Let me lead off with a confession/reveal: though I’ve not employed 23andMe to examine my personal family history, I’m pretty sure that I have no significant link to Irish forebears. Both of our daughters were given names with an Irish lilt (Shannon and Erin), but the only “green” in our family hangs in the closets, and comes out on St Patrick’s Day (if at all).
That makes my high regard for Thomas Cahill’s book an objective conclusion. How the Irish Saved Civilization is my kind of history: he focuses on the significant influence exerted by people from a land walled-in by water, and allows a retrospective that shows how the impact of a few can have profound positive repercussions for generations.
Patrick (“Saint” was not his given name) was an English teen taken from his home by Irish pirates who took him back to Ireland and enslaved him. Six years later, he escaped and returned home. He became a cleric, established a life and ministry in England, but felt the call to return to Ireland, where his life and impact became legendary. He’s a key character in Cahill’s book; it’s a great read.
How the Irish drops the story off at the Medieval Europe off-ramp. Did the contribution of the Irish end there?
Run the clock forward a few centuries, and another great story unfolds in Ireland. In the 18th Century, the blood alcohol level in Ireland was at a dangerous peak. In that era, water-borne disease was rampant, and the technological sophistication that would lead to modern, centralized and safe water was still generations future. People knew that alcohol was “safe,” and – in the mid-1700s – Ireland was in the midst of a time called “The Gin Craze.”
Most people in Ireland hydrated using whiskey and gin as their preferred beverage, and the impact on society was inevitable. The British Isles were marked by poverty and crime; against that backdrop, the life of Arthur Guinness unfolds.
He was born in 1724; his father was an archbishop. He was inspired by the profound wisdom of English revivalist John Wesley (a contemporary): “Make all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.” That motto became Guinness’ mission life.
Guinness was infuriated by the drunken stupor that he saw around him. He prayed fervently that God would do something to alleviate the alcoholism on the streets of Ireland. He felt that God was responding to his prayers when he formed his Calling: “Make a drink that men will drink that will be good for them.”
Though Arthur had children who bore his name, the Guinness name would be multiplied beyond his human progeny on the bottles that came from his brewery. Over the coming decades, Guinness’ dark stout beer became the alternative to the mind-numbing alternative represented by the hard liquor that had owned its consumers.
If the Guinness story ended there, it would just be a footnote in history’s pages. But the family culture that was founded in the scriptures and fueled by personal faith manifested across future generations in powerful ways. Arthur’s grandson Hendry Grattan Guinness became an evangelist in the category of D.L. Moody. Another descendent received five million pounds sterling as a wedding gift, then moved with his new wife to the slums, where he used that money in efforts to eradicate poverty.
God moves people of grace to become people of greatness, and the roles He has for them are profound and powerful. “Calling” is not a mystery beyond comprehension or discovery: it’s the secret behind leaving a legacy – within, and beyond a family – that will reverberate into Eternity.
Thank God for Patrick, and for Arthur, and for the Irish.
br />Bob Shank