Thursday, 16 March 2023

100 Years of Irish Brewing in 50 Objects: #5 - Mountjoy Brewery's Dublin Pale Ale Bottle Label

... after the cad came back which we fought he wars a gunner and his corkiness lay up two bottles of joy with a shandy had by Fred and a fino oloroso which he was warming to, my right, Jimmy, my old brown freer? - Whose dolour, O so mine!
Finnegans Wake - James Joyce (1939)

For readers of Irish literature there are few books as chaotically incomprehensible as Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, where even having a glossary at hand which helps give meaning to the odd words barely makes a dent in the reader’s understanding of what is actually unfolding between the pages given the unfathomable grammar and syntax. But, from the point of view of Irish brewing history, it has permanently recorded what may be a reference to a lost Dublin pale ale into a famous work of fiction, as the words ‘two bottles of joy’ are believed by some to be a reference to an ale brewed by the Mountjoy Brewery in the first half of the 20th century. This may not be the case of course, as a ‘bottle of joy’ could be taken to mean a bottle of any alcoholic drink to many people, and said brewery were more famous for their porters and stouts than their ales for the earliest parts of their history.


According to Findlaters: The Story of a Dublin Merchant Family by Alex Findlater, Mountjoy Brewery came about when six businessmen decided to establish a brewery on Russell Street on the north side of Dublin in 1852. The era they were about to enter was perhaps the heyday for the bigger Irish breweries, one reason for this was that the temperance societies were a little more subdued than they had been in previous decades, and anyhow had driven people away from strong liquor towards beers and weaker alcoholic drinks which were seen as somewhat less harmful. There was less competition from smaller local breweries too, as they went into a decline - one from which they have just recently recovered. Exports of beer from the island was also relatively high so it was certainly a good time to consider establishing a new brewery, and at this time porter and was in the ascendency so that was what the brewery initially supplied to both the local and export trade. Indeed, Alfred Barnard visited the brewery around 1888 for his books on the breweries of these islands and at that time could say with some authority that Mountjoy brewery only brewed porter and stout at this time, and a few years later in Ireland: Industrial and Agricultural published in 1902 the author also says that only porter and stout were ever brewed there up to that time.

Obviously ale – as distinct from porter - was being brewed in Ireland during this period and for many centuries before, and beers termed ‘pale ale’ had been brewed in the previous centuries. A Jonathan Herrod opened a brewery in Dublin in 1786 ‘exactly on the Burton plan’ to brew ‘Strong Pale Ale’ as reported in Saunders's News-Letter in February of that year, and the same publication notes that a C. Dubois was brewing an amber and a pale ale amongst other styles in 1805 in a brewery on Mecklenburgh Street also in Dublin. There is little doubt that beers which were pale in colour were being brewed in Ireland before these examples but seeing the words in print certainly add weight to its prevalence. (It is worth noting that there were no beers called ‘Red Ale’ at this time, that term was used in certain historical publications referring to poetry and prose from ancient history, and only came into use again in the latter part of the 20th. century, although amber ales certainly existed by name.)

The term ‘Dublin Pale Ale’ dates from at least the end of the 19th century as, Alexander, Perry & Co. of the Greenmount Brewery were brewing a beer by that name in 1870 according to advertisement in newspapers such as the Croydon Chronicle and Newry Telegraph. This could be classed as just a descriptor more so than a style or brand name as such, but it again is a nice early example of the wording in print.

It seems likely that Mountjoy Brewery first starting brewing ales around 1916 as that is when the registered the word ‘Joy’ to be used as a trademark in conjunction with their beers according to the Brewery History’s website entry for the brewery. This date is backed up by some similar but slightly earlier label designs in Niall McCormack’s book of labels - ‘Grand Stuff’ - which offers the opinion that two of the earlier labels date to the 1910s. Those labels do not have the word ‘Mount’ sitting above the word ‘Joy’, and this may be a later redesign as a way of reinforcing the name with the brand. Items like this can be quite difficult to date but the label shown above may be from the 1930s or a decade later, and the brewery were advertising their ‘Joy Ales’ in newspapers from at least 1930 so, we can be sure that they existed at this date at the very least. They were brewing more than one style of ‘Joy Ale’ too, as along with the ‘Dublin Pale Ale’ they brewed a ‘No.1 Strong’ and also a barley wine, as well as a short-lived brown ale from 1953.

Their ales – or at least some of them, were available on draught as well as bottle to the consumer, again according to newspapers of this time which evokes the wonderful idea of being able to ask for a ‘Pint of Joy’ in your local public house.

This mental image brings us on to a catchy jingle published in Brian O'Higgins’ Wolf Tone Annual in the 1930s that goes as follows:

I’ll tell you what, sir –:
There’s nothing surer,
For all man’s worries,
It’s a perfect curer.

It wipes the blues out,
At a single sitting,
And sends high dudgeon,
To the dickens flitting.

With its pleasant presence,
Sweet peace comes stealing,
It promotes good humour,
And a friendly feeling.

Joy Ale its name is,
See it brightly bubblin’
It’s the Joy of Ireland,
And it’s made in Dublin.

(It is worth noting that Dublin certainly rhymes perfectly with bubblin’ when the former is spoken in a certain Dublin accent!)

Sligo Champion - September 1933

Joy Ale was quite heavily advertised in newspapers as has been mentioned but also elsewhere, as there is also a photograph of people queueing for a tram in 1948 with the words ‘Joy Ale’ written brightly across the front on the Irish Times website. The name was also written in large letters above the breweries name on the side of the brewery itself, as can be seen in this undated (c. 1970) image from Dublin City Libraries.


Right up as late as April of 1955 the Irish Press could carry the following piece about the beer:

Joy Ale has proved itself on the hard-fought battlefield of public taste, and has won a special niche in the heart of ale drinkers, not only in [Dublin] city but also a good competitor with cross-channel ales.

But sadly this heart-felt love was not enough to save the brewery and it closed in 1956, and so Ireland lost yet another of its former brewing giants. And one that had outlasted many of its rivals.


We might wonder what Joyce would have said about the loss of Joy Ale?

Although it probably matters little - as it is unlikely we would be able to understand him …

Liam K

Please note, all written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and cannot be reproduced elsewhere without permission, full credit to its sources, and a link back to this post.

Newspaper advertisement image © The British Library Board - All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive ( from whom I have received permission to display this image on this site. Label images are the authors own - as are the labels themselves. Embedded brewery image is via Dublin City Libraries Flickr page and copyrighted to them.


The Beer Nut said...

Brilliant stuff! Joyce left Ireland for the last time in 1912, so if he did know Joy Ale it must have been only from the adverts, unless some reached him in Paris.

Liam said...

Cheers John, yeah I'm not 100% convinced he did mean Joy Ale but it's a good lead in!

Lisa Grimm (@lisagrimm) said...

Great stuff!

Wish we could find those porter and stout recipes...

Liam said...

Thanks Lisa, I have brewed one if their stouts from 1881 with thanks to Edd Mather ...

Edd said...

Hi Liam ,
I reckon the phrase of "Dublin's Joy" would be a euphemism for Stout or Porter , in the same fashion of " Pint of Wallop" in the English vernacular .
Cheers 🍻