Nostalgia: Archives reveal fascinating past for Cork's Beamish & Crawford site

Nostalgia: Archives reveal fascinating past for Cork's Beamish & Crawford site

Workers operate Beamish & Crawford’s recently-installed computer system in 1973.

LAST month marked five years since the turning of the sod on the 6,000-seater events centre, which is to be built on the site of the former Beamish & Crawford brewery.

While some remain sceptical over the future of the project, Cork City Council has said engagement is ongoing between the key parties involved.

Only time will tell what the future has in store for the former brewery site, but photographs in The Echo archives reveal a fascinating past. 

The brewery was founded in 1791 when two successful merchants, William Beamish from Cork, and William Crawford, who came from Bangor in County Down, entered into a partnership with two Cork brewers, Richard Barrett and Digby O’Brien.

 Blackpool National School boys visit Beamish & Crawford Brewery, 1935.
Blackpool National School boys visit Beamish & Crawford Brewery, 1935.

They set up the Cork Porter Brewery on South Main Street and the first porter was brewed there on January 17, 1792.

"It quickly established itself as Ireland's leading brewery, and one of the foremost in these islands," brothers Donal and Diarmuid Ó Drisceoil note in their comprehensive history of the brewery, Beamish & Crawford: The History of an Irish Brewery

"It's early success reflected Cork's heyday as a leading port of the British empire, and its subsequent fortunes also mirrored the history of the city and country."

In the seven years from 1793 to 1800, the brewery's output increased from 12,003 barrels a year to 63,230.

The Freshmen showband on an official visit in 1967.
The Freshmen showband on an official visit in 1967.

"The firm's success was partially built on the changed system of taxing beer that from 1791 favoured Irish producers over their English rivals, but also on the skill of the brewers at the Cork Porter Brewery - Digby O'Brien, Richard Barrett and head brewer John Topp - who produced a porter that could rival and surpass the best that could be imported from London," the Ó Drisceoil brothers note. 

The brewery would remain the largest in the country until the 1830s when it was overtaken by Guinness.

The Beamish & Crawford company went public in 1901 and was purchased by the Canadian brewing firm Carling-O’Keefe in 1962.

Loading kegs of stout at Beamish & Crawford brewery in 1929.
Loading kegs of stout at Beamish & Crawford brewery in 1929.

However, members of the original family owners remained involved in the business for many years afterwards, with Richard Beamish still involved when the company celebrated its second centenary in 1992.

The brewery was also known for employing generations of Cork families. 

Staff members checking the barrels in 1953.
Staff members checking the barrels in 1953.

It changed hands a number of times between the 1960s and its eventual closure in 2009 when production was moved to the nearby Heineken operated facility.

Kerry strongman Butty Sugrue lifts a full barrel of porter on a visit by Duffy’s Circus to the Beamish & Crawford brewery in 1959.
Kerry strongman Butty Sugrue lifts a full barrel of porter on a visit by Duffy’s Circus to the Beamish & Crawford brewery in 1959.

“I would like to recognise and compliment the significant part played by each and every employee in the life of Beamish and Crawford down through the years,” Declan Farmer of Heineken said in 2009.

An aerial view of the brewery and South Main Street in 1972.
An aerial view of the brewery and South Main Street in 1972.

“The legacy of Beamish and Crawford will always be with us, together with the listed status of the Counting House building, which will ensure that Beamish and Crawford will always remain part of Cork history as we know it.”

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