“Guinness is Good for You”: 42 years at the Guinness brewery

Liam Mullen started working in Guinness in 1949. He spent the majority of the 42 years he worked for the company in the largest brewery in Ireland, at St James Gate.    

Mullen was a student in Francis Street national school when he was accepted in to take the ‘boys exam’ in Guinness. The ‘boys exam’ started in 1901 and was primarily for boys aged 14 living in inner-city Dublin. It consisted of a general knowledge section and a mathematics section.

The Christian Brothers in Francis Street helped him prepare for the exam by sending him down to Synge Street school to do grinds.  

Mullen had always been handy with numbers and came in fourth place in the exam out of 59 boys. The results of this exam also decided which area in the brewery you would be allocated. He was given a job working alongside 40 other people in the laboratory. Initially his job was to wash bottles as a laboratory attendant.   

Liam Mullen recently on his 86th birthday

Although he left briefly to work at a local carpenters when he was 21, he returned to work at Guinness when he was offered a permanent position. Throughout his time at Guinness, Mullen completed a series of educational qualifications, from the old Inter Cert, the Leaving, then a primary degree in History, English and Economics as well as a master’s degree. 

“The brewery paid for all the courses we did,” Mullen explains. “You got great encouragement to use any talent you had. I went off and did Italian for a year.”    

“You got great encouragement to use any talent you had.”

Liam Mullen.

Back then, Guinness employed more than 4,500 staff. “It was like a large town, it was incredible. All the trades were represented. Thomas Street and James Gate lived off Guinness. Gradually that fell away.”

Guinness currently employ less than 100 staff. Mullen has been retired for almost 20 years but he says that the decrease in numbers of staff was largely due to automation.   

Another major difference is the vessels Guinness uses. “When I was in there it was wooden kegs. When they came back in from the pubs they were scalded. There was a section allocated to scald the kegs. That’s all changed now.” The vessels are now made of aluminium and stainless steel which makes it easier to redistribute them.  

Although Guinness is now a part of the company Diageo, Liam recalls that a member of the Guinness family continued to attend the annual Christmas party. “They would go around and shake hands with as many of us as possible. There was still that connection there.”  

On one occasion, Mullen was sent to the “Guinness Houses” in Kimmage on behalf of the company. He spoke with the wife of an ill employee about what Guinness were proposing to do to help the man’s family.

“They were the best type of employer. They took as much from it as they put back into it. Your whole family would be taken on in the medical centre.”

However, the structure of Guinness was extremely hierarchical. If a young person was insolent with a superior, things would not have fared well for them.  

Mullen eventually became a laboratory officer and would work in many sections of Guinness. “In my area it depended on an element of luck and an element of choice to move up the ranks.” His duties changed over the years and he became involved with hand-draught Guinness. He had to travel and work in Liverpool for several months.

“I worked on the boats when we moved into Liverpool. We were over there for several months to ensure the people over there were handling it properly. They poured Guinness into the hull of the boat and then we’d follow the lorries down.”  

Mullen was also involved with many of the social activities in Guinness. He played for the soccer team and used his hurling experience while playing for the hockey team.   

As was often the case, working at Guinness was truly a family affair for Mullen and his relations. His father-in-law grew a six-acre field near Inchicore that Guinness bought barley from. His daughter Emer worked as an accountant for Guinness from 1979 until 1983, and met her husband Ken whilst working there.

When Emer’s granny heard she was leaving Guinness, she said: “Who’s this IBM crowd? You’re mad leaving Guinness’s!”  

“Who’s this IBM crowd? You’re mad leaving Guinness’s!”  

Emer’s Granny

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