We can’t talk about Ireland without a mention of the history of Irish whiskey. If you perused our top 10 list of Irish drinks, you probably noted that Irish whiskey appeared several times. It’s part of the Irish coffee recipe, Bailey’s cream liqueur, and, well, quite a few mixed drinks.

Irish Whiskey Post

It is believed that Irish monks first developed Irish whiskey, which requires distillation to achieve it’s smoother finish.  Actually, monasteries played the most significant role in the development of most alcoholic beverages.  While alcohol was consistently valued throughout history for its medicinal purposes, the development of distilling alcohol, such as is required with Irish whiskey, took much longer.

Simply, during wars and religious raids, monasteries were safe from the majority of conflict. Their safe state allowed them to experiment with distilling and growing methods for grains used in fermentation. There is no additional information to track the exact history of Irish whiskey, we just know it probably started with monks… so thank them.  Profusely.  Profusely thank the monks for the deliciousness that is Irish whiskey.

Let’s jump forward a few hundred years.  While Irish whiskey was very popular in Britain during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, that didn’t exclude the Irish whiskey distillery from suffering prosecution.  In 1779, an estimated 1200 Irish whiskey distilleries existed in Ireland, today there are only four current Irish whiskey distilleries still operating. As unlicensed establishments who didn’t pay taxes, they attracted the attention of government officials. Effectively, a government tirade began to eliminate those Irish whiskey distilleries not officially paying taxes. By 1822, only 20 legal distilleries were left in Ireland.

Irish whiskey was also affected by the Temperance Movement, also called the Total Abstinence Movement, encouraging everyone to abstain from alcohol consumption. With competition fierce, Jameson and Powers were able to grow their distilleries while smaller companies got choked out. Britain, however, continued to support Irish whiskey. By 1900, Irish whiskey was the most popular drink in Britain. This popularity couldn’t save the Irish whiskey industry from setbacks, though.

Jameson Scotland Blended Whiskey

First, the U.S. announced prohibition.  Then Scotch blended whiskey came onto the market.   Financially unable to compete, Irish whiskey distilleries continued to close.  By the time the U.S. lifted it’s liquor ban, it was too late.  Irish whiskey producers couldn’t keep up with the sudden demand.  By 1960, Irish whiskey export almost didn’t exist.   It forced three Irish whiskey distilleries, Jameson, Cork Distillery and Powers, to join.  They formed Irish Distillers (IDL), one large Irish whiskey company.

A few years later, Seagram’s, the large alcohol conglomerate,  purchased both IDL and Bushmills, the only two distilleries which had remained in Irish hands. Seagram’s didn’t keep their failing investment, though.   In 1981, it was sold to Pernod Richard, a French company. Irish whiskey did finally fall back in Irish hands in 1989 when Cooley Distillery was opened. Today, Cooley Distillery is Ireland’s only independently owned distillery.

There are four Irish whiskey distilleries in operation today: Bushmills, Midleton, Kilbeggan and Cooley. In 2007, Kilbeggan Distillery reopened it’s doors. Their Irish whiskey is just becoming available now which is why you may not have heard a lot about this new venture. As one of the main sponsors of Tenon Tours’ Boston Irish Pub Challenge, we’ll make sure to keep you updated on Kilbeggan’s entry back into the market!

If you have the chance, try to visit at least one during your trip to Ireland, it’s the best way to truly thank the monks for their contribution to the history of Irish whiskey.

How We Travel

Learn More
  • Motorcycle

    Ride your way: custom tours built for adventure, created by motorcyclists.

  • Self Drive tour in Europe
    Self Drive

    Hit the road your way: itinerary, car, accommodations, sights, and tours. But let us do all the heavy lifting.

  • Chauffeur 1

    The freedom of your own private car, the luxury of your own personal guide. And the very best hidden secrets.

  • funny mural of school children in uniforms
    Scheduled Tour

    For travelers who prefer to join a small group tour, we offer scheduled tours.

  • Train going over bridge next to waterfall

    Convenient, comfortable, oozing with charm. With a front-row seat to some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.

  • Young people overlooking scenic area in Europe
    Private Group

    The trip of a lifetime, personalized just for your group of friends, family, or organization down to every last detail.

  • Honeymoon coupe drinking wine by ocean

    Every tour is different, perfectly matched for every couple. Crafted by a team who is as excited about your honeymoon as you are.

Best of Ireland & Scotland

16 Days | 15 Nights

Start in Edinburgh and make your way through Inverness and Glasgow before departing for Kilkenny, Killarney, Galway and Dublin on this 16-day Ireland & Scotland tour. 

Starting From $6,985 per person based on double occupancy
Big Ben and Westminster Bridge at sunset, London, UK

The Ultimate Trio: Ireland, Scotland and England

17 Days | 16 Nights

This epic itinerary takes you through three fascinating countries: Ireland, Scotland and England. All the main highlights are included, from uncovering your Irish ancestry and embarking on a river cruise in London to visiting Scotland’s stunning Isle of Skye. And did we mention the castles at every stop? 

Starting From $7,975 per person based on double occupancy

Essence of Ireland

14 Days | 13 Nights

Experience the best of Ireland during this private-driver tour, perfect for the whole family. Visit wild, craggy coastlines, ancient castles and charming towns. During this two-week adventure, you’ll discover the true essence of the Emerald Isle.

Starting From $5,486 per person based on double occupancy

By-Your-Side Service℠

Our personal concierge service and mobile app

Europe Experts

Custom Europe Experts

Experts in planning truly customized trips

Without Compromise

Value without Compromise

High-touch inclusions and customized experiences

Consistency with Individuality

Consistency with Individuality

You’ll always be met with the highest standards

Let's Get Social