The Midleton Distillery (Cork Distilleries Co.) - Midleton
1825 - 1975
Midleton Distillery, together with the North Mall and Watercourse Distilleries in Cork, was part of the Cork Distilleries Company. Only 13 miles from Cork, Midleton is situated on an inlet of Cork Harbour, with the Dungourney River supplying water to the distillery. The original buildings, on an 8 acre site, had been built at the end of the 18th century as a very large woollen mill. The venture proved unsuccessful and the buildings were subsequently turned into military barracks, before being purchased in 1825 by James, Daniel and Jeremiah Murphy, three brothers who exploited the opportunities of the 1823 Excise Act to convert them into a distillery. By 1830 the distillery was producing 400,000 gallons annually and employing 200 men.
On the day Barnard visited in 1886, the main distillery square was crowded with wagons laden with barley, farmers selling their grain and among the crowd were several groups of laughing girls. No wonder Barnard enjoyed his Midleton visit so much! He was shown the Granaries, handsome stone and brick structures six stories high and the Maltings on four separate floors, as well as various other buildings used for storing malt. He inspected the Mill Room, Mash House and Still House, which had three old pot stills, and very interestingly, a Coffey Still, a distilling apparatus scorned by most Irish distilleries at the time. There were 7 warehouses, containing at the time of his visit 7000 casks. The distillery also had its own cooperage, smiths, carpenters and harness makers’ shops. There was a permanent fire engine and the whole establishment was lit by gas. The Whiskey manufactured was called “The Cork Whisky Make” and the annual output was a little over 1 million gallons, matching that of the Jameson Distillery in Dublin at the time.
Management of the three distilleries in Cork was shrewd, enabling the company to compete against the big Dublin distilleries and survive the extremely difficult trading conditions Irish whiskey suffered after World War I. Originally the company marketed their main brand from Midleton as "Murphy's" whisky, but from the 1920's Paddy became the flagship brand for the entire group. Paddy Whisky was named after Paddy Flaherty, a sales rep from the 1920’s who was so popular with publicans, that they started calling the whiskey from the distillery “Paddy’s Whisky”. Paddy whisky was originally a 7 year old pure pot still whisky, becoming later on a 10 year old pure pot still, which boasted to be the only whisky in the world offering a £1,000 guarantee to "anyone who proves that any genuine Paddy on sale is less than 10 years old". Paddy became a major export brand and interestingly, continued spelling the word whisky without an "e" until the early 1960's, unlike their Dublin competitors, who had been using the spelling whiskey since the latter half of the 19th century.
The Cork Distilleries Company joined forces with Powers and Jameson in 1966 to form the Irish Distillers’ Group. The Midleton Distillery itself hadn’t actually changed much in the 80 years since Barnard’s visit. The two smaller stills had been replaced in 1949, by the same Dublin company who had installed the previous stills in 1880, but the 31,648 gallon Wash Still was still in operation, and this, the largest pot still in the world, can still be seen today. Malting had continued at the distillery until 1969 and the last distillery Manager was a certain Sandy Ross, directly related to the A. Ross who had shown Alfred Barnard around in 1886. Sandy Ross is still remembered in Midleton, not least for the infamous incident when one of the pot stills blew up, and he was hurled down the stillrom and out through a window by the blast. He was left wearing only the collar of his shirt and the belt of his coat! Legend relates that one of the family bosses commiserated with him and advised him to take the rest of the day off - but to be sure to report for work the next morning.
An ultra modern distillery was built by the Irish Distillers Group next to the old distillery in Midleton and in July 1975, 150 years after the Murphy Brothers first put their seal on whiskey distilling in Ireland, the stills finally went silent. Workers simply clocked off in the old distillery on a Friday and clocked in to the new distillery the following Monday. The new Midleton Distillery now distils all of Irish Distillers’ whiskeys, famous brands such as Jameson, Powers, Paddy and Redbreast.
By the mid 1970's, some respect for industrial architecture and heritage was starting to emerge, which is probably what saved this old distillery in its entirety. The old distillery lay idle for more than a decade, but was then given a new lease of life as a tourist attraction. It is now a superb visitor centre, called The Jameson Experience, open all year round. External and internal structures within the distillery are very much unchanged from the day it closed and a visit of this distillery is a real journey through the history of whiskey and whiskey distilling in Ireland. No visit to Midleton would probably be complete without calling in to Michael Canty's Pub . This traditional Irish Pub has been home to every generation of distillery worker and the whiskeys they produced, and it's quite possible Alfred Barnard enjoyed its hospitality too on the day of his famous visit.
The Midleton Distillery - Distillery Walk, Midleton, Co. Cork
If you have any information, photos or know of any old bottles from the Midleton Distillery, 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