Irish Whiskey Pt. 2: The Teetotaller, a Visit to Bow Street, and Leaving York for Tullamore

Alfred Barnard and I arrive in Dublin 135 years apart.

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Show Notes

Time for episode 2 of my journey through Ireland, along with Alfred Barnard's historic trip to John Jameson & Son's famous Bow Street Distillery, and the story of a man who will turn your impression of the Irish and their love affair with drink on its head.


Father Mathew

The spirits were high and a wild anticipation gripped the crowd as the hero of the great Catholic emancipation Daniel O’Connell made his way over the South Gate Bridge and up South Main Street from the River Lee with Cork’s Barrack Street Brass Band in full regalia marching at his heels. 

This was to be a momentous occasion not only for the crowd, but also for the man who had earned the nickname “The Liberator.” For on this day, he was about to receive the blessing of a man who had become a local legend, Father Theobald Mathew, a Catholic priest whose Cork Total Abstinence Society was being hailed as the savior of those members of the flock who had fallen under the evil spell of alcohol. 

Born in Thomastown, County Tipperary in 1790 to a family of noble means, young Theobald found his way to some trouble at school and was sent away to Dublin under the care of Reverend Celestine Corcoran. His faith would grow and at the age of 24 he was ordained as a priest in the Capuchin order. 

After a brief stop in Kilkenny, he would find his way to Cork City, where he would quietly go about his business administering to the poor, the faithful, and faithless. Not known as a great orator, his power was in his passion and faithfulness to God. Anyone that met him could feel that passion radiating off of him and he easily held sway over his flock thanks to his penchant for practicing what he preached. 

Father Mathew’s early mission was education. He helped open several literary institutions and industrial schools and established a cemetery in town. After shepherding his people through a terrible cholera epidemic in 1832, he started to notice a terrible trend developing among his people - an unquenchable thirst for drink that would turn good men into belligerent drunkards. 

He’d heard several men speaking on the idea of taking a pledge of total abstinence from any form of alcoholic beverage. One of his respected friends from the Society of Friends, Billy Martin asked Father Mathew to take that pledge and do all he could to further the cause.

William’s arrow was straight and true. And on that fateful day in April of 1838, Father Mathew would become the iconic symbol of the total abstinence pledge for all of Ireland.

He established the Cork Total Abstinence Society, rounded up musicians to form Cork’s famous brass band that locals would refer to as the Barackas. And already beloved for his work with the poor, the Father’s message would found eager ears as thousands gathered at  his charity sermons to take the pledge. Word got out that any church that hosted one of his charity sermons would see a generous financial benefit. Soon clergymen began lobbying for Father Mathew to come speak at their parish. And to receive a silver medal or card from Father Mathew for your pledge of abstinence was a true treasure.

His mission was so successful and so widespread, that within three years Ireland would see over 3 of its 8 million citizens take the pledge and it would see the closure of 20 distilleries as sales of alcohol spirits were cut almost in half. 

But not everyone in the church was on board with this idea of total abstinence. Some clergy saw Father Mathew’s mission as not being theologically sound, while others were too friendly with the drink themselves to want to join in, and still others were just too overworked to even consider the laborious task of turning drinkers into non-drinkers. This lack of consensus among the clergy ate away at Father Mathew - it seemed his goal was an unreasonable request of 100% compliance. But he was well aware that priests that opposed or backslided could be the death of his movement.

Daniel “the Liberator” O’Connell would receive the blessing from Father Mathew as he signed the pledge as would their mutual acquaintance American abolitionist Frederick Douglass. At the same time O’Connell and Mathew would sign an American anti-slavery petition for Douglass along with 60k other Irish citizens. 

Emboldened by his success, Father Mathew moved on to England and Scotland, where he quickly drew crowds and signed up another 600k people to the abstinence pledge. 

But soon, life in Ireland would take a turn for the worst as a great potato blight crushed the country, especially the poor. Father Mathew worked tirelessly for the people at the expense of his own health and finances. Then when he heard that Rome was considering him as the next Catholic Bishop of Cork, he found his second wind, but was crushed when the honor was presented to someone else.

The Great Potato Famine would claim the lives of over one million people, many of whom were the poor that he had ministered to. Another million left the country for a better life elsewhere. With so many Irish in America, he decided to take his message of total abstinence to those overseas. 

But upon reaching the U.S. he was encouraged to speak out about the evils of slavery. Not wanting to cloud his own message of temperance by offending anti-abolitionists, he refused to speak out on the subject. Frederick Douglass wrote that he was "grieved, humbled and mortified" by the decision and began to denounce Father Mathew’s actions. 

It was a stain on an otherwise inspired career of dedication to his people. And sadly, it would be his final chapter, as the Father would return home in poor health after two long years abroad. When he finally passed away, he would be buried in Cork, in the very cemetery he had established himself so many years before. 

