Saint Patrick’s Day, like all holidays born in antiquity, has evolved. What began in Ireland as a day to honor the island nation’s patron saint has, over the centuries, transformed into an internationally celebrated day of verdant clothing, raucous parades, and booze-fueled revelry.
For those celebrating the holiday every March 17th, there's no shortage of delicious and intoxicating Irish libations to be found—Jameson’s whiskey, Smithwick’s ale, and more—but one drink, smooth and creamy and nearly black, towers above the rest and flows from bottles and taps in a seemingly endless stream. That drink is Guinness, a porter style of beer (now referred to as a stout) created by Sir Arthur Guinness in 1759 and a national symbol of Ireland. In honor of Saint Patrick’s Day this year, here are seven fascinating facts about the man behind the beloved black beer.
1. Beer in His Blood
Arthur Guinness was born into a family of brewers. His father Richard was the personal brewer for a protestant archbishop, and, as Arthur grew up, Richard educated the boy in the craft. As a young man, Arthur learned of the temperamental nature of yeast, of barley’s roasting times and temperatures, and of the need for imported hops, a crucial element of beer not native to Ireland. By his late 20s, Arthur was ready to make a name for himself.
2. In It for the Long Haul
In 1759, at the age of 34, Arthur moved from the village of Leixlip, where he had been operating his own small brewery for a few years, to Dublin, the capital city of Ireland in which he hoped to expand his business. He soon found an abandoned brewery at St. James Gate. The owner required £100 as a down payment and £45 per month for rent. Defying every notion of real estate that exists, the owner agreed to let Arthur sign a lease for 9,000 years. Guinness is still brewed at St. James Gate, and the company still pays £45 in rent each month. Presumably, though, rent will go up in the year 10,759.
3. Do Unto Others
Part of Arthur’s motivation for brewing beer came from the fact that hard liquor, especially gin, was destroying Ireland’s underclass in the mid-18th century, and he believed that everyone, regardless of social status, should have access to a healthier form of alcohol. Social welfare was paramount to Arthur, and he participated in various forms of philanthropy: He donated to charities, worked to ensure health care for the poor, promoted Gaelic arts to preserve national identity, and advocated for tolerance in a religiously polarized community. Not only did he brew some of the tastiest beer in the land, but he was an all around good guy, as well.
4. A Prolific Father
Between all his time brewing and fighting for the welfare of the Irish working class, Arthur somehow managed to find some time between the sheets with his wife, Olivia Whitmore. Arthur and Olivia must have taken the Biblical adage of be fruitful and multiply seriously, for the couple had 21 children. It’s unclear if any were conceived in a tryst brought on by one too many beers.
5. Specialization and Prestige
Throughout his brewing life, Arthur focused on both ales and porters, but by the late 18th century, after following English beer trends for some time, he gave up on ale and instead focused all his energy on producing a high quality black porter: his legendary Guinness Stout. It didn’t take long for demand to grow both in Ireland and England. To seal the deal on fame, Arthur was appointed as the official brewer for Dublin Castle in 1799.
6. Portrait Shy
For a man whose beer would eventually be brewed in 49 countries and would require millions of liters of water per day to keep up with demand, Arthur Guinness seemed to be wary of the spotlight, reluctant to pass his image down to future historians or beer aficionados. Only one lonely portrait exists of the master brewer. The father of 21 kids probably had no time for such trivialities.
7. An Enduring Legacy
It’s likely that Sir Arthur Guinness had no idea how he would change the world. Not only did he produce a beer that would become so popular that, in the US, a pint is enjoyed every seven seconds, but during his life he held convictions on the improvement of working class conditions that would survive long after his death in 1803. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Guinness board members provided employee benefits—health insurance, subsidized meals, pensions, higher wages, and more—that were unparalleled in Ireland at the time.
So, this Saint Patrick’s Day, raise a pint of Guinness in honor of the life and legacy of its mastermind.