Wednesday, January 06, 2021

For Peat's Sake! Bushmills and Ulster's distilleries in 1891

In looking for other things I found online a digitised edition of The Industries of Ireland – Part I, Belfast and towns of the North, the provinces of Ulster and Connaught, published in 1891, available here. It's a superb summary of the large businesses and employers of the time and provides what we might today call a 'backstory' for each of them. Most of the expected big names are in it, including of course a number of whiskey distilleries.

The description of Bushmills sounds like an advert voiceover script –

Far up in the north of County Antrim, close to the Giant’s Causeway, and in the midst of some of the grandest of Irish scenery, stands the little village of Bushmills, a quaint and interesting hamlet in itself, and specially noteworthy from the fact that here is situate the famous old Bushmills Distillery. This establishment is at once the oldest and one of the most celebrated of typical Irish distilleries, and the merits of its product in high-class whiskey are known in every land under the sun.The secret of the success of this whiskey undoubtedly lies in the quality of the water of the river Bush, which flows through peat bogs for a long distance, and thus yields a liquid which is specially suited to the distillation of superior malt whiskey. 

You can see the full description on pages 77 & 78. The reference to peat bog is interesting as 'peated' whiskey is today associated with Scotland, not really Ireland (but there are a few exceptions).

• Young, King & Co. Limited, Distillers of Limavady are in there too – owned by Samuel Young MP who was born near Portaferry – whose brand was Brian Boru (page 81).

• Robert A Taylor Distiller from Malt Only, of Coleraine, has an entry (page 157) - their 'H.C.' brand won the coveted Pure Malt Distillers award at the Edinburgh Exhibition of 1886.

• Duncan, Alderdice & Co of 74 Hill Street Newry are described as being the owners of the "Old Distillery" in Monaghan Street (page 159) with their brands "The Native", "Hand-In-Hand" and "White Label".

• The Irish Whiskey Company Limited of Queen Street Belfast (page 118).

• Strangely there's no mention of the giant of them all – Royal Irish Distilleries / Dunville's

• The Lough Neagh Pure Whiskey Company (page 71) with offices at 105 Royal Avenue, Belfast - this one reads like a hugely ambitious prospectus concept to turn Glenconway Mill on the banks of the Glenavy River into a new distillery, using a new system called 'The Improved Wallace Multiple Pot-Still, patented 17th May 1887, No 7,190) and gives a lyrical description of how this new system would work. And the ultimate seal of approval - the manager of a malt distillery in Scotland did a blind test of Jameson 15 Year Old, Roe 16 Year Old, and a sample from the reputed Wallace still and declared "I must admit that they are not to be compared with whiskey from your still". The founders of the company were Samuel Sandys Briggs, (born in Maryport, Cumbria in 1824, but relocated to Glenavy around 1885) Joseph Wallace (the inventor and patent-holder of the still; he was a 'medical scientist' from Oxford Mansion, Oxford Circus, London) and George Douglas Hughes (engineering businessman from Nottingham but had previously worked in Belfast in the 1840s), with Jackson Totton as company secretary (he was born Portadown but lived in Belfast, an accountant, and according to his obituary he had been both Grand Treasurer and also Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland). However, I can find no other references to this company or the Wallace Still in the online British Newspaper Archive - it's a mystery. 

• The content creeps into County Louth and includes Dundalk – "the industries of the town are also in a progressive condition, and include flax-spinning, tanning, ironfounding, distillery..." (page 51).