopal rents throughout the county – and Richard somehow persuaded the good Reverend to give him the job. He lived at the malt-house, the better to perform his duties which included brewing beer for workers on Dr Price’s estate.

In  1722 the Archbishop had taken over James Carberry’s  malting house in Celbridge, where Richard and Elizabeth lived in the early years of their marriage. Perhaps the Archbishop was inspired by Richard’s ability to “make a brew of very palatable nature.”

Richard and Catherine had at least 5 children, of whom Arthur was one. Richard not only named the baby Arthur (in honour of the Archbishop) but inveigled him into becoming the lad’s godfather, a shrewd move as it  turned out…

                                    The Courtyard Hotel by the banks of the River Liffey

Dr Price died in 1752 leaving Richard Guinness, and also Arthur Guinness his godson, the sum of one hundred pounds each. Arthur was 27 years old, and suddenly he had money. He also appears to have acquired the skills necessary to brew beer commercially, probably from working at a local brewery. His mother had died in 1742, and his father remarried to Elizabeth Clare whose family owned an inn in Celbridge. This may have been called The Bear & Ragged Staff or possibly the White Hart Inn – who cares, it is now the site of a Londis supermarket, and no, it doesn’t merit a photograph!

Arthur used his inheritance in 1755 to develop a brewery at the Leixlip site, some 17 kilometres from Dublin (the site of the current Courtyard Hotel in Leixlip). The venture prospered, and after a couple of years he handed over the brewery to his younger brother Richard and headed off to the bright lights of the big city. The year was 1759 and history was about to be made.

It wasn’t an easy time in the industry – the English had imposed tax tariffs in an attempt to stop England being flooded with Irish beer. Undaunted, Arthur found a four-acre derelict brewery site in the centre of the city of Dublin, at St James Gate, and signed a 9000 year lease at a rent of £45 pa on 31st December 1759.

That month Arthur entered his signature, as a new brewer, in the Minute Book of the Dublin Brewers and Maltsters Corporation. Within eight years he had risen to become Warden and then Master of the that body. He was also one of the four brewers’ guild representatives on Dublin Corporation.

In the spring of 1761 Arthur married Olivia Whitmore. She was a 19-year-old heiress from Dublin, the daughter of a prosperous merchant family. Arthur and Olivia had 21 children, ten of whom lived to adulthood. From 1764 their country home was at Beaumont House (now Beaumont Convalescent Home). And if having 21 children doesn’t say something about the efficacy of the family product, then I don’t know what does!

The first hint of an export trade occurred around 1769 when there is a reference to six and a half barrels of ‘Dublin Ale’ being shipped to England, notwithstanding the punitive tax. By then Arthur was experimenting with porter, a drink named after the street and river porters in the City of London and who were apparently especially partial to a glass or two after a hard day’s work. Or even, instead of a hard day’s work…

Shrewdly,  Arthur  engaged members of the Purser family who had come over to Dublin from London, where they already had an established track record of brewing porter. Together they forged a partnership which was to dominate the brewery scene.

Coopers making barrels (18th Century).

Surviving excise data shows that by 1778 Arthur was selling porter to England. It wasn’t always plain sailing. The records show that in 1775 Dublin Corporation tried to make him pay for his water supply notwithstanding the fact that his 9000 year lease included water rights. When the Sheriff and a group of men turned up at St James’s Gate to cut off his water source, Arthur seized a pick-axe from one of the men and began to shout ‘with very much improper language that they should not proceed.’ Unwilling to risk further ire, the sheriff and his men beat a hasty if undignified retreat…

A considerable expansion to the brewery was started in 1797 and in 1799 the family took the major step of stopping the brewing of ale, so that it could focus solely on “Guinness’s Extra Strong Porter”

In time this porter developed into ‘stout’ (meaning ‘strong’). It came about after the 1817 invention of patent malt (i.e. malted barley roasted until black). It gave the brew a distinctive burnt flavour and, in 1840, the stout was renamed “Guinness Extra Stout”

By the time Arthur died the brewery was producing some 20,000 barrels a year. Affectionately, both Arthur and his product had become known as ‘Uncle Arthur’ throughout the city. Arthur was buried in his mother’s burial plot at Oughterard, County Kildare in January 1803.

