An Irish tale of a wrongful accusation

Growing up on the wrong side of the tracks I heard many rumours of people with low-incomes “fiddling” the utility services — meaning they stole gas and electricity by swapping around the input and output of the meter.  The more energy they used, the cheaper the bills.  However, some foolish people were caught by the energy services because they allowed the meter-readings to be lower than the previous reading.

Anyway, I digress.

Being that St Patrick’s Day is almost upon us, it’s worth retelling the infamous case of the Guinness vs. Dublin Corporation legal dispute over water rights.

In the early 1770s, the Dublin Corporation launched an investigation into the water supply to Guinness and its neighbours, Foster and Greene.  The outcome of which was an allegation that Guinness, Foster and Greene had illegally interfered with the regulated flow of water from a watercourse running alongside the brewery.  A lease from 70-years earlier had granted access rights to the water in the watercourse, but the committee investigating found the flow of water from the watercourse had been altered and breached without authorisation, suggesting water was being used without charge.

The watercourse running alongside the brewery, it was alleged, belonged to the Dublin Corporation, who in their wisdom decided to remove it completely and replace it with a wooden mains pipe.  This culminated in the Dublin Corporation arriving at the watercourse in May 1775 with the intention of filling it in.  It was Arthur Guinness personally who faced the oncoming engineers with a pick-axe and threats of undoing their work by reopening the watercourse himself.

Dublin Corporation temporarily acquiesced on this occasion, although the lull in proceedings gave Arthur Guinness enough time to seek an injunction against Dublin Corporation, preventing any further attempts to fill-in the watercourse until the legalities had been determined.  The process went on for 9-years.

Arthur Guinness’s 9,000-year lease for the St. James’s Gate brewery at £45 per year, agreed in 1759, is well-known to all.  What is less well-known, perhaps, is the additional lease of £10 per year for 8,795-years, signed in 1784 following Dublin Corporation’s investigation and Arthur Guinness’s objections.

To this day, Guinness still pays £10 per year for its water.

If 3-million pints of Guinness are brewed each day in the brewery in Dublin, and a pint of Guinness retails for about £5, this calculates that water (90%-95% of the finished pint) accounts for only a tenth of one millionth of the retail cost.

Did somebody mention a wrongful accusation?