The citizens of Cork City insisted that he be immortalized. The statue that bears his likeness was placed in the center of town, and stood for nearly 150 years. And when suggestions were made to move it, the people of Cork protested. Their voice was heard and Father Mathew remains there to this day. 

He would go down in history as the “Apostle of Temperance.” 

Flying In

While the logical starting point for any history of Irish whisky might seem to be the origins of the spirit itself, I felt compelled to plant a seed in your mind that not everything you've heard about the Irish or Irish whiskey is 100% accurate. The image of the over imbibing Irish is a stereotype that has pervaded the common narrative, but history and societies are much more complex than the simple stereotypes we try to apply to people.

Just as I've set a tone here with the 3 million teetotallers bucking the narrative around the Irish and Irish whiskey, the man sitting next to me on my red eye flight from North Carolina to Dublin did the same for me.

After an hour or so of me trying to tune into his thick Ulster accent through his mask and the roar of the jet engine, the subject came along to what we both did for a living. He, a plumber, and he had plenty of tales to tell about some of his current activities. Then I introduced myself as a whiskey writer, on a mission to visit all of the distilleries of Ireland. I half expected his eyes to light up. Instead, his face crinkled, his eyes squinted, and out came a hearty laugh.

"You've ended up sitting next to the only Irishman to have never touched a drop of alcohol" he said. You could cut the irony with a knife.

But this affable Belfaster wouldn't be the only teetotalling Irishman I would meet on my journey. In fact, the man I was most looking forward to meeting, the man who has helped to foster this current Irish whiskey book, the man who is known as the godfather of Irish Whiskey - Mr. John Teeling, I would find out, was another Irishman who had never let a drop of whiskey meet his lips.

Truly I was in for an awakening on this trip.

After covering Irish culture, life during The Troubles, current politics, and the plumbing business, I politely said I need to at least try to catch a couple hours of shut eye before our early morning landing in Dublin. I had a rental car to pick up and a distillery to visit - I was going to at least attempt to rest.

Any thoughts I had of seeing a beautiful entry into Dublin were dashed when the Captain gave us notice at 4:20 AM that we were early to the airport and that we would have to wait on the ground for a good thirty minutes because the gate crews hadn’t even arrived for work yet. I decided to kill the time by checking in on my 19th century counterpart Alfred Barnard, to see how his entry into Dublin was going. 

Bow Street Distillery

“It was indeed a lovely sight that greeted us as we steamed into the bay; stretched out before us, as far as the eye could reach, were the Dublin Mountains, whose verdant slopes were covered with a mottling of gold and silver, cast by the rays of the brilliant morning sun. Nearing the shore we could distinguish at the base of the hills, villages and gardens of rich foliage, all lying commingled together, making up a picture that it would be difficult to describe.

On arrival at the North Wall we disembarked, when we beheld a sight which caused us much merriment. Jaunting cars rattled up to the wharf one after the other, their drivers arrayed in an assortment of garments from every old clothes shop in the kingdom. Corpulent men with garments so small that no efforts could bring together, and thin men with attire so large, that two or three could be embraced in their covering. 

We secured one of the best of the shabby looking cars, and although the horse was somewhat gone in the legs, he rattled us along so fast that some of us had to hold on to the straps, to prevent being pitched into the dusty street, and we were quite thankful to reach the Gresham Hotel and dismiss our vehicle. Before we left the “Charmin City” we got quite attached to these rollicking drivers, and preferred outside cars to any other mode of conveyance.

We were up early the next morning, and once more tried our luck on an outside car. After driving through the principal streets, and taking a peep at some of the public buildings, we turned our horse’s head towards Bow Street Distillery, visiting on our way the celebrated church of St. Michan’s, which is in close proximity to Messrs. John Jameson & Son’s Establishment. In olden times this district was a pleasant suburb, and St. Michan’s one of the few churches on the north side of the Liffey. Close by this classic edifice dwelt for some time the great Handel, and it was upon the organ at St. Michan’s that he first played the oratorio of The Messiah.

The Bow Street Distillery, which is one of the oldest in Ireland, having been established about the year 1780, covers upwards of five acres of ground, and is a quarter of a mile from the Four Courts, and about half a mile from Sackville Street, credited with being the broadest street in Europe. The water used in the Distillery is obtained from two deep wells on the premises, noted from time immemorial for its quality, purity and suitability for distillation purposes.

The works originally belonged to an aristocratic trio, consisting of an Honourable, a Baronet, and a General, and it was from these gentlemen that the grandfather of the present proprietors purchased the works at the beginning of this century. During the past forty years they have been considerably increased, and partly rebuilt, while nearly every department has been supplied with new and improved machinery.

