THE STORY OF THE O'CONNELL FAMILY

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The O'Connells are an ancient Irish noble family, based in County Kerry, known as The Kingdom, in the far southwest of Ireland - the next landfall is America.

The Liberator Irish Whiskey and our company, Wayward Irish Spirits, draws on a long family tradition of supplying spirits in the region.

 

From around 1450, we were based at Ballycarbery Castle on the coast by Valentia Island, importing wines and brandies from Spain and Portugal. After the Castle was sacked by Cromwell's troops in 1652, the family moved up the coast to Derrynane. Over time, they expanded the business.

Unfortunately, this coincided with the English Parliament's need for increased revenues and in 1661 they introduced tax on imported spirits - Excise Duties. Until then, our business was a legitimate trade. We did not set out to be smugglers but it isn't the Kerry way - or the O'Connell way - to abandon our livelihood because of arbitrary rules imposed from afar..

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Their location made the decision simple - Derrynane is a beautiful natural harbour, difficult to find from the sea and surrounded by mountains. This was an idyllic private kingdom at the edge of Europe, ruled by the O'Connells. This they used to advantage and built up a fleet of ships importing wines, spirits and fine silks from France and the Iberian peninsula.

The trade in the other direction was butter and animal hides and, sadly, young Catholic men off to the continent to be educated or to seek their fortune and escape the repression imposed on those of their faith.

Protected by their geography and their customer base - the gentry of the west of Ireland who wanted to keep supplies coming - the O'Connells were, for a long time, immune to the demands of the Revenue Men. The head of the family, Maurice 'Hunting Cap' O'Connell, built up a large fortune from his activities. (The nickname came when he started to wear a hunting hat in protest and as an open challenge to authority when they brought in a new tax on formal hats).

Hunting Cap's brother, Count Dan, was the last Colonel of the Irish Brigade (the fabled 'Wild Geese') and an influential and much decorated member of the French court at the time of the Revolution.

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It was into this household that our most famous Wayward kinsman, Daniel O'Connell, came. Known as 'The Liberator' he was the pre-eminent figure in Ireland's 19th century history. 'King Dan' as he was also called, was a successful agitator for revolutionary change in Catholic rights but insisting on using peaceful means only. He was prominent campaigner against slavery as well as for women's and Jewish rights and a significant and acknowledged influence on Gandhi, Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King (among others).

Unfortunately, the O'Connell insistence on doing things our way sometimes rubbed authority up the wrong way - British PM Robert Peel famously described Daniel O'Connell as "that wayward Irishman". We've decided to own that insult with pride.

With the family's rise to political prominence, the smuggling was quietly dropped and in 1820, our branch of the family moved to the Lakeview Estate, the most beautiful spot in Killarney (and, therefore - obviously - the world), and built a house on the shores of Lough Leane, the largest of the Three Lakes of Killarney. Lakeview Estate has a special microclimate: warmed by the Gulf stream, we are next to the MacGillicuddy Reeks range of mountains and clouds coming off the Atlantic break against these and drop all their moisture on the lake and our land.

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