Connacht, or Connaught, is the final stop on our journey across Ireland’s whiskey regions, and while it is the last to be explored on our list, it is by no means the least of the four Irish provinces. True, the area may lack the abundance of distilleries and spirits, such as can be found throughout the rest of the Emerald Isle. However, Connacht has by no means been forgotten by the Irish whiskey revival, with new distilling plans and projects in the pipeline, all against the stunning rural and urban backdrops that the region has to offer.
We’re getting ahead of ourselves, however, and should start at the beginning. The province of Connacht lies to the west of Ireland, and is made up of the counties Leitrim, Galway, Mayo, Roscommon and Sligo. Up until the early Middle Ages, the region was made up of numerous independent kingdoms, gradually merging and expanding until the collapse of the Kingdom of Connacht during the thirteenth century. This enabled the spread of more Anglo-Irish influence across the province, although today Connacht is reported to be home to the highest concentration of Gaelic speakers out of all four Irish provinces.
As with the rest of Ireland, Connacht boasts a vast array of natural and cultural treasures. One of the most famous of these is the world-renowned Connemara marble. Dating back over 600 million years, this rare and earthy green marble is a popular component of Irish craft jewellery, adding a true element of Ireland to Celtic cross pendants, Claddagh rings and swirling brooches, admired by locals and tourists alike. The area of Connemara itself is also noteworthy for what Oscar Wilde called its “savage beauty”; indeed, the Connemara National Park is a superb spot for long walks and admiring scenery before skipping off to the nearest pub for a warming dram and some hearty Irish cuisine.
For visitors to Connacht with a more indoors-based itinerary, popular attractions include:
- The Glenview Folk Museum, a family-run affair in county Leitrim, established with a mission to preserve and pay tribute to the heritage and identity of Connacht, and of Ireland as a whole;
- The Galway Food and Drink Walking Tour, a three-hour tasting tour for fans of traditional Irish fare. Work up an appetite on the walk, and prepare to enjoy some of the best of the Irish pub grub scene, accompanied with the beer or spirit of your choice;
- Garavans Bar, an award-winning Galway pub that is home to some of Ireland’s rarest whiskey, along with an impressive collection of bottlings from the Midleton, Teeling and Cooley distilleries, to name just a few.
And so to the whiskey itself. While Connacht certainly has its fair share of bars and restaurants, each offering old, new and rare Irish expressions, the region is not as well known as Ulster, Munster and Leinster for its whiskey production. Case in point: Connemara whiskey. Celebrated as Ireland’s premier peated whiskey, it isn’t produced in Connemara at all, but hails from the Cooley distillery in County Kerry. Nonetheless, this exquisite whiskey adequately reflects the rustic beauty of its namesake region with its soft smokiness and subtle sweetness, particularly in the 12 Year Old Single Cask Sherry bottling. It is best enjoyed neat with friends after a bracing walk along the picturesque west coast, and maybe a rendition of “Galway Girl” in the background.
As for the Connacht distillery scene, the Connacht distillery is located on the banks of the River Moy in Ballina, County Mayo. Like most Irish distilleries, it offers tours and tastings to visitors from home and abroad, with whiskey, gin, vodka and poitín all in production under the one roof.
Another respected institution of spirit production in Connacht is, of course, the Shed distillery in County Leitrim, famous for its Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin – a spirit that packs a real punch when sampled neat. In late 2017, it was announced that the Shed distillery had plans to produce the first new Connacht whiskey in over a century, with pre-sales casks having been snapped up by a keen clientele, which included no less than Prince Albert of Monaco. With that in mind, it’s fair to say that, although Connacht’s whiskey heritage holds little in comparison with the other provinces, that isn’t going to stop it from becoming a major player in the new Golden Age of Irish spirits.