Persse’s Distillery, Nuns Island

In 1840, the Joyce family offered their distillery at Galway for sale. It was described as follows: “That large and valuable distillery establishment at Nun’s Island, at presently occupied and worked by Messrs. James and Patrick Joyce. Within the walls that surround the distillery there is a mill to which there is a store capable of containing several thousand barrels of grain and two kilns, Queen’s warehouse spirit and barm store with various other offices and conveniences. The distillery contains a wash still of 5,000 gallons; a Low Wine still of 3,000 gallons; 3 brewing coppers fit to contain about 200 barrels each, 7 fermenting backs of 14,000 gallons each; One mash Kieve with machinery capable of mashing 200 barrels of grain, and a mill capable of grinding over that quantity daily.

“There are suitable Spirit and Low Wine receivers, store casks; about 11,000 feet of cooling pipe, placed in a rapid stream, and other utensils complete - also, utensils for making bub and barm. The yard is of ample dimensions capable of confining a sufficient quantity of fuel. The whole machinery of the distillery is propelled by water, of which there is a sufficient supply during the distilling season of the year. This very valuable and well-circumstanced property which is in perfect working order and repair, is held on lease for 300 years from August 1815, at a rent of £25 late Irish currency, or £24 1s 6d British.”

The complex was purchased by the Persse family who already had a distillery in Newcastle. They eventually focused all their efforts on Nuns Island. They modernised the plant, increased production, and encouraged a barley growing industry locally. They advertised themselves as “Suppliers to his Majesty King Edward VII” and their whiskey was a favourite tipple of Winston Churchill. Sadly the introduction of taxes on whiskey forced the closure of the distillery. It went into liquidation and in 1912 was purchased by John Miller, a merchant from Mary Street.

This drawing of the distillery first appeared in Alfred Barnard’s book The Whiskey Distilleries of the UK in 1887.

All of the above information is taken from a newly published book entitled The Persse family of County Galway, Genealogy and History, 1554-1964 written and published by Gerry Kearney. It is the result of years of research into a family who first came to Ireland in 1602 “To preach the Gospel”. They set up the first family estate in County Galway in 1677 and became increasingly prominent in the commercial, maritime, political, social, and sporting affairs of Galway. Many family members who travelled abroad became very successful. Circumstances at the beginning of the last century contrived to almost eliminate the Persse connection with Galway with the result that their extensive and occasionally controversial history throughout the county remains relatively unknown.

This well illustrated book tells their story and will be of great general interest. It is available in good bookshops.

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