A SPECIAL FEATURE BY DAN WALSH
Today (May 18th) was World Whisky Day and I couldn’t let the occasion pass without penning a short article recalling the whisky trade origins in Co. Wexford…and, of course, I responsibly downed a half-one…or two… of the the celebrated Uisce Beatha which translates smoothly into “the water of life.”
From Scotland to Japan, whisky is drunk around the world. For that reason, World Whisky Day dedicated to making whisky fun and accessible for everyone, rather than exclusive or prescriptive.
All that you need, according to the expert organisers of World Whisky Day, is “a bottle of whisky to share with your friends”. The whisky itself can be drunk any way you like – be that with ice, neat, or with a mixer.
Even blended whiskies are welcome on World Whisky Day.
According to John Clement Ryan in his foreward to Brian Townsend’s historical tome ‘The Lost Distilleries of Ireland’ Wexford played a major role in the production of the spirit and two of the world’s finest – Jameson and Power – are universal brands to this day.
Bishopswater Distillery in Wexford town prospered between 1827 and 1915, having been built by a local consortium, but six years later, Nicholas Devereux, believed to be John Devereux’s son, bought out the other members, and the business was run under the trading title of Nicholas Devereux & Son for the next 80 years.
The location facilitated export to Britain through Wexford Harbour and it is recorded as sold in London, Liverpool and Bristol, and, of course locally.
Most of the grain came in through the harbour having been brought down the River Slaney by boat. It was stored in a three-storey waterside granary with a capacity of 2,500 barrels.
It was worked by three generations of the Devereux, came under pressure during the Famine years when it was closed and the grain was used to produce food instead of spirits. The company went bankrupt at the start of World War 1.
Andrew Jameson was a brother of John Jameson and came to live at Daphne Castle in 1815, and three years later he established the Fairfield Distillery and brought a new locality into folklore, a few miles from Enniscorthy on the River Urrin, called ‘The Still’.
Father Mathew’s (1790-1856) temperance crusade is accused of bringing about the closure of the Fairfield distillery and about 1850 the Jamesons packed up their belongings and headed to Dublin.
The distillery of John Power & Son at John’s Lane, Dublin, was established in 1791, but was dismantled in 1976, and along with the Jameson brand, were united under a markets merger registered as Irish Distillers Ltd.
Actually, the company pioneered the use of miniature bottles, known affectionately as the famous ‘Baby Power’, which was a popular take-home tonic at the end of a night’s socialising, and, in fact, special Government legisaltion had to be passed to make the sales of this product lawful!
The Power family first settled at Edermine House, south of Enniscorthy on the eastern side of the River Slaney in 1820. James Power, the founder of the distillery died in 1814, and was succeeded by his son, John, who was knighted to Sir John in 1836, and not only did he lay the foundation stone for the present Edermine House in 1838, he was an Alderman of the City of Dublin, and laid the foundation stone for the Daniel O’Connell memorial on Dublin’s O’Connell St. (then called Sackville Street) in 1854.
The last of the Powers of Edermine was Sir Thomas Power, who died in the Killiney suburb of Dublin in 1930.
A fitting memorial to the Power family are the 16 houses known as ‘Power’s Range’ that are still occupied and admired to this day beside the N11 in the busy village of Oylegate.