Persse’s Bonded Warehouse, Earl’s Island

Two weeks ago in this column, we showed some photographs of the Jute Spinning factory in Earl’s Island, and what I thought were large stacks of turf beside the building. An eagle eyed reader has pointed out that these were not sods of turf, they were ‘jute butts’, stems of the jute plant from which the fibres were extracted. They were stacked out in the fresh air because they are easier to work when wet. The fibres that made up the rough jute products were extracted from the top half of the plant.

The jute factory functioned up until the mid-1880s. I am not quite sure when it ceased production, but sometime after that the building was taken over by Persse’s Distillery for use as bonded stores.

There were quite a number of small distilleries working in Galway in the 18th century, which was obviously an achievement when one considers how many poitín makers would have been operating in the hinterland. A government act on distilling in 1779 reduced the number, and by the 1830s there were four distilleries in the city — the Nuns’ Island Distillery owned by John Lynch which produced 100,000 gallons a year; Burke’s Quarter Barrel Distillery at the end of Quay Street; and two distilleries owned by Burton Persse, one in NewtownSmith and the other operating at Distillery Road, Newcastle.

When Mr Lynch got into financial difficulties, Burton Persse took over the Nuns’ Island operation. Initially he ran it as a woollen mill, but this trade declined, and his Newcastle lease expired, so he closed the Newtownsmith plant and restored the Nuns’ Island building to a distillery.

In the main Nuns’ Island building, five floors were used for storage of corn and two for malting purposes. The stone loft on top was where the malt and dried corn was pulverised through six pairs of stones, driven by a water wheel. The ground floor was used for taking in barley from farmers’ carts.

To the right of the main building was the Brew House containing two mash tuns, 27 feet in diameter, eight feet deep, and driven by water power. Beside that was the Back House containing 13 washbacks, each holding 18,000 gallons. The worm tub was in the open and consisted of a tank 42 feet long, 18 feet wide, and 10.5 feet deep. There was a set of cooling pipes on the river bed connected to different parts of the distillery buildings.

Behind the main building, near Nuns’ Island Street, there was a smithy, a joiner’s and painter’s shop, cart sheds, stables, warehouses, and offices for the distillery and for the excise officers. It was big business, employing more than 100 people and producing 10,000 gallons at 25 over proof each week. There were also many artisans and suppliers in the city who would have depended on Persse’s.

It is no wonder that they needed extra space and decided to take over the Earl’s Island buildings for storage. The product they made was called Galway Whiskey and was advertised as being “Bottled in Her Majesty’s Bonded Warehouses by the Distillers when 7 and 10 years old. Each case bears the Revenue Seal. Sold by all wine and spirit merchants. As supplied to the House of Commons.”

Sadly, the distillery closed in 1908, and with it went the bonded warehouse, but as you can see from our photograph, the name was still visible on the wall facing the canal until some of it was demolished to make way for new buildings in UCG about 20 years ago. This photograph is taken from Maurice Semple’s book Around and About Galway.

More about this building next week.

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