By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR
Depending on the ages of your group, traveling the whiskey trail in Northern Ireland and the Republic is fun and a great learning experience, even if you aren’t a devoted whiskey drinker. Bushmills and Jameson are probably Ireland’s best-known whiskeys, but there are many others, and most distilleries offer excellent guided tours of their facilities.
BUSHMILLS—In 2008, Bushmills, in Co. Antrim, celebrated the 400th anniversary of its original license to distill whiskey that was granted in 1608. To mark the occasion, Bushmills created and offered a limited edition Irish whiskey called “Bushmills 1608.”
Bushmills is triple-distilled malt whiskey and claims to be Ireland’s oldest working distillery. Products include Bushmills, Black Bush, Bushmills 10 year Malt, 16 year Malt, and 21 year Malt. After you have watched the distillery process on the tour that lasts about an hour, you can taste their samples. Children younger than 8 may visit the distillery but cannot take the tour, which is also not suitable for those with difficulty walking or are confined to wheelchairs.
For more information, visit bushmills.com
There are many great accommodations in that area too – including the lovely Bushmills Inn (bushmillsinn.com) – and there’s so much to do along the Antrim coast and in Northern Ireland in general (discovernorthernireland.com.)
Be sure to include the Giant’s Causeway, Dunluce Castle, Ballintoy Harbor, and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge in your Northern Ireland travels and also the many magnificent National Trust gardens and homes. Northern Ireland is a wonderful place to spend time and explore.
JAMESON—This spring, we visited the old Jameson Distillery that was founded in Midleton, Co. Cork, in the early 17th Century when the Irish whiskey industry was booming. We watched a video presentation and then, accompanied by a knowledgeable guide, we walked through the now-unused buildings -- mills, malting houses, corn stores, stillhouses, offices, and warehouses. During the tour, the guide explained the history and outlined the many steps involved in producing Jameson.
In 1975, production at this Midleton distillery was moved to a new site, built by the Irish Distillers Group next to the original buildings. Today, Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard is the producer of Jameson, reputed to be the world’s fastest growing international brand of whiskey.
At the end of the tour, visitors were invited to participate in a taste test of varied whiskeys. We took the test and Jameson was the resounding winner at our table for its smoothness and flavor.
Isn’t it interesting that the pub that reportedly sells the most Jameson annually is in Minneapolis, MN, and not in Ireland? In 2008, the “Local Irish Pub” in Minneapolis sold 671 cases of Jameson, or 22 bottles a day. The pub is owned by two Irish expats and has been able to maintain the top-selling title for four consecutive years.
After our tour and the taste test, we enjoyed a delicious lunch in the heritage centre’s restaurant and visited the well-stocked gift shop. A visit to this Co. Cork attraction is highly recommended and everyone in our group enjoyed the tour, whiskey tasting and lunch immensely.
While you’re in Midleton, be sure to stop for a meal at Farm Gate restaurant near the Jameson Centre. We were most impressed by the excellent and innovative menu which features fresh fare, well prepared and presented. We were staying in the area so we returned there for dinner that night. I had dined there in previous years and knew how good their food was.
In addition to Jameson and Bushmills, there are other distilleries on the whiskey trail in various locations across the country including: the Tullamore Dew Heritage Centre in Tullamore, Co. Offaly; Locke’s Old Kilbeggan Distillery in Kilbeggan, Co. Westmeath; The Cooley Distillery in Riverstown, Cooley, Co. Louth; and the old Jameson Distillery in Dublin.
For more details about recommended pubs, hotels, whiskey shops, and golf courses along the Whiskey Trail visit irelandwhiskeytrail.com
Piper Willie Clancy left an indelible mark on Irish music and the Willie Clancy Summer School has been held in his memory every year since 1973. Called the Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy, it is Ireland’s largest traditional music summer school. During the weeklong school, students from all over attend classes taught by experts in Irish music and dance. There are also lectures, recitals, dances and exhibitions. Seán Keane, fiddle player and member of The Chieftains, will open the 39th summer school and launch the week’s activities. All events are held in or near Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare, from July 2-10. Visit willieclancyfestival.com or oac.ie for more information.
ACTIVITIES IN CLARE
While you’re in the area of Co. Clare, there are lots of great activities to keep you occupied between summer school sessions such as visits to: the Clare Heritage Centre in Corofin or the Burren Heritage Centre in Kilfenora; the magnificent Burren; the Burren Perfumery in Carran, Poulnabrone dolmen and more.
There are also numerous Cliffs of Moher cruises that depart from Liscannor and Doolin and are fun in the summer warmth. Or you might take a dolphin watching tour of the Shannon (discoverdolphins.ie) or tour Scattery Island, both of which leave from Kilrush Creek Marina in Co. Clare.
The Shannon estuary is Ireland’s first marine Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and is home to the country’s only known resident group of bottlenose dolphins. More than 100 individual dolphins have been identified as using the estuary and, if you’re lucky, you might see some of the calves born each year between May and August.
In the 6th Century, St. Senan founded a monastic settlement on Scattery Island, which is less than two miles from the Kilrush marina. Island attractions include a 120-foot round tower, the ruins of six churches, a village, lots of wildlife, a lighthouse and gun battery dating from the Napoleonic era.
Co. Clare is a great place for a holiday because there’s so much to do and see there.
If you happen to be near Louisburgh in Co. Mayo the first weekend of July, do go down to the Carrowniskey beach races and see the able ponies tear across the sand. Beach racing with horses was popular in the last century in Mayo and early races took place on Carrowmore Beach just outside Louisburgh. The races eventually moved to the beach at Carrowniskey, which is perhaps best known now by surfers.
Before the races were stopped in 1982, they attracted thousands of onlookers every year. Beach racing returned last year, thanks to the efforts of a group of area residents, and this year will include a special family day of fun and entertainment.
The beach races are Sunday, July 3, and organizers promise an entertaining event. See carrowniskeyraces.ie for more information.
Enjoy your trip to Ireland whenever and wherever you go and do check the internet for the latest travel specials. Tourism Ireland’s website – discoverireland.com – is a great source and has a wealth of information about different areas and activities, festivals and more.
Check out the Aer Lingus website and other international carriers, too, for air and ground deals – and congratulations to Aer Lingus for 75 great years in the air. Aer Lingus is still my favorite airline and can boast an amazing safety record. My flights back and forth have always been smooth and perfect.
When you’re in Ireland, be sure to stop by the Failte Ireland tourist board offices (marked with a big green shamrock) for details about festivals and other activities, to secure accommodation and to learn about the area in which you’re traveling.