So, this Tuesday is St. Patrick’s Day! The day when everyone gets to be just a little bit Irish. As you all know, I’ve been deeply immersed in late 18th century Irish history for my WIP (which is finally closing in on The End, slowly but surely!), and I thought about pulling out some of my mountains of research for a post today.

But, let’s be honest–St. Patty’s Day isn’t really about oppression and uprisings (though there are plenty of great, sad ballads about such to be heard in every bar on the day!). It’s about dyeing your dog green (disclaimer–I would not do this myself, because my dogs probably wouldn’t stand still for it, but a guy I knew in college did…), putting on a silly hat, and going to parades to wave at other green dogs, bands, and step dancers. It’s about going to a pub to listen to jigs, eat some fish and chips, and have a pint.

So, in honor of the day, here’s a brief history of everyone’s favorite St. Patty’s day drink, that wondrous Irish institution–Guinness!

Arthur Guinness was born in Celbridge, County Kildare, in 1725, where he first learned the art of brewing from his father Richard, whose job as land steward to the Archbishop of Cashel included overseeing the brewing of beer for the workers. In 1759, Arthur signed a 9000-year lease on a disused brewery in St. James’s Gate in Dublin for the price of 45 pounds per year.

He started by brewing ale, and in the 1770s started brewing porter, a newish type of English dark beer that was growing in popularity (the distinctive feature in the flavor is the roasted barley, which remains unfermented. It gives Guinness its dark color and taste). This porter proved so successful that by 1799 Arthur had ceased brewing ale, and by the time of his death in 1803 he left a highly prosperous business behind (he also left a widow, the former Olivia Whitmore, and 21 children, 10 of which lived to adulthood). His son, Arthur Jr., then took over the brewery.

Arthur Jr. grew the business even further, expanding the export trade (the first Guinness exports was in May 1769, with six and a half barrels of ale sent to England), and brewing a new beer “Extra Superior Porter.” By the 1830s, the St. James’s Brewery was the largest brewery in Ireland.

A couple of good sources are: Guinness’s Brewery in the Irish Economy: 1759-1876 by Patrick Lynch and John Vaizey, and Iowerth Griffith’s Beer and Cider in Ireland: The Complete Guide. You can check out the Guinness website here, and Little Shamrocks for some fun Irish trivia. And this is a great recipe for chocolate Guinness cake (chocolate and Guinness! How can you go wrong? And it’s from Nigella, too)

I’m off to a parade this afternoon, and then to listen to some Irish bands at a local “pub” (not a totally genuine pub, natch, but the bar did come from a pub in Ireland that was being torn down! So at least it looks authentic…) What are your plans for the day? Do they involve Guinness???