Passing under the archway, we found ourselves in an extensive oblong court, where a very busy scene presented itself - workmen were hurrying to and fro, carts laden with Whisky were leaving the Stores, and casks of all sizes were strewn about the place. It was with difficulty that we picked our way through it all and reached the offices, which consist of a spacious suite of apartments for the partners, Distillery clerks, and revenue officers. We were conducted over the extensive works by the Manager, and commenced our inspection at the Barley Stores and Maltings. The first building entered was a lofty four-story structure, each floor measuring 126 feet by 48 feet; the top used for barley, and the two underneath, which possess the usual steeps, are for malting purposes. Attached to these is a large Kiln, 48 feet by 60 feet; this lofty building is the very perfection of cleanliness, the walls being painted a light drab colour, and the pillars bright scarlet. It is heated by four furnaces, and the floor above is laid with perforated Chester tiles. Our guide informed us that at Drogheda Messrs. John Jameson & Son have other three large Maltings and two Kilns on a more extensive scale than these.

Resuming our inspection, we were next conducted through the ten large (barley) Corn Lofts. From these Lofts we ascended a long flight of steps to the two (barley) Corn Kilns, painted in the same style, and with open roofs, as the Malt Kilns already described. The grain is raised to all the floors by means of a hoist, but the dried Barley is sent by elevators from the Kilns to the Mill. This latter next claimed our attention, and is quite a little work in itself, the building having been divided off into Machinery and Mill Room, Hopper and Grist Lofts, and four large Grist Rooms.

We entered the Tun Room, where there are ten Washbacks, clean wooden vessels, each holding 35,000 gallons; afterwards to the Still House, one of the oldest buildings in the works, which contain the Wash Charger, Stills, and other vessels. When the brewing period is passed, the wash is conveyed into the Wash Charger, which has a capacity of 40,000 gallons, from here the wash descends by gravitation to the two Wash Stills, each holding 24,000 gallons. These Stills, in addition to fire, are heated by steam coils.

From these vessels the spirit, or low wines, ascends to the Worm Tubs (there are two, each fitted with two copper worms) through which the spirit passes, and thence through the Safe to the Low Wines Receiver. The Safe is 20 feet long, and most unique in its construction; it was designed by Mr. Lockhart, the late Brewer in the establishment. From the Low Wines Receiver the vapour is pumped into the Low Wines Stills, which have a capacity of 14,500 and 13,000 gallons respectively. From here it ascends and descends as before to the Feints and Spirit Receiver, and from this vessel the spirit is pumped into one of the Vats (there are three, holding 17,000 gallons) there to be reduced as required, casked, weighed, branded, and sent to the Warehouses. The Feints are pumped back again to the Low Wines Still to be redistilled.

The Racking Store, a good substantial building, contains 6,000 gallons of duty-paid Whisky of various ages, for the convenience of customers.

On the Works are also to be found the following industries: a Smithy, Cooperage and Saw Mills, Engineers’, Carpenters’, Painters’, and Coppersmiths’ Shops. The firm make all their own carts and waggons, repair the machinery, and construct their own buildings. Every modern appliance of machinery is to be seen in active operation.

Three hundred men are employed on the works, and it is a notable fact that the operatives are never turned away except for misconduct. We noticed many hale and hearty old men; one old veteran was over eighty-six years of age.

The Chimney Stack is a fine structure. It was built in the year in which the Queen was born.

On the works are comfortable quarters for the managers and subordinates, and capital offices for carrying on the business of the Distillery and the Excise.

There are eight excise officers employed on the premises and at the Warehouses.

The annual output of this famous Distillery is about 1,000,000 gallons.”

As I completed reading Alfred Barnard’s account of John Jameson & Son’s Bow Street Distillery and his first day in the Dublin Liberties, I couldn’t help but notice that his description of the place included an even number of stills, a pair of wash stills and a pair of low wine stills. Where was the third pair of stills? Could it be this idea that triple distilled whiskey, described in the modern times as “the Irish style” wasn’t even being practiced by the forerunners of the brand who so famously claim it now?

It felt like, in trying to unravel the myths and legends of Irish whiskey, old Alfred was doing some of my legwork for me. And I started to wonder if I would end up my own trip with more questions than answers.

Being my first day in Ireland, and one where I knew I could be completely jet lagged, I had kept my plans simple. Just like Alfred and his companions, I would have only one distillery visit for that first day and that would be the standard tour at Tullamore D.E.W. an hour and a half west of Dublin. 

But first, I had to collect my rental car. This would be my third trip in a country that drives on the left, so I felt comfortable with the idea of driving myself completely around the island. I had meticulously researched the locations of restaurants, bed and breakfasts, ATMs, supermarkets, and gas stations, better known as petrol stations in Ireland and the UK. I had a few pounds in my pocket from my last trip to Scotland and a few Euro to hold me over as well.

