Beamish & Crawford brewers left their mark on Cork

The authors of a new book on Beamish & Crawford describe how the brewery’s founding families played a huge role in Cork’s cultural life

Beamish & Crawford brewers left their mark on Cork


William Crawford Junior (1788-1840), son of brewery co-founder William Crawford (1757-1834), was a patron of the Cork Society for the Promotion of the Fine Arts in the early 1800s. Like his father and his father’s business partner William Beamish, he was a patron of the Royal Cork Institution, founded in 1803, which had an extensive library and promoted adult education in the city through short courses and lectures.

The patronage of William Crawford Junior helped the arts scene in Cork to flourish in the 19th century, and artists like John Hogan, Ireland’s greatest neo-classical sculptor, owed much of his success to the support of Crawford and fellow patrons. Hogan’s sculpture of William Crawford Junior is displayed in the Crawford Art Gallery. Hogan also carved the monument to brewery co-founder William Beamish in St Michael’s Church on Church Road in Blackrock, Cork.

William Crawford Junior’s son, William Horatio Crawford (1812-1888), had little interest in the brewing business, though he was sleeping partner in the firm. But he used his vast wealth and income from the brewery to indulge in his wide cultural interests and to generously support education, art and culture in the city.

The memorial to William Beamish in St Michael’s church in Blackrock
The memorial to William Beamish in St Michael’s church in Blackrock


William lived at Lakelands near Blackrock, where he created an internationally renowned garden. This was where, in 1844, the Himalayan native tree, Magnolia campbellii, flowered for the first time in Britain or Ireland. A hybrid of the tropical tree Brownea grown in William Horatio’s glasshouses carries his name, Brownea x crawfordii.

A later brewery director, Richard Henrik Beamish, was also an avid gardener. As chairman of the Public Works Committee of the corporation before the First World War, he oversaw the planting of trees on South Mall and Grand Parade as well as the development of the gardens at Fitzgerald’s Park.

William Horatio Crawford was a major funder of the building of the new St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, and was also the principal benefactor of Queen’s University, later UCC, from the 1870s. He supplied plants to the gardens, paid for the astronomical observatory named in his honour, provided the funds for a student residence and donated over 2,000 books to the library. Following his death, his extensive library was sold at Sotheby’s in London. His collection was so huge, the auction took 12 days to complete.

Another brewery director, North Ludlow Beamish, was a key mover in the successful campaign to establish the university in Cork in 1849 and his son, North Ludlow Axel Beamish, served for many years as chairman of the Cork Carnegie Library Committee.

North Ludlow Beamish
North Ludlow Beamish


In 1850, the old Custom House at Emmet Place became the Cork School of Design. In the early 1880s William Horatio Crawford funded its extension and donated many works of art to the new school that was opened officially in 1885 and re-named the Crawford School of Art. In 1979, the school of art transferred to the former technical college that had been endowed by William Horatio’s cousin, Arthur Frederick Sharman Crawford, near St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, and the Crawford School of Art became the Crawford Art Gallery.

Arthur Frederick, also a brewery director, had purchased the former Arnott’s Brewery premises on Fitton Street following its closure in 1901. He donated it to the city for the building of a new technical college, which was officially opened as the Sharman Crawford Municipal Technical Institute in 1912. The corporation renamed Fitton Street, on which the ‘tech’ was located, Sharman Crawford Street in his honour. As well as providing the premises, Arthur Frederick contributed to the cost of equipping the college and provided annual scholarships for students there and at the city’s School of Art. The Crawford School of Art moved into the building in 1979; it is now the Crawford College of Art and Design.

A pottery class at the Crawford School of Art in 1956
A pottery class at the Crawford School of Art in 1956


The Beamish & Crawford brewery itself is another recognisable landmark in Cork, especially its distinctive mock Tudor-fronted office building, ‘The Counting House’. This was designed in 1919 by the architectural firm of Chillingworth & Levie. It became the iconic face of the Beamish & Crawford brewery in Cork and has been described as “an important part of the architectural legacy of the Beamish & Crawford families to the city”.

Beamish & Crawford brewery
Beamish & Crawford brewery

Chillingworth & Levie also designed the brewery’s model public houses, including the landmark Oval Bar, across the road from the brewery on South Main Street, in 1918. The architects Houston & Houston of London were responsible for another Beamish & Crawford-related landmark — the brewery’s stables on Bishop Street, near St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, one of the finest examples of Edwardian architecture in the city. The stables closed in the late 1930s and are now the site of a small business park.

From Billa to Brunel, with a Swan & Cygnet in between

Poet and writer John Augustus Shea, born in Cork in 1802, worked as a clerk in Beamish & Crawford, as did the novelist and playwright E Temple Thurston, whose family moved to Cork in 1901. Many more recent figures from the worlds of art and entertainment also served their time at the brewery, such as the celebrated Cork actor and comedian Billa O’Connell, pictured, the acclaimed traditional fiddler Johnny McCarthy and the renowned photographer, David Creedon.

Richard Beamish (1798-1873), son of brewery founder William Beamish, wrote a biography of the celebrated engineer, Marc Isambard Brunel, with whom he had worked on various projects, including the Thames Tunnel. Beamish also worked with his son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, on other high-profile engineering schemes.

The Mahon Point Shopping Centre is built on the former gardens of William Horatio Crawford at Lakelands. A monkey-puzzle tree still stands tall near the ring-road that crosses the former gardens, the only vestige of the once great garden.

In the 1930s Beamish began a process of modernising and refurbishing the principal Beamish public houses across the city, and giving them distinctive names such as The Black Lion, The Cork Arms and, in 1939, the jewel in the crown, The Swan and Cygnet at 125 Patrick’s Street. The architects Chillingworth and Levie oversaw the refurbishment, and four watercolours by rising Cork artist Patrick Stevenson adorned the walls of the stylish interior, which is still remembered fondly in Cork.

Beamish & Crawford: The History of an Irish Brewery (Collins Press), by Donal and Diarmuid Ó Drisceoil, is now available in bookshops

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