Thereafter the business expanded rapidly throughout Europe and the rest of the world, aided and abetted by distinctive advertising campaigns which are nothing if not memorable. Which is where I came in at the start with my poster at boarding school. Here are just a few of the splendid posters from the post-War years (oh, and one which came out very much earlier, possibly in 1794). I will leave it to the readers to work out which is which, promoting what James Joyce formerly (nay, famously) feted as “The Free,  the Flow, the Frothy Freshener”

























For much of the history I am indebted to the Guinness site at and in particular to Eibhlin Roche, Guinness Archivist.


Post script: one of the reasons for this post is that my ancestor Richard Hall had a brother-in-law called William Snooke. His diary contains an intriguing entry for July 1774, suggesting that he made a purchase of “Light Guinness”. This was just a few years after the first recorded imports of ‘Dublin Ale’. Was ‘Dublin Ale’ known as ‘Light Guinness’? If so it suggests an early familiarity with the brand name.

Sep 232019

One of the highlights of my visit to Dublin was the chance to go round Casino Marino on the outskirts of that beautiful city. It may be called a “casino” but it has nothing to do with gambling – it is simply a building in the Marino area of the city and the name translates roughly as ‘The small house by the little sea’. Small maybe, but beautifully formed, and if ever a building is like a Tardis it is this one.

James Caulfeild, 1728 – 1799

Construction work started in the 1750’s on the direction of James Caulfeild, the First Earl of Charlemont, following the design of his friend Sir William Chambers. Sir William is better known for designing Somerset House and the irony is that because of his other work commitments Sir William never got to Ireland to see his masterpiece.

Sir William later wrote in his book The Treatise on Civil Architecture (1791) that the ideas for the Casino were derived from an un-executed design for ‘one of the end pavilions of a considerable disposition made soon after my return from Italy….for Harewood House.’

The Earl wanted an Italianate temple, in the neo-classical style, but he also wanted one with 16 rooms. It is fifty foot square, a masterpiece of elegance, balance and attention to detail. Work continued on the house until the 1770’s but within a hundred years the building had fallen into neglect. In 1876 the Charlemont Estate was sold, and the Earl’s nearby home was demolished in the 1920’s. Meanwhile the Casino remained in a state of disrepair until 1930 when an Act of Parliament was enacted to allow it to be taken into state ownership. Recently restored by the Office of Public Works, the building now stands as a perfect example of Chambers’ work and the cultural aspirations of the Irish ruling classes.

From the outside all is symmetry. Clever positioning of stone balustrades disguise the fact that it is on three floors – you only see one floor from outside. It is designed on the plan of a Greek Cross, with a column on the end of each arm of the cross. But while these columns mark the symmetry, some are hollow and bring rainwater down off the roof. Chimneys are disguised by giant urns along the roof. Clever concave glass in the windows mean that from the outside you cannot see in, hiding the fact that one large window frequently serves two, and sometimes three, rooms on the inside.

The interior is beautifully decorated with ornate ceilings and plasterwork.

There is an elaborate, if tiny, entrance area with beautifully ornate parquet floors. These exquisite floors, using rare woods, continue throughout the house.



The casino was not really designed as a home – that was a few hundred yards away, but it was linked to the Earl’s house by an underground tunnel so that he could escort his friends to the building in secrecy, and so that servants could come and go unnoticed. There is a library, rooms to display objets d’art, niches for Roman statuary, a kitchen and, upstairs, a State Bedroom.

The Casino remains as one man’s determination to encapsulate in a single building all that he found perfect on his Grand Tour. It was a tour which had taken the Earl nine years, travelling through Italy, Greece, Turkey and Egypt. Of course it is a shame that it is no longer linked to Marino House. Of course it is a pity that it is not still furnished with original pieces, or adorned with original paintings. And yes, it is a shame that constant wear and tear on the ornate floors by the public mean that carpet runners have had to be laid down as protection. But that is nit-picking: the place is a beautiful gem, well worth a visit! A more friendly, knowledgeable set of guides would be impossible to find. They are charming, like the building they so lovingly promote and look after.

