Cassidy’s Distillery - Monasterevan
1784 - c. 1921
Cassidy’s Distillery was for the 137 years of its existence at the social and economic heart of Monasterevin (also known as and spelt by Cassidy's as Monasterevan), this small town in Co. Kildare, south of Dublin. Throughout this time it belonged to, and was managed by, the Cassidy family and the whiskey it produced was labelled as Cassidy & Co. Monasterevan.
Although not regarded as one of the greatest of Ireland’s Distilleries, when Alfred Barnard visited in 1886, he was definitely impressed. The Distillery covered 10 acres of ground and had a frontage to the street of 293 feet. He noted ‘At the time of our visit a number of little lads, without shoes or stockings, were busy pricking the holes of the tiles to unstop them, a process which has to be repeated three times a year to secure perfect ventilation’. The Mash House particularly impressed him. It was constructed in the shape of a beehive and was unlike any other he had seen on his travels. Apparently at one time during its construction, the workmen all left, fearing it would fall upon them before the erection of the key stone on its conical roof.
The Distillery had its own carpenters’, smiths’ and engineers’ shops and extensive stables with 30 horses of a superior class, as James Cassidy was famous for his fine breed of horses (he eventually had two Irish Derby winners). As with many other distilleries of the time, they paid the local farmers in tokens, known as Turf Tokens.
Cassidy’s Distillery produced pure pot still whiskey and Barnard tasted a 6 year old whiskey and considered it a ‘fat, creamy whisky, suitable both for blending and to use as a self spirit’. The Cassidy Distillery sold nearly all its whiskey locally, with the exception of 40-50,000 gallons destined for export, which is probably one of the reasons it never reached the fame of the larger export orientated distilleries.
The Distillery closed in 1921, as Ireland was struggling with independence and civil war. From 1914, wartime taxation and other restrictions took their toll on the distillery and the owner, Robert Edward Cassidy fell ill and died in 1918. His son, James, was too young to take over the running of the distillery, so it fell to his wife, Gwendella de Beler, a young Frenchwoman, to try to keep the family firm going. Things went from bad to worse and eventually the distillery went into voluntary liquidation, when the banks foreclosed for a sum of £40,000 with only 3 day’s notice.
It must have taken several years to sell off all the whiskey stocks and in 1934 the premises were bought over by an engineering firm, Samuel Edgar Holmes. Any of the buildings which were unsuitable for engineering purposes were left to fall into disrepair and nowadays, the engineering firm has gone too. The son of one of Holmes' employees remembers a well at the end of their garden in the 1950's, more than 70ft deep and which had been used for the distillery's water supply and the memories that cold clear water have remained with him to this day. Cassidy’s Distillery still dominates Monasterevin, with the distillery buildings to one side of the main street and the old maltings to the other. Dan Carmody, of Carmody’s Pub, still remembers when the picturesque ivy-covered stone archway, which Barnard had so admired on his visit, was knocked down by a crane for the engineering works too high to fit through. The Distillery buildings are now completely vacant, grey and desolate with doorways boarded up, but a few moments gazing through the cracks or admiring the buildings from the roadway, will give you an impression of the scale and former importance of this distillery.
For a long time, Monasterevin was a complete traffic bottle neck, as it was on main road south from Dublin. Nowadays it has been by-passed, so you need to make a detour to go there. But it’s a small detour – it’s just a 10 minute turn off the M7 motorway and a good place to stop if you are travelling to Cork, Kerry, Limerick or Kilkenny from Dublin. We recommend Monasterevin to anyone who wants to spend some time in the real Ireland, with not a tourist in sight. More to the point, we have uncovered not one, but unbelievably two great Irish pubs, all connected to the old distillery – Mooney’s in Monasterevin and The Fisherman’s Thatched Inn, 4 miles away. Each one is completely different - if ever you fancied creating your own Ulysses day in modern Ireland, Monasterevin and these great pubs may just be the place to start that journey.
Cassidy's Distillery, Dublin Road, Monasterevin, Co. Kildare
If you have any information, photos or know of any old bottles from the Cassidy Distillery in Monasterevin, we'd love to hear from you, so please don't hesitate to contact us.
The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom by Alfred Barnard
Local Tourist Info and Accommodation: www.monasterevin.ie