Friday, August 24, 2018

Old Thompson Whiskey - from Londonderry to Louisville, Kentucky

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Two Thompson brothers - James and Frank Thompson - were born in Longfield, Eglinton, County Londonderry. They emigrated aged around 16 in 1871 to Louisville in Kentucky. In the early 1900s they bought a bankrupt distillery in Owensboro, Kentucky which they renamed Glenmore Distillery.

Two of their other brothers who stayed here were Presbyterian ministers - Rev Samuel Thompson of Belfast, and Rev George Thompson, who was once the Moderator.

James Thompson sent funding for beds in Londonderry City Hospital - he authored a number of booklets about Ireland and the early settlers of Kentucky. He was invited to become the first US citizen to be a member of the Irish Parliament.

Culturally however James Thompson appears to have turned away from his Ulster Presbyterian roots, and was a member of American-Irish Historical Society. This Society was avowedly anti-Scotch-Irish in ethos and published output (see here for example).

There was a large Irish Catholic community in Thompson’s home town of Louisville, with its own newspaper, the Kentucky Irish American (see here). James sponsored the publication of a book, Irish Pioneers in Kentucky – which was a compilation of articles that had previously appeared in the Gaelic American – the cover of which gave his name in both English and also in Irish language, 'Seamas Mac Tomais' (PDF online here).

Various obituaries below give further biographical detail. The photo at the very bottom is from the Belfast News Letter, 1956

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BNL 1956