Sep 162019

In connection with yesterday’s post about English attitudes towards their Irish and Scottish compatriots I  came across a pair of Gillrays (although he used the nom de plume ‘C Loraine Smith’ –  a dig at the landscape painter Claude Loraine) from 1805. Posting Scotland Gillray lwlpr11360The first, called ‘Posting in Scotland’ shows an old post-chaise coming round the corner on a steep bumpy road, breaking its axle and hurling the occupants onto the highway. A shepherd, swathed in tartan, sits watching as the horses, somewhat resembling asses, kick over the traces. Driver, postilion and  rider are all butt-naked, and the sheep are totally unperturbed by the commotion.

The caption, which I will not attempt to render into my mother tongue, is   “Hald your Haund Mun, hald your haund! – en troth mun: en gin you na mind yoursel you’l just make the Muckle Laird coupeing his creels.” I have no idea what ‘coupeing his creels’ means! All contributions gratefully received…*

posting ireland lwlpr11359Its companion piece had appeared the month before under the title of ‘Posting in Ireland’ and shows a coachman preparing to leave the coaching inn known as The New Thatched House Tavern, somewhere between Athlone and Ballyragget. The emaciated horses are rib-thin; there is an air of poverty about the place; and the sow and her piglets are devouring potatoes. The woman advances towards the decrepit carriage, with its thatched roof, wielding a red hot poker with which to brand the horses into action.

The driver explains to his fare: “Forward immediately your honour; but sure a’nt I waiting for the girl with the poker just to give this Mare a burn Your Honour, tis just to make her start your Honour.”  Needless to say the carriage is not going anywhere – the rim and spokes of its wheels are broken…

There are some lovely details in it – the sweep emerging from the chimney and giving a wave with his broom, the chicken on the roof of the coach pecking at the straw, the yokel waving a pitchfork.

As before, the images come courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library. They really are extraordinarily helpful – I e-mailed the Library, asking for seventeen high definition images for use in my forthcoming book “The Georgians – an Illustrated Introduction” and back they came the next day, free of charge…. that’s what I call good service!

Finally, I see that the pair of prints are shown on the G J Saville site here on sale for £900 the pair (although I am not sure that the stock details are up-to-date).


* My thanks to Elizabeth Cornwell for explaining that it means …. falling over.

Sep 152019

More thoughts in connection with  Ireland and the Irish, following my recent visit – a repeat of a post I did a few years ago:


From Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811) I came across the following definitions:

“IRISH APRICOTS. Potatoes. It is a common joke against the Irish vessels, to say they are loaded with fruit and timber, that is, potatoes and broomsticks.

IRISH ASSURANCE. A bold forward behaviour: as being dipt in the river Styx was formerly supposed to render persons invulnerable, so it is said that a dipping in the river Shannon totally annihilates bashfulness; whence arises the saying of an impudent Irishman, that he has been dipt in the Shannon.

 IRISH BEAUTY. A woman with two black eyes.

 IRISH EVIDENCE. A false witness.

 IRISH LEGS. Thick legs, jocularly styled the Irish arms. It is said of the Irish women, that they have a dispensation from the Pope to wear the thick end of their legs downwards.

 IRISH TOYLES. Thieves who carry about pins, laces, and other pedlars wares, and under the pretence of offering their goods to sale, rob houses, or pilfer anything they can lay hold of.”

These comments about the Irish – always derogatory – made me think generally about Georgian (English) attitudes towards the union of the countries comprising Great Britain – initially the Union with Scotland in 1707, and subsequently the union with Ireland under the Acts of Union 1800. The point is this: having the same monarch does not make you the same country (witness the way the British did not suddenly feel Dutch when William of Orange became king, or German when George I came to the throne). But passing an Act of Union was surely intended to foster a feeling of togetherness – separate countries but one nation. So it is interesting to see how little the public felt ‘united’ with their Hibernian and Caledonian cousins – and how prejudices and racial stereo-typing have lasted through the centuries.

