Roe & Co Distillery, James's Street

The Guinness Power Station

The 1940s Art Deco-style building was once the powerhouse of one of the world's largest breweries



As its recently been made a protected structure by Dublin City Council  – one of only a limited number of 20th century buildings in the city on the Record of Protected Structures – we take a look at one of The Liberties’ most iconic modern buildings. 


The world-famous St James’s Gate Brewery is the largest industrial complex in Dublin city centre, covering a site of almost 60 acres at the west end of the Liffey quays, and with two distinct areas straddling the north and south of James’s Street.

The original brewery lands to the south of James’s Street were leased in 1759 by Arthur Guinness, with gradual expansion by Guinness & Sons in the 19th century pushing the boundaries further west and north. From the mid-1880s to the early 1900s, the brewery was extensively rebuilt to become one of the world’s largest breweries of the time.

A new power station for the brewery was commissioned in 1943 to replace a previous power station, located near the Grand Canal Harbour. By the early 1940s it had become apparent that the Grand Canal Harbour power station was no longer fit for purpose. An English architect F.P.M. Woodhouse, who was the in-house architect for Guinness & Sons, was commissioned to design a new power station, to be situated on a site north of James’s Street. Woodhouse died suddenly in 1946, while construction of the power station was underway, and it fell to Sir Alexander Gibb and Partners, who were appointed as engineers to the project in 1945, and the contractors McLaughlin and Harvey to complete the project.

The design of the Guinness Power Station was clearly  influenced by similar structures in England from the 1930s and 1940s. Sir Alexander Gibb and Partners worked with Sir Giles Gilbert Scott on the construction of the Guinness Brewery in London (1933-5), which the Power Station bears some resemblance to, while Scott was the architect on a number of power stations in England including Battersea (1929-33), Southbank (1947-63) and Rye House (1953-4). Cliff Quay Power Station, Ipswich was designed by Sir Alexander Gibb and Partners (1949-52) with stepped floor levels, vertical windows and the symmetrical arrangement of chimneystacks bearing resemblance to the Guinness Power Station.

War shortages had an impact on construction of the power station. Cement and steel were in short supply as both were rationed and were increasingly expensive. A shortage of coal after the War encouraged research into alternative fuels. As a result, the new power plant boilers were designed to work with both oil and coal. A coal conveyor was provided, leading to Victoria Quay. Similar to many of the power stations built in England in the mid-twentieth century, the steelframe was clad in brick, with one million Kingscourt ‘rustic’ bricks used, including 250,000 special order bricks for curved and angled corners, which were used to create variety in the window opes. NORI acid resistant engineering bricks were used to the interior of the chimneys and a hardwearing fire-resistant block called Granwood was used for the flooring. The interior was tiled to a height of 1.9m with plaster above. The coal conveyor was sheeted in copper with copper also used on hipped roofs to the upper levels; the remainder of the roofs were felt-covered. The windows were galvanised steel.

Guinness Power Station 1950s (image: Guinness Archive)

The building, when completed, comprised a turbine house (to the south) with a boiler house located to the north, on the lower slope of the site, a switching room and ancillary spaces with two tapering octagonal chimneystacks flanking the north elevation. The coal conveyor was damaged by fire and replaced by an elevator in the early 1950s. An image dating to 1959 shows the building following its removal. The copper-clad structure to the roof of the boiler house was replaced in a brick structure with flat roof hidden by parapet wall similar to that of the boiler house. The higher level above the boiler house was also rebuilt; it was extended southwards by one bay and its hipped roof was replaced by a flat roof. Further extensions to the Power Station were carried out in 1983 and 1990. In 1983 two flat-roofed single-bay single-storey extensions were constructed on either side of the turbine house. These were built of similar materials to the original structure, with their south elevations set back slightly. In 1990 a single storey structure was constructed to the east side of the turbine house, above the single-storey block constructed as part of the original building. This was constructed of brick with strip brick recesses reflecting the windows and vents of the main building. A matching ‘dummy wall’ was built on the west wing to balance the south elevation.

Brickwork, Guinness Power Station (image: Built Dublin blog)
The enormous conveyor belt bringing coal from Victoria Quay to the Power Station (image: Guinness Archive)
The Power Station was finally decommissioned in 1993.
A new lease of life: stills for the new Roe & Co Distillery leaving their factory in Scotland (image: Diageo)

The building remained in use until 1993, when it was replaced by a gas-fired C.H.P. plant.  In 2018, the Power Station was converted to a distillery and visitor centre for Diageo’s revived whiskey brand – Roe & Co. The revival of the Roe brand after almost a century saw another of The Liberties’ great brewing/ distilling names, the Roes, return to the heart of Dublin’s famed Golden Triangle.

The interior of the new Roe & Co Distillery now exudes classic mid-20th century elegance with a new public bar  – The Power House Bar – as well as the Tasting Room and Mixology Room of the distillery tour surrounding the new copper whiskey stills, which have pride of place in the former turbine hall.

Roe & Co Distillery & Visitor Centre will reopen later in Summer 2020.


Source: Dublin City Council Conservation Section 

Roe & Co Whiskey Distillery and Power House Bar
A birdseye view of the stills
Roe & Co Distillery, James's Street
Sampling Roe & Co

Related News

Sign up to our newsletter