Flood, Finbarr (1938–2016), soccer player, managing director of Guinness brewery and chairman of the Labour Court, was born on 1 December 1938 in Kilmainham, Dublin, one of three children (and only son) to Jack Flood, a worker in Guinness, and his wife Eva Flood (née Carroll). The family lived on the High Road in Kilmainham, and then Errigan Road, Drimnagh, before settling in the Oxmantown Road area of Dublin 7 (affectionately known as Cowtown because of the cattle market held there every Wednesday) in a series of cottages owned by the Artisan Dwelling Company. Flood was aware, even as a young boy, of the social and economic gap between his family in their cottage on Ross Street and the very different circumstances of those who lived on the North Circular Road. Although his father’s job in the Guinness brewery ensured a steady income and the family was ‘never in danger of starving’, money nonetheless remained tight (Kearns, 38). Flood’s family was steeped in Guinness history – his grandfather also worked for the brewery, as did his uncle Edward (Gay Byrne’s father) and various cousins; aromas from the brewery were a permanent feature around his grandmother’s house on Thomas Street.
Flood initially attended the primary school on Stanhope Street run by the Religious Sisters of Charity, where his life was dominated by the kindly Sr Stanislaus. He then attended Brunswick Street Christian Brothers School (CBS), where school life was considerably tougher, and physical punishment was standard. His teacher for four years was Patrick (Paddy) Crosbie (qv), later famous for the creation of RTÉ’s School around the corner, who, although an excellent teacher, inadvertently contributed to Flood’s desire to leave school. When Flood was twelve years old, he received a scholarship from the Workers’ Union of Ireland (of which his father was a member) to spend four weeks in the Gaeltacht in Spiddal, Co. Galway. Desperately homesick, Flood arranged for his father to bring him home early and was mercilessly teased by Paddy Crosbie for the next two years as a ‘sissy’ who couldn’t bear to be parted from his mammy (Flood, 50). Although he had never really liked school, this was the final straw and when the opportunity to work in the Guinness brewery arose, he jumped at the chance.
In January 1953 Flood sat the annual Guinness messenger boys’ examination. The exam was an event in and of itself: almost 500 boys would queue down Watling Street waiting to be admitted to the Rupert Guinness Hall; grinds were offered beforehand by enterprising individuals who promised success and the fifty to seventy lucky boys who were selected were seen as having made it for life. At the age of just fourteen, Flood was successful and was offered a full-time job in the brewery, which he accepted without hesitation. Paddy Crosbie was extremely disappointed – Flood had received full marks in his primary certificate exam – and was of the opinion he should remain in education at least to university level. Flood’s father agreed, even bringing two people the boy respected to try and persuade him to stay in school, but Flood was adamant, not because he had any grand illusions about the work, but because it meant having his own money.
Although on the lowest rung of the ladder, there were benefits to being a messenger boy besides receiving a salary. The brewery encouraged the boys to attend night school and sit the leaving certificate – they paid the fees and gave a sum of money for each exam passed. Flood was able to attend Caffrey’s College on St Stephen’s Green three nights a week and later sat the exams successfully. Nonetheless, in his autobiography Flood describes the Guinness brewery he entered in 1953 as paternalistic, with a rigid power structure. Employees were clearly segregated into ‘staff’ and ‘workers’, each with their own dining room and numerous distinctions as to what overtime rates, medical benefits, and other services and facilities were provided. Progression within the brewery was strictly regulated: at the age of eighteen messenger boys graduated to the position of number taker, recording the number of barrels going out into the trade. Then, at the age of twenty-one, they were handed a boiler suit and safety shoes and became a ‘worker’, paid weekly and doing the most physical and filthy jobs in the brewery. Between 1959 and 1967 Flood worked some of the worst jobs in Guinness, including the ‘scald bank’ area of the cooperage where returned casks were checked for ‘foreign bodies’ before reuse. The coopers, one of the elite groups within the brewery, refused to bend down and instead insisted that Flood and his co-labourers would lift the heavy casks up to their noses so they could smell out impurities.