First, the Scots.: I was aware of the suggestion that when William Macall came down to London to open his Assembly Rooms in 1765, he reversed the syllables in his name so  that his emporium was called ‘Almacks’  – for the simple reason that he wanted to avoid prejudice on account of his Scottish name. Apparently Scottishness had a foreign and uncouth ring about it. So I was interested to see one or two other examples of prejudice, starting with Richard Newton’s “A flight of Scotchmen”scotsmen lwlpr09902

Quite apart from confirming that the Scots did not wear underclothes (note the bare buttocks) it shows the ‘Scotchmen’ being blown to the four corners of the globe – well, America, the West Indies, Ireland and Germany. Most of them wear some form of tartan or another, some are blowing bagpipes, some have broom sticks and some are selling trinkets and odds and ends from display cases hung around their necks. They were presumably the equivalent of the ‘looky-looky men’ who nowadays come over to Spain  from North Africa and peddle their wares at bars and restaurants… The finger board (bottom right) directs them to ‘the best road for the Scots’ over the skies of St Pauls in London. Some of the figures are carrying placards indicating that they are taking with them ‘my Father’s inheritance’ and ‘Brimstone’. It is at the very least a reminder of the very significant part played by the Scots in the early days of Empire – their literacy rates were high, their Universities shamed anything England had to offer, and Scottish Enlightenment was streets ahead of the English equivalent, and therefore the Scottish emigrants took with them new ideas and skills to the colonies.

Progress Scotsman lwlpr08253Now, another caricature by Newton, called ‘Progress of a Scotsman.’ It is a dig at Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville. It is dated 1794 and like all the images shown here, comes courtesy of the excellent and most helpful Lewis Walpole Library. Starting off, top left, with the bare-arsed Scot on a ‘journey to Edinburgh’ the central character progresses from being an “errand boy running two miles for a halfpenny” to becoming a footman; being appointed a nobleman’s porter; (“wont take in a petition without a shilling fee”) until he “rules the roost in the family and horsewhips the servants, makes love to a rich widow and marries her.”  He then becomes a Member of Parliament and “assumes an air of importance” and finally gets to wear a coronet and sits in a baronial chair.

In practice Dundas was a lawyer and consummate politician who ‘governed’ Scotland for many years, earning himself the pejorative title of ‘King Harry IX’, ‘the Great Tyrant’ and the ‘Uncrowned King of Scotland.’ He died a couple of months after the Newton  etching was published and the caricature is obviously intended as a more general comment about Scots coming to London to seek their fortune. Its ‘twin’ entitled ‘Progress of an Irishman, had come out a fortnight earlier:

Progress of an Irishman lwlpr08247It starts with the young Irish lad going to school eating a potato for breakfast; becoming a priest and “swinging the Incense” before renouncing the church and becoming a man of gallantry; and setting himself up as an actor on the stage. He enlists in the army, deserts, becomes a card sharp, gives all his money away to a friend, and then goes to prison for his debts. He writes to every fine woman he knows “and is relieved by them all”; makes “fierce love to a rich widow and marries her” and becomes respectable, and a pillar of Society, before his inevitable downfall…

Irish fortune hunters lwlpr08570‘An Irish Fortune Hunter on the road to Bath’ shows two bull-riding Irishmen, their panniers stuffed with mealy potatoes, charging off to Bath to find a wealthy heiress to woo. One carries a list of boarding schools for ladies. In one sack he carries ‘novels and love stories for the Ladies’ while in another he has a list of the castles in Ireland which he claims to own. His companion has his pedigree across his back – O’Connor, O’Neil, O’Brien and so on.

comforts irish fishing lodge rowlandson lwlpr11616In Rowlandson’s ‘Comfort of an Irish Fishing Lodge’ we see two sticks of furniture, a stool and a chair, in a room so damp it is positively under water, with ducks swimming around, while rats clamber onto the table on which the ‘devils brew’ sits in a stoppered decanter. The two gentlemen keep their feet dry by resting them on large stones, and over the fireplace is a picture of the ancestral home, its frame broken. A sack has been stuffed into the broken window to keep out the wind and rain. The food in the iron cauldron spills in the fireplace….  not a welcoming prospect!

