Uncovering the Story of the Uisce Beatha

In its 18th and 19th century heyday, The Liberties was the centre 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, and the world’s biggest whiskey distillery, owned by George Roe & Sons. The industries declined dramatically in the 20th century, with the last distillery closing in 1973. However recent years have seen something of a revival of fortunes. Discover some of the area’s long-gone barons, and meet the new producers bringing home the uisce beatha (water of life).

Past & Present

A 9,000 Year Lease

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 giant, becoming the largest beer production facility in the world in the 1880s. The brand retains its global reach to this day, with production now focused on its new Brewhouse No 4 at Victoria Quay which opened in 2014.

George Roe & Sons

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 later 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 whiskey under the onslaught of cheaper distilling methods, but these ultimately sounded the death-knell for Roe’s style of whiskey and the distillery closed in the 1920s.

Powers Distillery

Victorian Innovator

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.

Teeling Distillery

The Spirit of Dublin

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 renaissance of Irish whiskey production in the city. Using innovative blending practices, the whiskey brand has developed an international stature, bring The Liberties to a whole new audience. The Teeling visitor centre at Newmarket is part of a major urban regeneration programme now revitalising this corner of Dublin.

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A Liberties’ Son Returns

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 conserved by Dr Pearse Lyons and his wife Deirdre, and converted into a visitor centre to showcase the Alltech brands of whiskey, such as the eponymous Pearse. The Pearse Lyons Distillery’s lit glass spire, nicknamed The Liberties Lantern, marks the new attraction along historic James Street.

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Open Gate Brewery

Opening the Gates

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.  Diageo has also embarked on the redevelopment of its old powerstation, to create a distillery for its Roe & Co. Irish whiskey, heralding the return of a famous name to the street. The new distillery is set to open in 2019.

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Whiskey, Whiskey Everywhere!

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 and 13 people lost their lives. Las Fallon tells the story of the great whiskey fire, and its unusual fatalities (video courtesy of www.storymap.ie).

Explore & Discover

While The Liberties’ new crop of distilleries are blazing the trail for Irish whiskey to a whole new global audience, the area’s whiskey past is just as fascinating.  Follow The Liberties Distilleries Trail with this map and guide – you can uncover of the stories from The Liberties’ 19th century heyday of brewing and distilling, and sample some of the delights of the area’s new arrivals.  {Click on the image to download}

And there’s lots more to see and do in The Liberties.  Our free 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. {Click on the image to download}

Distilleries & Brewhouses

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Open Gate Brewery

St James's Gate, James Street