Articles, Maritime History, Vessels

The Guinness Fleets

The Guinness fleets of Boats ships and yachts

Edward J Bourke

The Guinness brewing concern had substantial maritime resources to support distribution of the famous beer.  In addition the family spent a lot of their leisure on a range of fabulous pleasure craft.  Initially the reach of the brewing concern expanded from 1790 thanks to the commencement of the Irish canal system.  Barge transport enabled distribution of their beer from Dublin and import of malt from all parts of the country.  This led to grain depots; maltings and beer distribution depots being situated on can al banks and ultimately brought about the decline of the tiny country breweries that served the smaller towns.  In order to serve the UK market beer was shipped from Dublin port.  Initially quantities were small, but from 1877 when the brewery at St James’s gate expanded considerably a jetty was built at Victoria quay upstream on the Liffey and barges or more correctly lighters carried the beer from the brewery to ships in the port. From 1913 Guinness became ship-owners and used their own cross channel fleet to serve Liverpool, Manchester, London and Bristol.

Guinness barges

Athy maltings at canalside

The fleet of Liffey barges were in two main groups built in 1877 – 1892 and replaced in the 1920s.   They ceased in 1961 when trucks replaced them and mostly went on to serve as sand barges working on Lough Neagh. They were too big for the Irish canal system and never served on canals except to access Lough Neagh.  Canal barges served depots at Ballinasloe, Limerick, Athy and all points on the canal and Shannon navigation system. They were loaded at the Grand Canal harbour or at the adjoining Guinness harbour which was accessed through a channel under a lifting bridge known as the Rupee bridge. Even shipwrecks have lighter moments. This ballad refers to the Vartry, one of the fleet of large steam barges or lighters which were used to transport Guinness stout from the Brewery wharf at Victoria Quay on the Liffey, down river to ships at Custom House Quay whence it was transported to Britain. The barges operated until 1963. The Vartry was built in the Liffey Dockyard in 1902 and apparently sank in 1907 but was raised shortly afterward. The ballad was collected by Colm O ‘Lochlainn and published in More Irish Street ballads.

In another incident the Guinness lighter barge Docena sank near the Custom House on 18-8-1927. The skipper B. Holcroft describes meeting a sudden squall as he passed under Butt Bridge. He discovered he was in danger due to the amount of water shipped. He made for the pier but the mooring ropes had only been fixed when the barge sank. The men aboard scrambled ashore without injury. Only 167 of the cargo of 200 hogsheads of Guinness were salved. Two days later the barge was raised by the Dublin Port and Docks Board and found to be undamaged.

It was the good ship Vartry
That sailed the sweet Liffee,
And the skipper had taken the casks aboard,
A goodly companee.

Blue were the labels, and azure blue,
Proclaiming double x,
But neither the skipper nor the crew
Had dreamt of storms or wrecks.

Now as she steamed by the Ha’penny Bridge,
The engine raised a row,
While a cloud no bigger than a midge
Loomed up on the starboard bow.

And as they steered by Aston’s quay,
The lookout man grew pale,
“I feared we’d not escape,” says he,
“McBirney’s summer sale”.

And ere they reached the Customs House,
Down in a wild vortex,
The Vartry plunged, the cause was plain,
She’d too much Double X.

All you who drink of James Gate,
(No matter what your sex),
Take warning by the Vartry’s fate,
Thro’ too much Double X.

