“What whiskey will not cure, there is no cure for.” Irish proverb
Everything in Dublin seems to be steeped in history and rebellion. Two shining examples would be the Teeling Whiskey Distillery and Kilmainham Gaol/Jail.
The Teeling Whiskey Distillery is the first new distillery in Dublin in over 125 years and it has revived the craft of distilling back in the very heart of Dublin. In the 1800s, Irish whiskey was simply the best, but in the early 1900s, the Irish War of Independence and Prohibition in the States killed the industry. But the Teeling family is back in business and at the forefront of a whiskey revival. I can recommend the tour and highly recommend the whiskey tasting that comes after.
The idea for whiskey came from Irish monks who traveled to Turkey in the sixth century and were amazed by the process of making perfume. They returned with whiskey dreams. In Irish whiskey is “uisce beatha”, meaning “water of life”.
Teeling’s is a working distillery and the aromas coming from the vats – the barley, the sugar, the yeast, and the subsequent fermentation – are warm and powerful. Scotch whiskey is distilled two times – Irish whiskey three times.
The color and the flavor of the whiskey come from the barrels in which they are aged – for three years and a day. As the barrels contract and expand with the changing weather conditions, a tiny bit of the batch evaporates – the “angels’ share”.
All of the facts and history are fascinating, but it doesn’t really sink in until I taste the stuff. And our guide Aidan is very Irish in his explanation of the right way to go about it. First, no shots, ever. Second, a bit of water brings out the flavors in the whiskey. Third, adding ice is up for debate. (The oil in the whiskey sticks to the ice and mutates the flavor.) It’s best to take a small sip from the glass, hold it in your mouth, swallow, and then exhale. I do as instructed but it’s still a bit strong for me straight up. However, Teeling’s seasonal cocktail with lemon, simple syrup, and camomile tea on the rocks is delicious. And when I notice that each sip gets better, Aidan wisely states, “That’s the whiskey talking.” My friend and I linger for awhile at the bar and the gift shop.
But it’s starting to get dark as we leave the distillery, so we hurry over to one of Ireland’s most important historical monuments, Kilmainham Gaol. The jail which was occupied from 1796 to 1924 is now a museum of the history of Irish nationalism.
The spirit of oppression and misery lingers in the cells and in the air. The stories of the deplorable conditions are haunting – women and children were incarcerated up to five in each cell, with only a single candle for light and heat. Each candle had to last for two weeks. Today the freezing February air is rushing in through the glass in the windows. When there were prisoners here, there were just open holes in the walls.
But Kilmainham’s most important stories are those of Ireland’s rebels. Every nationalistic leader, with the notable exceptions of Daniel O’Connell and Michael Collins, were incarcerated here. After the Easter Rising on April 14, 1916, when the Proclamation of Independence was read aloud in front of the post office, fourteen leaders were imprisoned in Kilmainham jail. They were later executed by firing squad by the British.
The open area where Ireland’s heroes were executed is still quite stunning, and so many movies have been filmed in the jail, including 1993’s In the Name of the Father and 1996’s Michael Collins. My two favorites are The Wind That Shakes the Barley (Do not watch it alone!) and U2’s video for the song “A Celebration”.
However, the thing that I will remember the most from the day is the love story of Grace Gifford Plunkett and Joseph Plunkett who were married in the jail just hours before Joseph was executed here. Grace became a prisoner herself during the Irish Civil War. She obtained crayons and drew the original Kilmainham Madonna on her cell wall. Years later another artist copied Grace’s work using oil paints to reproduce the inspirational work of art that one can see through the portal of her cell door today. It is a moving reminder of her life and of the beauty that is created and remains through suffering.