Flood later wrote that football kept him sane during that period of his life. He was introduced to the game by his beloved aunt Cathy, who from a young age brought him all over town to the various football grounds including Dalymount, Milltown and Tolka Park, lifting him over the turnstiles and always managing to get front row seats. From the age of ten Flood started playing, initially with Munster Victoria where he played at inside right forward. During a trip to Liverpool with the team at Easter 1950 his footballing future was transformed when a postmistress told him he should be a goalkeeper given his height. He took her words to heart and played in goal from that point – first for Kirwan Rovers, then with Shamrock Rovers minors during the 1957 and 1958 football seasons. In 1959 he transferred to the Virginians, a team connected to the Players tobacco factory in Glasnevin before joining Shelbourne FC in 1960 where he played alongside Dublin legends such as Theo Dunne (d. 2023), Freddie Strahan (b. 1938), Joey Wilson (b. 1938) and future Manchester United player Tony Dunne (d. 2020). Flood played in goal in the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) cup final in 1960, despite three broken fingers. The game marked a highpoint in his FAI career, with his team Shelbourne FC (Shels) winning the cup – their first since 1939 – with a 2–0 win over Cork Hibernians FC. At this point Flood had earned a reputation as a safe pair of hands, and Scottish team Greenock Morton enticed him to come play for them. Flood would fly out on Friday night or Saturday morning, play football in Scotland in front of crowds regularly numbering 12,000 where he was feted and treated as a star, before returning to his labouring position in the brewery on Monday morning. It was, he said, a strange life: the high-profile life of a soccer star in Scotland and the drudgery of working in Guinness (Flood, 177). When Morton ran into financial difficulties, Flood returned to playing his football in Ireland, first for Glentoran FC in Belfast and then for Sligo Rovers. The sheen had gone from football for him, however. His time in Glentoran was marred by the death of his first-born child, Sandra, and he felt that he short-changed the club during his time there. By the time he moved to Sligo Rovers, he had another child and one on the way – training on the other side of the country was a distraction and had become a chore. When his playing career was brought to an abrupt end by a knee injury in 1967, he was not sorry to leave his playing years behind.
A self-deprecatory streak runs through Flood’s autobiography, in which he maintained that he was always enormously lucky in his career, and so it proved in 1967. Just as his football career was ending, his career in Guinness was on an upward trajectory. In that year, in an unprecedented move, four roles were created in Guinness’s traffic department for people to move from the shop floor or ‘worker’ positions, to becoming a member of ‘staff’. Although not initially successful in his application, some months later one of the clerks emigrated and Flood was appointed to the position. By 1974 he was manager of the road transport department and in 1977 had moved further up the ladder into the personnel department as assistant manager. In a portent of his time in the Labour Court, Flood’s ability to deal with aggrieved parties, intricate labour law and irreconcilable employer–employee relations ensured he thrived in the personnel department. It was, he says, everything he wanted in a job: ‘If I had been asked to write my own [specification] I couldn’t have written a better one’ (Flood, 92). As head of the department, he instituted a series of reforms: all waiter service dining rooms were closed and replaced with self-service facilities, pay structures were harmonised, the eight-level organisational hierarchy was reduced to four, promotions were to be on merit and the ‘glass ceiling’ preventing women and manual workers from progressing was abolished. In 1989 Flood was appointed managing director of Guinness, an extraordinary achievement for someone who had left school at fourteen and entered the brewery at the lowest rank possible.
By 1994 Flood felt he had given as much as he could to Guinness. Having signalled his intention to retire, he was offered the post of deputy chair of the Labour Court on the understanding that he would then progress to chairperson when Evelyn Owens (qv), the incoming chairperson, retired four years later. Flood’s experience as both labourer and in management allowed him to bring a great understanding industrial relations to his time as chair. During his tenure, he oversaw major cases such as the 1996 Dunnes Stores dispute (which centred on zero-hours contracts and Sunday working), and the 1999 nurses’ pay dispute. Both cases were widely reported in the media and had long-lasting ramifications for workers’ rights and pay.
In December 2003, Flood retired from the Labour Court, but not from public service. He had always retained his love of football, training underage football teams such as Ballymun United, a team who, he says, brought him the greatest joy when they finally won a match after a season of losses. In the 1990s he had resumed his relationship with Shels and in 2004 was chairman of the club when it was forty minutes away from achieving immortality in a European Champions League game against Spanish side Deportivo la Corona. He also maintained his connection with Dublin’s inner city, chairing the Regeneration Boards at Fatima Mansions and St Michael’s in Inchicore, and the Grangegorman Labour and Learning Forum. In recognition of his contribution to business, football and industrial relations, the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) conferred him with an honorary doctorate in 2012, and he was presented with a Hall of Fame award at the FAI cup final in 2011. He published an autobiography, In full flood, in 2006.
Finbarr Flood died on 24 July 2016 at the Beacon Hospital, Sandyford, Co. Dublin, and was buried in Mount Venus cemetery, Rathfarnham, after funeral mass at John’s Lane church, Thomas Street. He married twice, first to Ann Collins in 1963. The couple had three children – Sandra who was stillborn in February 1964, their son Barry and daughter Suzie. Ann and Finbarr Flood separated in 1983, and Ann died in 1985. In 1999 Flood married his long-term partner, Anne Lewis. Having achieved success in all aspects of his life, Flood remained remarkably modest about his accomplishments, ascribing them to luck. He also retained his sense of humour, once telling a snoozing colleague never to jerk awake if your boss entered the room as that was tantamount to an admission of guilt: ‘The thing to do … is to very slowly open your eyes with a comment on the lines of “you know, I was just thinking about that suggestion you made earlier …”’ (Frank Shnittger, European tribune). In 2016 Diageo/Guinness established the Finbarr Flood scholarship for students from the Dublin 8 area in recognition of their commitment to study and academic achievement.