The Final Resting Place
During the late 18th and early 19th centuries Guinness, the name, began to make its maiden voyages overseas, as Guinness porter arrived in England and then the West Indies. The seeds of Guinness, the empire, were being planted. But Guinness, the man, like most of his contemporaries, remained firmly rooted in a small circle of existence that included Dublin and a few villages in County Kildare.
One of these villages is Oughterard. It was an important religious center in pre-Christian Ireland and an ancestral home of Arthur Guinness’s mother. Today, it’s an unmarked rural outpost off the N7, the main southwestern motorway in and out of Dublin, unworthy of mention on most modern maps.
“There’s nothing in Oughterard, you know,” said a waitress at the Dew Drop Inn in Kill, the closest village of any merit. “There’s just an old cemetery.”
The cemetery sits on a lonely, windswept hilltop overlooking the Kildare countryside. A black, wrought-iron gate with “Oughterard Cemetery” forged into the top and painted in gold marks an entrance unceremoniously accented by the pastel-colored laundry of an adjacent house snapping in the breeze. There is room for two cars to park in front of the gate, and enough room for one adult to squeeze between the locked gate and the adjoining wall. Sheep graze on the side of a dirt road beyond the gate that ends at the burial ground. There are signs, too, of human life: spent matches on the stone wall surrounding the cemetery; freshly cut grass inside the wall.
The cemetery is small, maybe 100 feet square, and dominated by a crumbling stone vault with steel beams propping up a tower of stairs that lead to the roof.
It does not take long to find the gravestone. It says that Arthur Guinness died on January 23, 1803, at age 78, indicating that he was most likely born sometime in 1724. (In 1991, Guinness, the company, declared that Guinness, the man, was born on September 28, 1725. If the age and date etched into the gravestone are correct, then the “official” date of Guinness’s birth – which the company admits is a guess – is conclusively incorrect.)
The gravestone is unimpressive, even disappointing: three feet tall, 18 inches wide, the smallest of the dozen or so markers within the confines of the vault. It humbly situated, not in the sheltered inner sanctum of the vault, but stuck into the side of an unprotected outer wall.
Perhaps it’s an act of desperation to visit the grave of a man who died 200 years ago in a quest to learn more about him. But perhaps the modest condition of his final resting place offers something about Arthur Guinness that the future success of his company has made easy to forget. Arthur Guinness was not a titan of industry, dutifully recording his thoughts and deeds to one day share with the clamoring masses. It’s unreasonable to have expected him to do so. He lived his entire life within a few miles of this windy Kildare hilltop. His goals and dreams might have been suitably parochial and modest: move to the big city, make a good beer for its citizens, a decent living for his family. Arthur Guinness, after all, was not a name, an icon, a myth or a brand. Arthur Guinness was a man from a small town with a knack for making good beer. The rest, then, is not a mystery. The rest, as they say, is history.