But for some crazy reason, I had scheduled my car pickup for 8 AM, I think mostly because I didn’t want to have to get up too early at the end of the trip to drop it off. This left me with a couple of hours to kill in the airport. I found a restaurant that serves a full Irish breakfast and I loaded up. For 14 Euro, I had 2 sausages, ham strips referred to as bacon, a tomato, sauteed mushrooms, potato cakes, white pudding, and black pudding, along with a cappuccino. Let me tell you, if you are a meat eater, the full Irish breakfast is enough to fuel you from morning until your evening meal. And if your Bed and Breakfast serves it, all the better, as it can net you a nice savings in both time and money  by letting you skip lunch.

After giving my life history and putting down a hefty 5 grand deposit on my rental car on top of a 1000 euro rental fair I took off to kill some time in the countryside.

My first stop was the town of Trim, where I bought some snacks and water for my 2000 mile journey and then went for a stroll around town. As I walked toward the ruins of an abbey and 12th century castle, I discovered the old bridge I was walking across claimed to be the oldest in Ireland - having spanned the River Boyne since 1330. As I used it to move south of the river, I decided to meander down its edges and near the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey - an abbey claimed to be founded by St. Patrick himself. All that is left is a tall steeple. A cool spring day, the sun was beaming down and the sky was a perfect blue with the rich green grass reminding me I was in Ireland. 

I must have walked the town for 2 hours before making my way back over to the castle, where I discovered that actually, I wasn’t in Ireland at all, rather I was in Northern England in the medieval town of York. No, I hadn’t hit some space time continuum. As I read the sign, it mentioned that the castle had been dressed up as the town of York for the movie Braveheart. I had no idea. I smiled and considered paying the admission fee to walk around, but I quickly remembered, I had a distillery to visit. 

Tullamore DEW

I made a quick stop in the town of Tullamore to reminisce for a moment about my first trip to this town, where I quickly learned after going the wrong way into a roundabout, that driving while jet lagged is not a bright idea!

I walked up to the canal to where the old Tullamore D.E.W. visitor’s center used to be. The building is beautiful and paints a lovely reflection in the water. It is a former warehouse for the distillery, but was sold off when William Grant and Sons decided it was better to build a visitor’s experience for the brand at the actual distillery south of town. A local was sitting on a bench out front and gave me the lay of the land and told me some of the cool pubs in town I should visit. I told him I was staying in Mullingar, just north of Tullamore and he went on to tell me about the fierce sports rivalry between the two communities.

I hopped back in the car and after several roundabouts, I found myself viewing the brand new visitor’s center building. The tall structure was split into three sections, each topped with a decorative pagoda, and a copper sign on the middle section proclaimed “Tullamore D.E.W. Distillery.” I was a good 30 minutes early for my visit, but decided to pop in and get acquainted with the staff inside.

2022 Tullamore D.E.W.

As I walked into the freshly appointed Tullamore D.E.W. Distillery, I noticed to the left, a wall filled with memorabilia and bottles of many shapes and sizes. To the right, there were stands filled with bottles of whiskey for sales as well as a sitting area, and along the far wall a barrel that beaconed you to blend your own whiskey.

I walked to the counter to check in and was offered a complimentary coffee, tea, or water to start my tour. Being that I was on my 35th hour, I gladly accepted a cappuccino. She mentioned that if I walked around the corner toward the bathrooms, I could see the timeline of the brand and distillery. I couldn’t help but admire the many old bottles along the wall. One proclaimed “give every man his dew,” and yet another claimed an age statement of 8 years old and suggested it was “specially light Irish whiskey.” A bottle of 10 year claimed that it was 30 degrees “under proof.” I’ll discuss the idea of something being under proof in a future episode. Just know that this British measurement equates to a little under 40% alcohol by volume.

I asked where all the bottles came from and it appears that some were held onto by the company, while others were taken in from collectors.

This was to be one of my only standard tours on this visit to Ireland and Northern Ireland. Because I arrived on a Sunday, I figured that the head distiller and ambassadors would be off. And in reality, I knew I probably wasn’t going to be very full of questions with jet lag settling in. 

Next time on Whiskey Lore: Join me as I step around the brand new Tullamore D.E.W. distillery and the brand’s connection to a famous Irish drink. We’ll follow Alfred Barnard’s team through the streets of Dublin as they reach their second distillery at John’s Lane. And we’ll go back in time to see if we can discover who really gave the world whiskey - Ireland or Scotland. That’s next time, here on Whiskey Lore.

Whiskey Lore is a production of Travel Fuels Life LLC

Production, stories, and research by Drew Hannush

If you can’t get enough whiskey history, make sure to check out my other podcast Whiskey Lore: The Interviews, where I turn the tables and let distillers, historians, authors, and distillery founders tell their stories. 

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Thanks for listening! I’m your host Drew Hannush and until next time, cheers and slainte mhath!

For show notes, transcripts, and links to books and social media, head to whiskey-lore.com.

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