Thomas Street (George Roe) Distillery - Dublin
1757 - 1923
The history and legacy of the George Roe Distillery is very interesting – by 1886 when Barnard visited, annual output had in some years reached the enormous quantity of 2 million gallons – twice as much as the John Jameson Distillery and probably the highest output of any distillery in the world at that time. Yet, talk to anyone in Ireland or Dublin about the George Roe Distillery or George Roe whiskey and you draw a complete blank. This distillery closed in 1926, yet nobody seems to remember it or its whiskey.
Location certainly wasn’t a problem for this distillery. Located in the “golden triangle” of distilling in Dublin – an area south of the river Liffey, which included the John Power’s and William Jameson distilleries, as well as the Guinness brewery – it was also the biggest of all the Dublin distilleries, covering an unbelievable 17 acres, extending all the way to the Quays by the river Liffey. The entrance was on Thomas Street, more or less opposite the entrance to Guinness’ and was most striking, unlike any other distillery Barnard had seen. He compared it to a French Chateau with its ivy-covered walls and flower beds. You could enter the premises in Thomas Street and by means of bridges and gangways, you could keep almost under cover throughout the entire complex. Unfortunately, Barnard did not include a drawing of the distillery in his book, leaving us with only our imagination as to how it could have looked.
Peter Roe had originally bought a small Distillery in 1757. During the 18th and early 19th century, several members of the Roe family operated several different distilleries in Dublin. George Roe inherited the Thomas Street and Pimlico distilleries and quickly expanded, buying up premises and land as their business grew. George Roe’s two sons, George and Henry, inherited the family firm in 1862 and during the next 20 years the distillery reached its peak. So successful were they, that Henry gave £250,000 – easily more than 2.5 million Euros in today's money – for the restoration of the nearby Christ Church Cathedral. Both men were eventually knighted, a testament to their standing in Victorian Ireland. At the time of Barnard’s visit, the distillery was not only the biggest, but also one of the best equipped distilleries in the world. There were eight pot stills, holding from 12,000 to 20,000 gallons and five powerful engines. The Mill, which contained eight pairs of stones, could grind 1,500 barrels of grain a day and the sixteen Fermenting Vats each had a capacity of 40,000 gallons. The cooperage and stables extended over two acres and there were Smiths’, Engineers’, Fitters’ and Carpenters’ Shops on site. The storage warehouses could hold 23,000 casks, representing upwards of 1,250,000 gallons of whiskey and the Company also owned large warehouses at Mount Brown capable of holding another 6,000 casks. The water used came from the nearby Vartry and the Grand Canal. 200 men were employed by this distillery and the whiskey produced was Dublin Pot Still of the finest quality. It was shipped to all parts of the British Empire, in particular to Canada and Australia, and to the United States.
In 1891, the distillery was starting to feel the effects of cheap blended Scotch whiskies and joined forces with the DWD Distillery in Jones Road and the William Jameson Distillery in Marrowbone Lane. Their combined output had the potential of reaching 3.5 million gallons, however this proved more of a downfall than an advantage. Not only was cheaper blended Scotch taking over many of Ireland’s traditional pot still whiskey markets, worse trading conditions were to come with American Prohibition in 1919 and Ireland’s war of independence and civil war in 1920/21. The Dublin Distillers Company Limited, as the consortium was known, entered the 20th century with vast over capacity and far too much stock. The Thomas Street and the Marrowbone Lane Distilleries appear to have closed in 1923, but it took another 20 years for stocks to be disposed of.
The distillery buildings appear to have been demolished in stages, starting with those closest to the Liffey to make way for housing. Some of the top part of the site was taken over by Guinness’ who demolished further to make way for car parks and office buildings. Only one outstanding feature of the distillery remains – St. Patrick’s Tower, at 150ft high, a very famous landmark on Dublin’s horizon. This smock windmill – quite possibly the oldest of its kind in Europe – was built in 1757, the same year Peter Roe bought his original distillery, and although geographically at the heart of the distilling complex, it was never part of the distilling operation itself. The striking copper clad cupola is topped by a figure of St. Patrick carrying a mitre and a crozier. This beautiful landmark is now part of the Digital Hub complex and although accessible to view from the car park where it now stands, it is not open. What a shame –views of Dublin from the top would be outstanding and a keen eye could finally gage how far the George Roe Distillery had extended in this city.
George Roe Distillery - Thomas Street, Dublin 8
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The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom by Alfred Barnard