Iridh bog trotters lwlpr11518Here is another, entitled ‘Irish Bogtrotters’ which emphasizes the way that the oh-so-refined English looked down at the coarse and uncouth Irish. Bare legged and smoking clay pipes, the three central figures are running through the bog in front of some giant frogs. One carries ‘Butter Milk’ and a ‘Sprig of Shillelah,’ the other ‘Potatoes,’ while the third grabs hold of her colleague’s petticoat to help extricate herself from the mire. In the background a woman has fallen flat on her back, carrying a pile of cut turf (intended for the fire in lieu of coal). A hunt disappears into  the distance.

Apparently ‘bog-cutter’ has been a term of abuse heaped on the Irish for some time –  although it remains a badge of pride to one of my Irish friends, who revels in his connection with the Irish peat-cutting business.

characteristics lwlpr12945To end with, a slightly later print called ‘Characteristics of England, Ireland and Scotland’. It is by George Hunt and appeared in 1826. The three swells are passing the front of a haberdashery shop in which a beautiful girl is serving behind the counter. The Englishman, devious and unwilling to spend any money, says ” I say there’s a fine girl! Let’s go in & ask if Mr. Thomson lives there & have a chat with her.” His Irish colleague is all generosity with “…we’ll buy something of the dare Creature. Oh the sweet little Jewel.”  Meanwhile the gentleman from Scotland urges them to keep their money in their pocket, and suggests that “we just go in and ask for two and sixpence for half a crown” (in other words, for some small change: two shillings and a sixpence was half a crown).

In all, not a very edifying representation of our Celtic cousins – indolent, stupid, ill-mannered, uncivilized, dishonest, mean and poverty-stricken fortune hunters the lot of them! I have to admit, the underlying sense is one of English arrogance, not inclusiveness. Perhaps that is why there is such strong support for a unified Ireland and an independent Scotland – if it happens, perhaps we have brought it on ourselves!

Sep 092019

Another repeat of an earlier blog with an Irish flavour:-

I have always liked pictures which combine pigs and royalty – they make such an interesting composition! So I was delighted to come across this one on the Lewis Walpole site:

Entitled “A visit to the Irish Pig, with reflections Physical and moral” it is the work of Isaac Cruikshank and appeared in 1799. The print shows George III peering through a magnifying glass at an extremely large hog, which was apparently a gift from Enniscorthy, Ireland, as a peace offering; behind the King stands James Cecil, Marquess of Salisbury, who was the Lord Chamberlain at the time. He holds a lantern in one hand and is dressed in Light Horse regimentals.

The following description comes from an 1813 book on satirical caricatures (JP Malcolm).

“The enormous pig exhibited in London some years past is represented so large as to occupy nearly half of the print. A personage of high rank and once a good practical farmer condescends to visit the overgrown animal; and they both examine each other with great attention, except that the latter is deficient in his observation, through the want of a glass. A military gentleman, decorated with a key of office, or the key of the sty, (which the caricaturist pleases) assists in the inspection with a lantern and remarks:  “That pig is the tallest fattest, properest pig to stand before the K—  – the most wonderful I ever had the honour to shew. It is arrived from Ireland; truly worthy of the inspection of the curious; an amazing animal.”

The King responds “True, true, very fat, very fat – Ireland,- ha! Ha! – hope he did not eat any of the rebels; shan’t like the pork if he has; stick to the Fetter Lane – clean and wholesome that – pretty sausages, ha ! ha! – what does he say? Talks French, ha! Ha!

“We, we we” answers the pig.

The commentary continues: “The great political measure of uniting the kingdoms of England and Ireland under the superintendence of one legislature excited considerable warmth of discussion in both countries. Predictions were confidently pronounced as to the practicability utility and beneficial results of such a union; and the disgrace resistance and dis-union which would occur on the part of Ireland.”

By way of explanation:

The Irish Rebellion of 1798 was an uprising against British rule in Ireland lasting from May to September. The Irish republicans, known as The United Irishmen, had been inspired by the events in France and by the American war of Independence to try and throw off the yoke of English control.

Displeasure at the way the country was ruled crossed sectarian boundaries: Catholics and Protestants alike were fed up with a lack of representative government and looked to France to assist them in obtaining freedom. In 1796 the French sent a force of some 14,000 troops under General Hoche but failed to gain a landing (more by bad luck than anything else – shades of the Spanish Armada) and they were forced to return home.

