Kilbeggan’s restored waterwheel is launched

Kilbeggan Distillery’s restored waterwheel was launched with a splash earlier this week.

A huge cheer went up as the newly renovated waterwheel chugged into action on Tuesday, at what is understood to be the oldest distillery in the world.

The wheel was the engine that drove production at Kilbeggan, but now owners Beam want it to be the cornerstone of their branding, said Stephen Teeling, the global marketing manager for Irish Whiskeys.

He described the wheel as “iconic” and said it has a profound effect on the people of Kilbeggan, many of whom have memories of it working.

“It really embodies what all our brands are about - it was the former heart and soul of the distillery,” he said.

While the wheel was being restored, “there was an eerie silence in the town”, he said, and hopes it will soon be providing power again.

Cllr Paul Daly, who lives in Kilbeggan agreed that the restored wheel is good for the town, and pointed to the increase in tourism to Kilbeggan Distillery, which was visited by 42,000 people so far this year.

“We can work wonders for our town through the tourist trade,” he said, of the relationship between Beam and the people.

Already visitor numbers this year are 5,000 up on last year’s total, he said.

“All those people coming into the town has to be an advantage to the area in general,” he said.

Like Mr Teeling, he was fulsome in his praise for those who restored the wheel in 1982, when it was rotten, broken, and overgrown.

Gerry Donaghy was one of the team who, he said, had no money to do the work, but felt something needed to be done for the town.

“There was a lot of goodwill in the town,” he said and “We needed to do something”.

“All we had was manpower, we had nothing else,” he said of the committee of twelve and working team of about two dozen. He’s delighted to see the wheel running again.

William Meally, originally from Mullingar, had the task of starting the new wheel. He is enthusiastic about his job and said he loves going to work.

“It’s great to see it renovated after all the years,” he said. He describes how the wheel can go faster than its usual “ticking over speed” and this is controlled by what looks like a ship’s steering wheel.

“It’s easier to turn now compared to what it used to be - you nearly had to get a crowbar to turn it before, it was so stiff. It was getting seized.”

“It is an old piece of equipment and you have to show it a bit of respect,” he said.

“She’s my lady, my old friend,” he concluded.

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