Travel

The emerald isle

Once rich in distilleries, Ireland has few left and only one permits visitors. So whisky tourists have to work domainly with museums. Great country to do it though.
By Rob Allanson
No matter how much you might love Irish whiskey, there’s no escaping the fact there is a palpable sadness over the whiskey industry there.With the exception of Jameson, an increasingly cosmopolitan whiskey and a major world success story, little Irish whiskey crosses its borders.Great Irish brands such as Paddy and Powers are largely shunned by the younger generation, and fine pot still whiskeys such as Redbreast and Green Spot are known only to whiskey enthusiasts, mainly outside Ireland itself.It’s partly to do with the fact that Irish distilleries are closed to the public.While Scotland is buzzing and whisky tourism grows year on year, south of the Irish border the nearest you’ll get to Irish whiskey production is a limited amount of distillation of low wines brewed and first distilled elsewhere on the site of a distillery museum.Neither Irish Distillers at its large and awesome Midleton distillery nor Cooley operating on the Irish border on Ireland’s east coast, accommodate tourists.It’s as if whiskey got left behind with the old Ireland that is being swept aside by the country’s new found wealth.And indeed,a once fertile nation of whiskey making would seem to have been reduced to a few closed distlleries.No matter that Midleton is growing as never before and that Cooley,now in its 20th year, is offering a varied and stimulating selection of whiskey brands.It’s a matter of perception, you see.Much of what’s good about Ireland’s whiskey future is hidden from sight. Out in rural villages such as Kilbeggan and Tullamore you can stand and gaze down the straight and silent locks that once brought the malt and took away the whiskey but do so no more.And if you’re not prepared for the silence of the waterways in Tullamore and the absence of people at Old Midleton then it can make for an almost-literally sobering moment or two.To see Irish whiskey production you therefore to the travel over the border into the United Kingdom, and travel north of Belfast close to Giant’s Causeway, to Bushmills.So should the whiskey enthusiast bother making the effort?Most definitely.Once you prepare yourself mentally for the experience, Ireland offers an intriguing and fascinating whiskey experience from a historical perspective.There are plenty of great Irish whiskeys to try and which are rarely found elsewhere.Finally the real ‘old’ Ireland is still there if you look for it, and the combination of a wonderful country and some of the best golf and fishing in the world,make the Irish experience a great one way beyond the whiskey.BELFAST
THE WHISKEY EXPERIENCE Bushmills Distillery Bushmills lies towards the north of Belfast close to one of the most stunning and under-rated coastlines in Europe and close to one of the great wonders of the world,Giant’s Causeway.It is a malt distillery,but its product has much in common with other Irish whiskey through triple distillation,highly respected by whiskey enthusiasts,Bushmills is now in the hands of Diageo and therefore likely to get the support and recognition it so deserves.The distillery itself doesn’t disappoint.It’s pretty and homely,the operation is impressive and the investment in quality casks for maturation and some of the resulting whiskey ensure it holds its own tooffer a whiskeyexperience just as good as many of its cousins to the east.Tours are thorough and well conducted,and the cosy bar and restaurant at the end are as good a place as any to enjoy a glass or two,and to warm up – it will almost certainly rain while you’re there WHATELSE TODO The Giant’s Causeway should not be missed,the coast nearby offers you spectacular and embracing walking,and back in Belfast all the delights of a major cityareon offer Cave Hill Country Park Archaeological and natural attractions and a collection of Neolithic caves make this an outdoor option.Anadventure playground will keep the young ones happy Tel +44 (0) 28 9077 6925 Ulster Museum National collection of Irish art and history,a considerable collection of treasure recovered from the Spanish Armada,and art from across the world,plus regular changing exhibitions and events Tel +44 (0) 28 9038 3000 www.ulstermuseum.org Belfast Castle Historical castle with beautiful gardens.Tours include a slide show Tel:+44 (0) 28 9077 6925 WHERE TO STAY Belfast offers a wide range of accommodation.Centrally placed and at the top end of the market are the Europa,which was once the most bombed hotel in the world and is now asafe and secure 240 room hotel with executive accommodation,The Ramada and the Culloden Hotel, which is set in picturesque grounds GETTING THERE Belfast has two international airports and connects to most European cities CORK THE WHISKEY EXPERIENCE Old Midleton Old Midleton Distillery is sited right next door to the new one so while they’re making millions of litres of Jameson,Midleton,Tullamore Dew and the like, you can see how it used to be done.Old Midleton is an impressive place,with its huge warehouses,waterwheels and fermenting and distilling equipment.It’s immaculately maintained,with old equipment and vehicles strategically placed round the site.Tours here are excellent and the guides tend to have a good collection of colourful anecdotes to help bring the place alive.You can’t escape the overall emptiness of it all,however WHAT ELSE TO DO Nearby Cork is Ireland’s third biggest city and the county is a rich