Name Built Notes Disposed
Lagan Harland & Wolfe 1877 Sunk 1970s at Sandy Bay, Lurgan as foundations at Scotts
Shannon Allsop, Preston 1883 Double ended and could proceed forwards or backwards Sold and  sank off Balbriggan
Liffey Ross & Walpole, Dublin 1888 Commandeered in WW1 for service in France! Wrecked at Skane flat Lough  Neagh still visible
Lee Ross & Walpole, Dublin 1889
Boyne Ross & Walpole, Dublin 1891 Commandeered in WW1 for service in France Embedded in Hutchesons sand quay
Slaney Ross & Walpole, Dublin 1892 Sunk at Tarmac as foundations for quay
Siur Ross & Walpole, Dublin 1892 Long of Cork worked on river Slaney
Foyle Ross & Walpole, Dublin 1897 Sank on rocks near Lurgan 1950s
Moy Ross & Walpole, Dublin 1897 J Tinsley Belfast
Vartry  Ross & Walpole 65/67 North Wall 1902 James Transport London, then Belfast
Dodder Ross & Walpole, Dublin 1911 Broken at Lees Carlingford 1946
Tolka Ross & Walpole, Dublin 1913 Hamilton Gabbie Comber co Down
Docena Built in Norwich Bought UK 1920 Sank at Custom House but raised Scrapped 1950
Farmleigh Vickers (Ireland) Alexandra basin  1927 Sold to RN 1938 Used at Scapa Flow
Knockmaroon Vickers (Ireland) Alexandra basin  1929 Sold 1938 John Hunt,  Leeds
Chapelizod Vickers (Ireland)  Alexandra basin 1929 Sold 1938 Blown up on Lough Neagh 1970
Fairyhouse Vickers (Ireland) Alexandra basin  1929 Sold  To RN 1938 Worked on Humber and was at Dunkirk evacuation
Castleknock Vickers (Ireland) Alexandra basin 1929 Sold 1961 Blown up on Lough Neagh 1970
Clonsilla Vickers (Ireland) Alexandra basin 1930 Sold 1961 Sank in Lough Neagh during a storm in 60 feet depth of water
Killiney Vickers (Ireland) Alexandra basin 1930 Sold 1961 Sunk 1970s at Ballyginiff point as foundations
Sandyford Vickers (Ireland) Alexandra basin  1931 Sold 1961
Howth Vickers (Ireland) Alexandra basin 1931 Sold 1961
Seapoint Vickers (Ireland) Alexandra basin 1931 Sold 1961

Guinness company Ships

Grainne at Runcorn

From 1913 when Dublin port was paralysed by the industrial unrest Guinness secured their trade by shipping most of their beer to the UK in their own fleet of coasters. Bottling plants in Liverpool and Runcorn served the UK and African export markets. The ships also served bottlers in London and Bristol by sea.  Container and roll on roll off tankers replaced the ship’s tanks until 1993.  Trade now continues using the regular vehicle ferries.

The trade was not without incident. The Barkley was torpedoed, The Carrowdore was bombed and the bomb lodged in her rails while the Miranda struck the East Link Bridge.

The Lady Patricia was the first ship adapted with beer tanks to carry beer in bulk. These tanks were washed and steam sterilised en route back to Dublin after the beer had been discharged at Runcorn or Liverpool.   On one occasion as the Patricia entered a lock on the Manchester Ship Canal the captain looked over the side and to his horror the lock was filling with frothy tank washings.  Someone had started to discharge the rinsings of beer before they had reached the open sea.   The authorities were very strict about discharges in the canal which was suffering from serious pollution of all types and was filthy.  He had to think quickly and ordered “full ahead on engines, full astern,  stop engines”  the engines obeyed and the propellers churned up the filthy mud from the bottom of the lock.  In the stinking ordure that was disturbed concealed the beer foam and nobody was the wiser.

The task was more advanced another day and the tanks were being steamed. Whatever following wind conditions prevailed the ship was shrouded in clouds of steam as it made its way past the South Stack and out to sea toward Dublin.  An aeroplane passing overhead observed this strange sight and promptly reported that the Patricia was on fire and a lifeboat was launched to assist before all was declared safe. The Miranda had a collision with the East Link toll bridge on the Liffey while outward bound one day. It was thought that her bow thruster had caused her to deviate from her course. More seriously on 10 November 1961 the Lady Gwendolen ran down the Freshfield lying at anchor during fog in the Mersey. The incident is widely quoted in Maritime case law. Ironically the Lady Gwendolen (then called Paros) was herself rammed and sunk at anchor on 10 November 1979 at Ravenna. The Lady Patricia was in reserve for the Miranda Guinness for a few years and only operated when the Miranda was on annual overhaul. This gave an opportunity to be used for film work.  When the Patricia played the part of the emigrant ship in the film Far and Away the first officer was admonished for daring to appear on the bridge during the important work of filming. He had merely thought it prudent to steer the ship. The Patricia also played the mail boat in Hear my Song (1991).

