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Sampling whiskies requires time, endurance... and balance

Sampling whiskies requires time, endurance... and balance

by

LIAM KENNY

There are times when readers of the Leinster Leader might despair at the goings on of their elected representatives and wonder if they have their priorities in order. But readers in Celbridge in February 1907 would have been reassured by a report of the Celbridge Board of Guardians who spent the greater part of their meeting discussing … the quality of whiskey being supplied to the Celbridge workhouse.  In a report headed ‘ Sampling the Whiskey’ one of the Board members, a Mr. Ronaldson, advised that there was no need to advertise for samples of whiskey. Clearly a man who knew his spirits he continued ‘ The brands of whiskies should be selected and a special quality advertised for, say Jameson’s five year or Power’s same age.’

But the Board chairman Mr. J. Field argued for a wider selection in case Powers and Jameson were given an unfair advantage over other Irish distillers. He added that there was plenty of expertise on the board to help choose the best product ‘ There should be some gentlemen about the Board who would be able to well sample and select the  best whiskey’. Warming to the task his colleague Mr. Ronaldson responded ‘ So many samples have to be gone through that before the last one is reached one can hardly make an intelligent selection’ .

The whiskey sampling issue was one of three matters reported: it occupied six  paragraphs; the other items, one about clothing and bedding and the other about the Board’s overdraft, occupied just one paragraph each. Clearly the Celbridge board of guardians had their priorities right!

Liquid of a less spirited quality accounted for a lengthy article the same week when the pride of Athy Town Council in its new water scheme was outlined in an item described as ‘ Special to the Leinster Leader’. The report recalled the history of efforts to bring a sound water supply to Athy with fourteen or fifteen schemes having been examined since 1898. The flat landscape surrounding Athy for miles meant that that there was no head of pressure for delivering a supply to the town from a source in this terrain.  To the west of Athy there were  peatlands extending towards Kildangan but  this source was also ruled out because of its excessive peaty consistency as the special correspondent noted solemnly ‘ As is well known, peaty water may cause various serious diseases in the human system. Its action in dissolving lead pipes has often caused serious epidemics of lead poisoning …’.

The solution to Athy’s water problems was found in the high ground of what were described in the paper as the ‘Queen’s County Hills’ – namely the hills around Wolfhill in Co. Laois.  Not alone was there a ‘ clear and copious flow of clear bubbling water’ issuing from the hill springs but the water was filtered through the coal seams of the Wolfhill colliery district producing a quality superior to anything available near Athy.  The upshot of all this investigation was the completion of a pipe network to bring ‘Queen’s County’ water across the county boundary into Athy; the clear coal-filtered water began to gush through the pipes after the official opening on the 7th February 1907. 

So with the Celbridge Board of Guardians agonising over whiskey quality for the workhouse patients and the Athy Town Council pioneering new water supplies, the people of those two Kildare towns could rest contented with the endeavours of their elected representatives of 100 years ago this month.

The third instalment from Liam Kenny's regular feature in the Leinster Leader - from 15 February 2007. Our thanks again to Liam.


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