and pretty playground.The Atlantic sea plays an important role here,and the seafood is consistently wonderful.You can catch it yourself or have it served up in some of the region’s fine restaurants.There are some outstanding golf courses down here and the new money has guaranteed some top class sporting facilities across the region Other highlights include: Blarney Castle Six hundred year old castle that served as a base for the English until it was liberated in the early part of the 20th century with the establishment of the Irish Free State.Soaked in history,it’s also home to the famous Blarney Stone Tel:+353 (0) 21 438 5252 www.blarneycastle.ie Fota Wildlife Park Cheetahs and lions are among the 90 species that are on show here and with agoodchildren’s play area,and café facilities this makes a good family day out Tel:+353 (0) 21 481 2678 www.fotawildlife.ie Bantry House and Gardens The house was built in 1740 and extended in 1765.Its extensive gardens are a delight and the house itself plays host to a collection of art and antiques Tel +353 (0) 27 50047 Beamish & Crawford Brewery See how Ireland’s not-quite-as-famous stout Beamish is made and taste it in its natural environment Tel +353 (0) 21 491 1100 www.beamish.ie Kinsale Historical Irish town that has become a thriving tourist centre and boasts an arrayof fine restaurants,specially seafood ones,and some great night life.And it’s here that one resident used to have a sign on the door of their home with the immortal words ‘Please note that this is the back door.The front door is round the back’ WHERE TO STAY Accommodation can be booked through the website www.irishtourist.com.There are plenty of boarding houses and bed and breakfasts,an ideal way to experience Irish hospitality and the awesome cooked breakfasts.At the top end a number of fivestar countryhotels have opened up to join the world famous Ballmaloe House Hotel and the stylish Hayfield Manor GETTING THERE Cork has an international airport that is linked to a number of major European cities.An efficient train service runs from Dublin,Limerick and Kerry to Cork DUBLIN THE WHISKEY EXPERIENCES The Old Jameson Distellery These days this is little more than a whiskey museum with a bar and restaurant,but it gives an insight in to the history and heritage of the worldrenowned whiskey and leads visitors through the Irish distillation process from malting and milling to maturation.And of course there’s a chance to try the whiskey at the end of the visit The old Jameson Distillery,Dublin.Tel:+33 (0) 353 1 807 2369 www.oldjamesondistillery.com Locke’s Astunning example of an old distillery,with the heavy wood and metal machinery left just as it would have been when the distillery was operating.It’s so well maintained in fact that Cooley joked about restarting production.The company went one step along the road last year when it started distilling wash brought from the main Cooley site,albeit on a relatively small scale.There’s a small shop and tasting area Locke’s Distillery,Kilbeggan,County Westmeath.Tel:+ 353(0)506 32134 Tullamore Tullamore Dew is produced under licence by Irish Distillers at Midleton,so there’s no whiskey produced here.But there are some fascinating historical items and a good insight in to how rural Ireland once was,and the tour is pleasant enough Tullamore,Tullamore,County Offaly.Tel:+ 353 (0) 57 932 5015 WHAT ELSE TO DO Dublin is one of Europe’s great cities,but it’s changed massively in recent years.If you’re happy with international cuisine served up by Eastern Europeans then the city centre’s a buzzing,happening place.But you really need to head to North Dublin or seek out the genuine and old-fashioned Irish pubs to really savour the city OTHER HIGHLIGHTSINCLUDE Dublin Castle Soaked in history ever since it was built in the 13th century,it provides a fascinating insight intothe history of the growth of the Republic Tel +353 (0) 1677 7129 The Guinness storehouse More than £30 million was spent in making the Guinness tourist experience over several floors such an absorbing and special one.The tour leads you through the 250 years of the famous stout’s history in stylish surroundings.The tour ends,of course,with a drop of yer stout itself Tel + 353 (0) 1 408 4800 www.guinness-storehouse.com Trinity College The library here holds more than 200,000 antiquarian books including the stunning Book of Kells.You can also see documents pertaining to the Easter Uprising of 1916 and the birth of a new nation Kilmanhaim Gaol For more than 200 years the gaol has held leading Irish Nationalists and Republicans against their will and housed Fenians,Young Irelanders and members of the Society of United Irishmen.The leaders of the 1916 uprising were executed here.This is a fascinating and massively important centre for an understanding of the Irish struggle for independence Tel +353 (0) 1453 5984 WHERE TO STAY Dublin is rolling in money and in addition to cheap and cheerful accommodation out in the suburbs the city is now home to a number of somewhat pretentious boutique hotels.Wealth is ostentatious here but you could treatyourself bystaying at the Clarence,owned by Bono and The Edge of U2,the Merrion,a stylish hotel built across four Georgian townhouses,or the very chic and modern Westbury Hotel Hotels and bed and breakfasts to suit all budgets can be found at www.dublintourist.com HOW TO GET THERE Dublin has an international airport linked to cities across Europe.There is a large ferry port in the suburbs at Dun Laoghaire,and the rail links to all parts of Ireland areverygood