In its 18th and 19th century heyday, The Liberties was the epicentre of brewing and distilling in Dublin, with the largest concentration of producers in Ireland. In fact, by the 1880s the area boasted the world’s largest brewery, operated by Guinness & Sons, and the world’s biggest whiskey distillery, owned by George Roe & Sons, both surrounded by myriad other operators in what became known as the Golden Triangle.
The industries declined dramatically in the 20th century, with the last distillery, the Powers Distillery at John’s Lane, closing in 1975. However recent years have seen a dramatic revival of fortunes. Discover some of the area’s long-gone whiskey barons, and meet the new generation of producers bringing home the uisce beatha (water of life).
In 1759, Leixlip brewer Arthur Guinness bought the lease on a small brewery off James Street in The Liberties. Over successive generations the Guinness family grew the modest brewery into a behemoth, becoming the largest beer production facility in the world by the 1880s, producing its famous black porter. The iconic brand retains its global reach to this day, with production now focused on the state-of-the-art Brewhouse No 4 at Victoria Quay which opened in 2014.
Located across the street from St James’s Gate Brewery, the Roe distillery also had global pretensions. Founded by Peter Roe in 1757, the distillery reached its zenith in the late 19th century under Sir Henry Roe, a fabulously wealthy whiskey baron who inherited the business in 1862. Henry fought vigorously to keep the purity of Irish whiskey against the onslaught of cheaper distilling methods from Scotland and the US, but these ultimately sounded the death-knell for Roe’s style of whiskey and the distillery closed in the 1920s.
Now the home to National College of Art & Design, the John Power & Sons distillery, known as John’s Lane Distillery, was among the most innovative of Irish whiskey distilleries. Founded in the 1790s by John Power, a local hosteler, the brand grew in prestige and remains one of the best-known Irish whiskeys to this day. Among its innovations, the John’s Lane Distillery was the first to bottle on site, a game-changing development in its day. The distillery closed in the 1970s.
The Teeling Distillery at Newmarket was the first new whiskey distillery to open in Dublin in over 100 years and marked the start of a resurgence of Irish whiskey production in the city. Using innovative blending practices, the whiskey brand has developed an international stature, bringing The Liberties to a whole new global audience. The Teeling visitor centre at Newmarket is part of a major urban regeneration programme now revitalising this part of Dublin.
The area’s most unique new distillery is located in the former Church of St James, a disused protestant parish church with historic links back to the medieval origins of The Liberties. The church has been lovingly restored by Dr Pearse and Deirdre Lyons, and converted into a visitor centre to showcase the Alltech brands of whiskey, such as the eponymous Pearse. The distillery’s distinctive lit glass spire, nicknamed The Liberties Lantern, marks out the attraction along historic James Street.
The growth of craft beers and experimental brews has spurred Diageo’s Open Gate Brewery – a venue on James Street that specialises in revisiting older recipes and trialing new ones. Open Gate Brewery is open to visit every Thursday to Saturday. Nearby, Diageo has also redeveloped the former Guinness powerstation as a stunning new distillery for its Roe & Co. Irish whiskey, heralding the return of a famous name to the street.
The area’s whiskey industry did not come without its perils! One of the most destructive fires in the history of Dublin occurred on 18 June 1875, when a disastrous conflagration near Newmarket in The Liberties saw burning whiskey flow through the streets of the area like lava. 13 people lost their lives, but not quite how you might think for such a major fire. Historian Las Fallon tells the story of the ‘Great Whiskey Fire’, and its unusual fatalities (video courtesy of www.storymap.ie).
Follow The Liberties Distilleries Trail with this map and guide to uncover some of the stories of The Liberties’ 18th and 19th century heyday of brewing and distilling. And sample some of the delights of the area’s more recent arrivals. Most brewhouses and distilleries are open daily.
And there’s lots more to see and do in The Liberties. Our map & guide will help you to explore the area with two other great trails. Industrial Dublin: Past & Present celebrates the long tradition of commerce and trade in what was Dublin’s original industrial suburb. While The Liberties Design Trail looks at the area’s architecture and lesser-known gems of design and craft in the area.
This urban distillery, in the heart of the Liberties is the home of Roe & Co Irish Whiskey
Sample contemporary whiskies in an historic setting at Dublin's latest whiskey experience.
Diageo's experimental brewhouse is open to the public
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Teeling Whiskey Distillery is one of a new generation of distilleries reviving one of Dublin's most renowned industries.
Take a self guided trail through the former Power's Distillery, now National College of Art & Design.
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