Nostalgia: Barrels of history in Beamish and Crawford

Nostalgia: Barrels of history in Beamish and Crawford
Loading kegs of stout at Beamish and Crawford brewery in 1929.

While the future of the South Main Street site remains uncertain, these pictures from our archives reveal a glorious past at the former Cork brewery

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

As the row over its new reincarnation as an event centre site rumbles on (and on), we take a look back at the history of Cork’s famous Beamish and Crawford site.

The South Main Street site’s brewing history extends back to the early 17th century, or possibly even earlier.

Blackpool National School boys tour the brewery in 1935.
Blackpool National School boys tour the brewery in 1935.

But it was in 1792 that merchants William Beamish and William Crawford purchased the brewery from Edward Allen and went into partnership with brewers Richard Barrett and Digby O’Brien.

Within 15 years, Beamish and Crawford’s Cork Porter Brewery had become the largest brewery in Ireland.

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

Its output had increased from 12,000 barrels a year in 1792 to in excess of 100,000 barrels per annum by 1805.

It remained Ireland’s biggest brewery until the 1830s, when it was overtaken by Guinness.

Blackpool National School boys tour the brewery in 1935.
Blackpool National School boys tour the brewery in 1935.

In 1865, the substantial sum of £100,000 was spent modernising the premises. More additions were made to the premises over the years.

The most famous structure on the site is the Counting House. The seven-bay three-storey mock-Tudor building is known for its distinctive decorative timber panelling and gabled centre bay with the clock, and will remain in place.

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

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

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

“He would have been in his 80s then, but even when he retired he would have visited the business periodically,” Alf Smiddy, a former managing director and chairman of Beamish & Crawford said.

“I became managing director in 1992 and I was always aware that it was a multinational company, but also that it was born of a family business 200 years earlier.”

The brewery was also known for employing generations of Cork families, with fathers, sons, and grandsons all earning their livelihoods at the South Main Street site.

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

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

“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.

“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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