On the one hand, international maritime trade was severely, making it hard to import raw materials or food. On the other, the UK was easily Ireland’s biggest trading partner. Exports to the UK were hugely important for the country’s finances. There’s one pretty obvious Irish export to Britain: Guinness.
While selling Guinness to the UK might have been important financially, it couldn’t come at the expense of Ireland starving. Or going thirsty. A shortage of grain at the end of 1943 prompted the Irish government to ban all beer exports:
“EIRE'S BEER EXPORT BAN
Dublin-brewed stout and porter will shortly be unobtainable in Northern Ireland, Scotland and the North of England Eire, faced with the need for self-sufficiency in wheat production, will have only enough barley from the present crop for brewing for home consumption, and exports have been banned.”
The Scotsman - Saturday 30 October 1943, page 6.
While the drying up of Guinness would be annoying in England and Scotland, it was a far more serious matter in Northern Ireland, which was far more dependent on supplies from Dublin. So serious, that it threatened to close most of the region’s pubs.
Ulster Public-Houses May Close
The ban on the export of Guinness's stout from Eire may result in the closing of most of the public-houses in Northern Ireland, which have already suffered badly from the shortage of whisky and wines.
Mr. M. O'Kane, secretary of the Licensed Vintners' Association, said on Saturday that the small traders, who constituted 50 per cent, or more of the trade, would be hit particularly hard, and the posts of a large number of barmen would be placed in jeopardy.
Speaking of the possibility of increased supplies of beer coming from England, he pointed out that most Irishmen disliked beer, or, at least, preferred Guinness’s porter.
The Ministry of Commerce has denied that it has asked the Ministry of Food to release cereals for export to Eire so that more porter can be produced.”
Belfast News-Letter - Monday 01 November 1943, page 5.
I think the last paragraph explains what was really going on here. The Irish government wanted to get more grain from the UK. To pressurise the British, they threatened to cut off beer supplies, which they knew would cause unrest in Northern Ireland. It certainly got the workers riled up.
“Workers want Guinness
FOLLOWING the ban the export of stout and porter from Eire, Belfast workers have appealed to their unions to urge the Government take action to ease the situation. They contend that they have to shoulder heavier burden than workers in England, who still have ample supplies of beer.
Ulster licensees, who meet to-day discuss the situation, visualise a "dry" Ulster in which most public-houses will have to close.
As a result of the ban 220 temporary Guinness employees have been paid off in Dublin.”
Northern Whig - Monday 01 November 1943, page 3.
Irish pressure was clearly starting to have at effect:
M.P. Suggests Manufacture in Ulster
In the Northern Ireland House of Commons yesterday Mr. Henderson (Ind., Shankill) referred again to the ban on the export Guinness's stout and beer from Eire. He asked the Prime Minister if it would not be possible to secure imports from Great Britain or to make an effort to arrange for manufacture in Northern Ireland so that workers could not held to ransom "every time it suits certain people.” Many small publicans would have to close if something was not done.
Mr. Fred Thompson (U., Ballynafeigh) pointed out that many small traders - grocers, hardware merchants, and drapers - had been compelled to close their shops because they could not get supplies of goods.
Sir Basil Brooke, the Prime Minister, replied that he was not in a position to say whether anything could be done in regard to Guinness supplies, but immediately he was in a position to say anything he would do so.”
Belfast News-Letter - Wednesday 10 November 1943, page 5.
Would this political pressure have an effect? We’ll see.