50cm x 40cm
Smithwick’s brewery was founded in Kilkenny in 1710 by John Smithwick and run by the Smithwick family of Kilkenny until 1965 when it was acquired by Guinness, now part of Diageo. The Kilkenny brewery was shut down in 2013 and production of all Smithwick’s and Kilkenny branded beers moved to Dublin; parts of the old brewery are now a “visitor experience”.
Smithwick’s Brewery was founded by John Smithwick in 1710. The brewery is on the site of a Franciscan abbey, where monks had brewed ale since the 14th century, and ruins of the original abbey still remain on its grounds. The old brewery has since been renovated and now hosts “The Smithwick’s Experience Kilkenny” visitor attraction and centre. At the time of its closure, it was Ireland’s oldest operating brewery.
John Smithwick was an orphan who had settled in Kilkenny. Shortly after his arrival, Smithwick went into the brewing business with Richard Cole on a piece of land that Cole had leased from the Duke of Ormond in 1705. Five years later, John Smithwick became the owner of the land. The brewery stayed small, servicing a loyal local following while John Smithwick diversified.
Following John Smithwick’s death, the brewery temporarily fell out of family hands. John Smithwick’s great-grandson, Edmond bought the brewery land back freehold and worked to reshape its future. Edmond concentrated on discovering new markets and successfully building export trade. Drinkers in England, Scotland and Wales developed a taste for Smithwick’s brews and output increased fivefold.
As a result of substantial contributions made to St Mary’s Cathedral, Edmond became great friends with Irish liberal Daniel O’Connell, who later became godfather to one of his sons. Edmond Smithwick became well known and respected by the people of Kilkenny who elected him town mayor four times.
In 1800, export sales began to fall and the brewing industry encountered difficulty. To combat this, the Smithwick family increased production in their maltings, began selling mineral water and delivered butter with the ale from the back of their drays.
By 1900, output was at an all-time low and the then owner James Smithwick was advised by auditors to shut the doors of the brewery. Instead, James reduced the range of beers they produced and set out to find new markets. He secured military contracts and soon after saw output increase again. James’ son, Walter, took control in 1930 and steered the brewery to success through the hardships of both World War II and increasingly challenging weather conditions. By January 1950, Smithwick’s was exporting ale to Boston.
Smithwick’s was purchased from Walter Smithwick in 1965 by Guinness and is now, along with Guinness, part of Diageo. Together, Guinness & Co. and Smithwick’s developed and launched Smithwick’s Draught Ale in 1966. By 1979, half a million barrels were sold each year.
In 1980, Smithwick’s began exporting to France. In 1993, Smithwick’s Draught became Canada’s leading imported ale.
By 2010, Smithwick’s continued to be brewed in Dundalk and Kilkenny with tankers sent to Dublin to be kegged for the on trade market. Cans and bottles were packaged by IBC in Belfast.
Production in the Kilkenny brewery finished on 31 December 2013 and Smithwick’s brands are now produced in the Diageo St.James’s Gate brewery in Dublin.
In 2017 Walter Smithwick’s son, Paul, launched Sullivan’s Ale with his son, Daniel, which has its home in Kilkenny.
The original Kilkenny site was sold to Kilkenny County Council, with a small portion of the site dedicated to the opening of a visitor’s centre, the “Smithwick’s Experience Kilkenny”.
Walter and Eileen Smithwick had 6 children; Judge Peter Smithwick, Michael, Anne, Judy, Paul and John.
Judge Peter Smithwick (born 1937) is an Irish judge, and Chairman and Sole Member of the Smithwick Tribunal, a Tribunal of Inquiry into the events surrounding the killing of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Robert Buchanan of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).
Paul Smithwick (born 1943) launched Sullivan’s Ale in 2016 with his son Daniel. His eldest daughter Emma Smithwick is a well-known TV producer in London. His daughter Georgina is a technology entrepreneur, named by Sunday Times as Top 100 Innovators in Great Britain.
In the Old Kilkenny Review, year unknown, Peter Smithwick, K.M., Solicitor, wrote that the tradition in Kilkenny is that Sullivan’s Brewery was founded in 1702 by Daniel Sullivan, a Protestant, who bought property in trust for Pierse Bryan of Jenkinstown, a Catholic who was prohibited by the Penal Laws from buying land. The property, on the West side of High Street, “standing backwards in James’s Street”, is believed to have been the site of Sullivan’s Brewery, the forerunner of Smithwicks.