Gillray recorded the incident with this print published in 1797:

1797 was marked by a series of uprisings, in turn leading to repressive acts and martial law. In 1798 rebellion became widespread, with an attempt to take Dublin. Thousands of troops poured into Wicklow, County Antrim, County Down and Wexford. The aftermath was gruesome with appalling atrocities inflicted on anyone suspected of supporting the rebels. Many were burned alive, others were executed or piked to death. In the summer the rebels were assisted when a thousand French troops landed in County Mayo but when another 5000 French troops appeared off County Donegal they were driven off by the Royal Navy. Retribution was swift and merciless.

Figures as to the number killed in the uprising vary from 10,000 to 50,000. The only certain thing is that it was put down in a barbaric manner. It did however achieve one thing: a recognition that something had to be done to remove the excesses of the previous Anglican Protestant Ascendancy. The Act of Union was passed in August 1800, and came into effect on 1 January 1801. It removed the measure of autonomy previously granted to the Ascendancy and perhaps reflected the perception that it was the brutish misrule of the Ascendancy which had provoked the uprising. Any hopes of Catholic emancipation were dashed three months later when the  government abandoned the idea, and William Pitt resigned.

James Gillray’s The Union Club

Reverting to the apparent gift of a pig to the King when the rebellion was finally put down: this was presumably intended as a sign of friendship, an apology by loyal supporters of George III for the behaviour of the rebels. It was not of course the end of the “Irish Question” but is a reminder of the divisions and conflicts which have marked the intervening centuries.


Post script: Because this is being posted on Valentine’s Day I thought I would mention a lovely custom revealed in the diaries of William Snooke. He was brother-in-law to my ancestor Richard Hall, and was an obscenely wealthy young man who lived in the Manor House at Bourton-on-the-Water. Every year on 14 February he would give one penny to each of the children in the village schools in the area – 120 pupils, so ten shillings in “old money”. O.K., he could afford it, but it was a nice gesture, and an interesting one when you consider that William and his wife were childless. I can just imagine a load of farmworkers children excitedly standing in line waiting to receive what to them would have been a real treat – sweeties time!

Sep 012019

I recently completed a round-Britain lecture cruise on board the Crown Princess, which involved visiting a couple of places in Ireland. Well, three in Ireland (Cork, Dublin and Belfast, but I only visited Cork and Dublin. Somehow Belfast doesn’t ‘do it for me’ so I gave it a miss….)

It reminded me that I had done several blogs linked to Ireland so I thought that I would re-visit some of them. First up – the remarkable story of Charles Banconi:-

Hearn's Hotel

Hearn’s Hotel

For a change, travel back to Ireland and visit  Hearn’s Hotel, at Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. It is the sixth of July 1815, and a small jaunting carriage pulls away exactly on time, heading for Cahir some ten miles or so away. The jaunting carriage was a slightly odd two-wheeled conveyance, unprotected from the elements, where the seats were in a row facing sideways onto the road. This day there were no passengers – the six seats were all unoccupied, and the single horse has no difficulty plodding its lonely journey. The same thing happened the next day, but then the 31-year-old Italian printer whose idea it was to set up a coaching service decided that it was a case of ‘double or quit’. So he arranged  for two jaunting carriages to be ready and waiting at the appointed hour on the following day, both ready to make the journey as advertised to the good burghers of Clonmel. To observers it looked as though there was a competition. That certainly attracted public attention, and before long there were dozens of people queuing to make the two-hour  journey, at a rate of a penny-farthing a mile. It was certainly a darned sight quicker than the five- to eight-hour journey offered for the same trip by boat.

Jaunting cart

Jaunting cart


bianconi-photoJourneys in Ireland were incredibly slow at the time – the roads were poor, travel was in its infancy, and there was no integrated transport service. It would be another thirty years before rail travel opened up the countryside, and in those thirty years the coach service mushroomed in a most remarkable way. And the man behind it? Charles Bianconi.

