Even before the Great War, Ireland’s economy was in a weak state. Industrial development outside of Ulster was limited. Recruitment in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers regimental area was double the national average from 1910 – ’13. During the war, of Dublin’s 304,000 inhabitants, almost 30,000 joined up, 5,500 in the first two months alone.
While a great many who volunteered needed a regular wage, numerous men also left jobs to enlist. 645 of Guinness’ workforce joined up, but were assured of their jobs should they return. Of the 72 Guinness workers who joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, 20 were killed and 2nd Lieutenant Alec Haines, only son of the Guinness Manager in London, was one of four to receive military decorations.
The Irish Transport & General Workers Union found itself growing fast, appealing not alone to industrial workers, but to casual farm labourers who had very little leverage. Large farmers were unwilling to increase wages, but did benefit from the war, at least initially. Small landowners, however, found themselves squeezed, neither able to meet demand nor in a position to pay for labour.
Employees were also lost to emigration: munitions and textile factories, shipyards and other industries involved in the war effort required workers. Between 1917-18, nearly 8,500 left to work in the war supply industries in England. Facing a labour shortage, Guinness was one of several companies to study which jobs could be done by women.
The 1916 Output of Beer (Restriction) Act was passed to enable the Ministry of Munitions to commandeer distilleries if necessary, to be adapted for producing chemicals (eg. acetone) necessary for ammunition or explosives. By April 1917, distilleries were beginning to close with the loss of hundreds of jobs.