:: Buzzwords

The black-hats-and-porter generation


The story goes that when Brendan Behan was asked to come up with a slogan for Guinness, he sat around for months drinking the free samples they’d sent him and came up with ‘Guinness makes you drunk’ (the famous slogan – ‘Guinness is good for you’ – was devised by Dorothy L. Sayers). Did you know that the first mention of the black stuff in literature came courtesy of Charles Dickens? I didn’t, but Alan O’Riordan’s article in the Irish Times traces the literary connections to Guinness, from Dickens to Claire Kilroy, via Flann O’Brien and Sean O’Reilly:

Flann O’Brien’s mixture of stout and mullioned snug, written at a time when, as Derek Mahon has noted, literary pubs had as yet no pictures of Yeats and Joyce / Since people could still recognise their faces, their voices, has cast a long shadow. Or possibly a stain. There is an obligatory note, for instance, in Claire Kilroy’s All Names Have Been Changed , her novel of much stout and many writers. Her somewhat cliched great Irish writer, Glynn, even has a “smattering of buff matter clung to his lapel” – a definite instance of textile intertextuality.

Kilroy is not alone in feeling the presence of the black-hats-and-porter generation; as Declan Lynch has noted: “I never pass McDaid’s without getting some race memory, of a time before I was born, when Behan and Kavanagh and Myles used to drink in these places, when alcoholism was regarded as little more than a form of self-expression, one of the few you could get away with.”

Sean O’Reilly, in The Swing of Things , even has an alter ego becoming the drink: “Pints appeared in front of him. He drank them down like they tasted uniquely of himself, brewed from every failure in his life.”


First posted: Monday, September 28th, 2009.

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