To my shame, considering I’ve spent a sizeable part of my life in Co. Kildare, I only found out recently that Arthur Guinness was buried up the road in Oughterard Cemetery. I had never made a connection between the man behind the iconic pint of Guinness and the county of Kildare.
Apparently, it’s still up for debate as to where the great man was born. Some say it could have been in nearby Ardclough. Others are pinning their colours to the Celbridge mast. But wherever he came from, the man has left one hell of a legacy.
Guinness and Ireland are synonymous the world over. No trip to Dublin is complete without a visit to St James’s Gate, home of the Guinness brewery. Guinness drinkers can drone on about what makes a pint a great pint, from the size of the head or collar (pope, bishop, or priest) to how it is pulled. And they could navigate the towns and villages of Ireland by the pubs that are known for serving a proper pint.
Me, I never acquired a taste for it. But I was curious to see the last resting place of the man behind the multinational brand.
It’s strange to think that in the early 1700s, Oughterard was on the main Dublin to Cork road. It’s said that Arthur’s grandfather, William Read, a farmer by trade, set up a roadside stand in 1690 to sell his homebrew to soldiers off to do battle in the Jacobite wars. From such inauspicious beginnings a legend was born.
Back in 2010, the Irish Independent ran a piece on how the grave of Authur Guinness had become a Mecca of sorts for the discerning tourist. I can only assume that by ‘discerning’ they mean tourists that do more than follow the mainstream guide books and tick of the top ten things to do in a given city or country. I was glad that I didn’t know exactly where the grave was and gladder still that there were no signs pointing the way. Oughterard Cemetery is still a working cemetery and there is more to it than the fame of being Arthur’s final resting place. But as I said, I was curious.
The Beaumont part struck me. I have fond memories of student nights spent in the Beaumont House pub in Dublin and it turns out that it was named after Beaumont House, the Guinness’s family home from 1764 to 1855. It’s now a nursing home (the real BH, not the pub) run by the Sisters of Mercy. The things you learn in cemeteries.
Wonderful and all as it was to see the Guinness grave, I was equally taken with their neighbours. Robert Kennedy was Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant and Custos Rotulorum for Co Kildare. I had to look that up, my Latin never having been what it should have been. The Custos Rotulorum (Keeper of the Rolls) is the keeper of a county’s records and, by virtue of that office, the highest civil officer in the county. Cricket Europe has a lovely piece on him that situates cricket in Ireland back in the day.
The line, Write me as one that loves his fellow men, is from a poem by Leigh Hunt.
ABOU BEN ADHEM
Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold: –
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
“What writest thou?” – The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”
“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerily still; and said, “I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men.”
The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blest,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.
What a find.
The Kennedy plot is also home to Darby Kennedy. I tracked down his Military Cross citation. He was some soldier. The Kennedys themselves were permanent fixtures on the Who’s Who of the time. Arthur is in good company.
I was struck once again at the sadness experienced by parents who have walked behind the coffins of not one but two or three of their children. I found a word for parents who outlive their children – the vilomah.
It is a beautiful spot. Popular, too. I was torn, and not for the first time, between the need for showing respect for the dead and the idea of cemeteries being places of celebration, too. I recalled that city cemetery in Geneva and the picnickers lunching between the headstones. But it still didn’t stop me being annoyed by the lack of reverence on display. Maybe I’m getting old.
In the field next to the cemetery, back on St Brigid’s Day in 1815, Daniel O’Connell (aka The Liberator and acknowledged political leader of Ireland’s Roman Catholics) was challenged to a duel by John D’Esterre ‘a champion of the conservative and Protestant cause at the time’. D’Esterre probably shouldn’t have taken offence to O’Connell describing Dublin Corporation’s provision for the poor as ‘beggarly’. He’d have been as well to have left it alone.
O’Connell is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin – another cemetery worth visiting if you ever find yourself in Ireland.
The eighth-century round tower in Oughterard is one of five in the county. At just 9.5 m, it’s the shortest as it’s missing its top. Kilcullen (11m) and Taghadoe (19.8m) are also incomplete but Castledermot (20 m) and Kildare town (32 m) are complete to the cornice. Bring on that table quiz – I’m ready!
The cemetery is the final stop of a 20-km walk called Arthur’s Way that starts in Leixlip and is now on my bucket list. Cemeteries are museums of life often overlooked, frequently ignored. And the things they can teach you…