Carlos Bianconi, born on 26 September  1785 at Tregolo in what is now Lombardy in Italy, had escaped from his mother country just before it was over-run by the forces of Napoleon. He was relatively poorly educated – the priest at the local school he attended described him as a ‘troublesome dunce’ who left school ‘almost as ignorant as when he entered it and a great deal more wilful.’ As a 16 year old he had travelled to England but then moved across to Ireland, and was apprenticed  to the owner of a print-shop. Selling the prints took him around  Dublin and its neighbouring towns and villages, usually on foot. He would  peddle the prints which he carried in his satchel as he walked from town to town. Eventually he set up his own print and engraving shop in Clonmel, and as the business started to expand he travelled around on the appalling roads to deliver his wares, often stopping to give a lift to pedestrian travellers. No doubt it was this which gave him the idea of providing a public transport service, given that the only alternatives were the prohibitively expensive Mail Coaches.




Shortly after he launched a separate coaching business he was fortunate to be able to buy a number of ex-Army horses (no longer needed following the Battle of Waterloo and the end of the Napoleonic Wars). These magnificent animals, well-trained and strong, could be picked up ‘for a song’ – well, for between ten and twenty pounds – and the coach business expanded quickly, with new routes being added until  they criss-crossed the country. Bianconi started to build his own coaches, eventually moving up to a twenty-passenger long-coach. They were known as ‘Bians’ or Bianconi Coaches, and soon became a familiar sight everywhere. Coaches meant coaching Inns, and a network of Bianconi Inns were developed, some of them still remaining to this day.

Bianconi Bar, Main Street, Kildysart

Bianconi Bar, Main Street, Kildysart

The business was at times seriously under-capitalised but an interesting account in the Irish Story – an online history blog, comes up with this information:

“In 1826, came the famous Waterford by-election when the Beresfords – landlord family who had dominated that county’s politics for 70 years – were ousted by the Catholic Association party of Daniel O’Connell – campaigning for Catholic Emancipation.  Bianconi had actually been retained by the Beresfords (who were staunchly opposed to Emancipation) to transport their voters to the election, but feelings were running so high that he felt his drivers to be endangered and asked to be released from his contract. The Beresfords reluctantly agreed, and Bianconi was promptly retained by the O’Connell supporting team. He may well have been partly responsible for their resounding success, but from his point of view the important thing was that he was paid £1,000 (perhaps as much as €1,000,000 in today’s values) for his services. This was the capital he needed.”

The scale of operations was remarkable. Here are just some of the statistics:

*  By 1845, Bianconi was one of the largest proprietors of horses and vehicles in the whole of Europe, with a fleet of one hundred cars,  and 1,400 horses.

*  He employed a hundred drivers as well as  130 ostlers to look after the animals.

*  Each day, the Bians covered over 4,200 miles of Irish road, serving 120 towns and villages.

*  The horses consumed around 3,500 tons of hay a year, plus 35,000 barrels of oats.

*  In its heyday the business was paying Bianconi £35,000 a year.

*  He was  twice made mayor of Clonmel.

* He was renowned for looking after his staff, knowing all of the drivers by name, and when they were too old or infirm to work he provided them with food and lodging in his cellars at his house at Longfield House, Boherlahan, County Tipperary, referring to them as his “fireside fellows”.

*  When the Great Famine came, he famously employed his men to carry out maintenance work at his beloved Longfield House with its 1000 acres of prime farmland, rather than see them starve.

And when the railways eventually arrived, Bianconi wisely arranged his coach itineraries to include the railway stations which his passengers would then use for their onward journey. Oh, and he invested his money in the railways themselves, thereby securing his future when the coaching side of the business declined. He died, a multi-millionaire in today’s terms, in September 1875, at the age of 89. The story goes that as he died the sound of a phantom coach was heard clattering up the long driveway to the house….

Irish commemorative stamps

Irish commemorative stamps

I am indebted to the historian Turtle Bunbury for some of the facts used in this article, based on his blog here. Thanks too to Stephen Lombard for first regaling me with the story of Mr Bianconi and his coaches – and for showing me the prints made in the 1850s showing the Biancs in use. It is a remarkable story, especially for  a man dismissed as a dunce. Nowadays, immigrants tend to get a bad press. Here was an immigrant who had the imagination and courage to transform the world around him…