Pat Nolan Blog

Hidden Gilroy at Merrion Inn

While everybody is familiar with John Gilroy’s famous Guinness advertising posters from the 30s and 40s, the Merrion Inn in Dublin’s D4 hosts a couple of Gilroy curiosities on its walls upstairs.

For alongside the well-loved ‘steel girder’ and ‘whale’ posters sit some of the preparatory work carried out on each by the artist.

Take, for example, the famous iron girder poster; beside it at the Merrion Inn one can see the rough sketch before it became the iconic poster that we know today.

Similarly sits one such ‘work in progress’ for the whale poster beside the finished product.

Early design on John Gilroy’s Guinness whale poster.

Early design on John Gilroy’s Guinness whale poster.

“We started looking for images from suppliers to enhance the interior of the pub,” explained the Merrion Inn’s Fearghus McCormack, “We got help from Irish Distillers, Heineken and Diageo — the vast majority of images came from Diageo. I have to say they were a great help. We had the idea of using draft Gilroy images as long as we could get our hands on Gilroy images that were a bit unusual — we didn’t want to use images that everyone would have seen hundreds of times before.”

So it was that the Merrion Inn’s Guinness Rep Harry Holohan put Fearghus in contact with staff at the Guinness Archive and numerous bodies there helped the pub out including Jessica Handy, Fergus Brady and Eibhlin Colgan.

A number of anecdotes accompany some of Gilroy’s creations. For example the famous Ostrich with the pint in its neck led to a flood of letters from the general public about which way up the pint was sitting in the ostrich’s gullet, claiming that the ostrich had swallowed the keeper’s Guinness glass the wrong way up.

Gilroy put forward the ingenious explanation that the ostrich had been imitating the sealion and balancing the glass on its beak before flicking it into the air to swallow it. But if one compares the sketches with the finished version, one can see that it was a conundrum that exercised John Gilroy’s mind too. Gilroy’s sketches from the same period show that he actually experimented with the positioning of the glass in the ostrich’s neck.

Jess Handy also tells us how it’s believed that the crocodile poster image became a much friendlier version of the original as the artist overlaid his characteristic friendly character over what had begun as a much more aggressive croc. And the original sketch for the poster shows the crocodile weeping “crocodile tears”, however by the time the finished poster appeared the crocodile had become less tender-hearted! In the case of this poster the crocodile’s mouth got progressively larger in each poster version, especially the extra-long bus-side version!

According to John Gilroy’s grandson, Jim Gilroy, in the 1934 girder ad poster, the man carrying the girder was supposedly modelled on John’s own son (Jim’s father) who’d just graduated from university with a degree in Engineering while the older gent looking on in astonishment is believed to be the artist himself.

Early rendition of the famous Guinness ‘Girder’ illustration.

Early rendition of the famous Guinness ‘Girder’ illustration.

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