Name Tons Built Bought from Disposed
W.M Barkley 569 Ailsa, Troon 1898 1913,Kellys, Belfast, Torpedoed and sank 1917
Carrowdore 598 Bowling 1914 Kellys, 1914 Sold to Davidsons Belfast 1952, broken 1959
Clarecastle 664 Bowling 1914 Kellys, 1915 Sold to Davidsons Belfast 1953, broken 1959
Clareisland 633 Bowling 1915 Kellys, 1915 Sold, 1931 to Antrim Iron Ore Co and sank near Isle of Man 1939
Guinness 1151 Ailsa Troon, 1931 Served the Dublin to London trade to 1938, disposed 1963
Lady Grania 1252 Ailsa Troon, 1952 Sold 1976 renamed Lady Scotia Stranded On Pacific coast of Mexico 1981
Lady Gwendolen 1166 Ardross Dockyard 1953 Sold 1977 to Cypriot shipping  renamed Paros and sank off Nova Scotia 1979
Lady Patricia 1187 Charles Hill Bristol 1962 Broken April 1993
Miranda Guinness 1540 Charles Hill, 1976 Bristol Broken April 1993


Empty barrels and hogsheads were stacked on the quays both at Custom House and at city quay.  Sheltered from view there was a shady world of the Hoggers. This group of vagrants assembled on the dockside around the empties returning from the British market and consumed the dregs ofthe barrels that were available.  The barrels were marked with red paint to indicate their contents and this paint or raddle was a particular red colour.   These characters were also known as raddlers as it was suggested that their faces and beards were stained red from the raddle on the casks. The police would disperse them when they became excessively rowdy.  Spunkers were a variety on the theme; they drank from overflowing barrels and casks that had frothed over in hot summer weather. Similar groups of woodeners or boilers targeted empty whiskey casks that they scalded with boiling water to extract the last of the spirit from the wood.

Some Yachts owned by the Guinness family

This is an incomplete list of the pleasure craft owned by the Guinness family. They ranged from racing yachts to super luxury steamers and sailing craft and even included sponsoring Jacques Cousteau’s famous Calypso.

Vessel Owner Size comment
Lady Olive Lord Ardilaun Struck Rock in Corrib 7-2-1872, relieved Captain Boycott
Medusa II Guinness 627 ton 1906-1915, sunk as HMY Mollusc off Blyth
Sea Huntress Loel Guinness Married Princess Gloria aboard, off Antibes
Cetonia Edward Cecil Schooner 1880
Ceto Edward Guinness 106 ton Entertained Prince Edward at Cowes 1886 accompanied by Mrs Keppel
Leander Rupert Guinness 90 foot yawl Won King’s Cup at Cowes
Atlantis Loel Guinness 216 ton
Calypso Loel Guinness 330 ton In the course of preservation at Brest
Fantome Arthur Ernest Guinness 139 ton 1906-1938
Fantome Arthur Ernest Guinness Ex Belem 1921-1951
Fantome Arthur Ernest Guinness Ex Flying Cloud, four masted 1938-1951
Rossaura Lord Moyne 1400 ton ex Dieppe 1933 – 1940, Sank off Torbruk
Roussalka Lord Moyne 1400 ton ex Brighton 1931 -1933, Sank off Killary
Amo Arthur Ernest Guinness Ex ML 482 1928-1949, scrapped in Dublin
Rob Roy McGregor John Guinness (banking family)

In the 1880s, yachting became popular among the smart set led by the Prince of Wales.  Cowes week became the focus of lavish entertainment.  The Guinness family took to the new fashion with gusto as befitted the new nobility.

In the membership list of the Royal St George Yacht Club for 1924 the overall tonnage of yachts exceeding 5 tons was 3,893 and of this the Guinness family owned 1,538 tons. The Rear Commodore was the Hon A.E Guinness who personally owned 1,076 tons. One of his craft was a hydroplane Oma II. The most magnificent was Fantome II. The 611 ton, barque, originally named Belem was built at Chantenay sur Loire in 1896 by the Dubigeon shipbuilding company.  She was ordered by the French industrialist Fernand Crouan to bring cocoa from Brazil for the Menier chocolate factory.  She continued this trade until 1914 when she was purchased by the Duke of Westminster who refitted her as a luxury yacht.  Arthur Edward Guinness acquired her in 1921 and renamed her Fantome II.  In 1921 he took his daughters Aileen, Maureen and Oonagh on a 40,000 mile cruise around the world.   Decommissioned in 1939, the Belem was abandoned in a creek at the Isle of Wight. An Italian foundation restored her as a sail training vessel in 1952 and she was bought by the Belem Foundation, sponsored by the French bank Caisse d’Epargne in 1980.  Since then the Belem has been based at Nantes as the last major French sailing ship. In 2005 she visited Waterford during the 2005 Tall Ships race and was photographed by John Colfer of Dunmore East. The keel of the Fantome was laid in Livorno, Italy during the First World War. Designed initially as a destroyer, the hull lay unfinished. The Duke of Westminster ordered her completion as a 1270 ton yacht, Flying Cloud, in 1927. About 1938 Arthur Ernest Guinness acquired her.  On his death in 1949 Fantome was sold in Seattle but remained abandoned there for fourteen years. Aristotle Onassis purchased her as a wedding gift for Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, but she lay abandoned at Kiel.  She became a cruise ship in 1969 and operated for Windjammer cruises in the Caribbean. The Fantome sank off Key West during a Hurricane on October 27 1998. Captain March and all 30 West Indian crew were lost but passengers had disembarked when their trip was cancelled due to the bad weather.

Amo II was converted in 1928 by A.E. Guinness and brought to Cong. She was built in 1917 by Levis in Quebec as an anti-submarine boat ML 482. A.E. Guinness also bought her sister the ML 575 which he called Amo. The Amo II sailed Lough Corrib as a pleasure boat before falling into disuse.  She became the last boat to sail through Galway’s Eglinton canal in 1954 before low bridges replaced the swing bridges and obstructed the waterway. Though refitted in DúnLaoghaire it was not sold and was scrapped by Hammond Lane Company in 1954. The other Amo may have been used for spare parts and may lie submerged at Cong. The name Amo (Latin I love) is derived from the initials of his daughters, Aileen, Maureen and Oonagh

The 1400-ton yacht Roussalka sank on 1st September off Killary Harbour.  The vessel under captain Laidlaw had landed some guests at Killary bound for Ashford Castle. When the vessel was leaving the inlet he took a wrong course and struck Bloodslate rock near Fraebl Island. All aboard, including Lord Moyne and crew of 25, escaped without injury though she sank in 11 minutes. Originally named the Brighton, she was built by the Denny yard on the Clyde in 1903 as a railway steamer. Bought by Lord Moyne in 1930 she was refitted. A 500-ton oil tank was installed to enable her to cross the Pacific.  Her turbines were replaced by diesels and one of her funnels was removed. Within a month Lord Moyne obtained the Rosaura, another Newhaven to Dieppe channel steamer that was lying disused at Newhaven. Built by Fairfield at Govan in 1905, the 1210 ton, vessel was named Dieppe IV.   During WW1 she served as a troopship and hospital ship. In September 1933 she was sold to Lord Moyne and converted to an ocean going yacht. The 1933 refit included replacement of the Parsons steam turbines with Atlas Diesels, a funnel and third screw were removed and the extra accommodation increased her registered capacity to 1538 tons. Her appearance became uncannily like the Roussalka. In August 1934 Lord Moyne entertained the Prince of Wales and Mrs Simpson on a two week Mediterranean cruise from Spain to Genoa to escape the attentions of the press. The next year Prince Edward became King Edward VIII and abdicated.  The Rosaura was hired by the Admiralty as an armed boarding vessel in November 1939 and was mined and sank off Tobruk on 18 March 1941


Shipwrecks of the Irish Coast

The Guinness story – The family the business and the black stuff