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. Their sister, Eibhlin Dubh, wrote The Lament of Art O'Leary (her husband, murdered for his religion), said to be the most beautiful poem in the Irish language.

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It was into this household that our most famous kinsman, Daniel O'Connell, known as 'The Liberator' came in 1775. Often proclaimed Ireland's greatest son, he achieved revolutionary change for his fellow Irishmen but insisted on using peaceful means only. An inspirational leader, he used his powerful oratory to mobilise millions of his people to give them a voice for the first time. A man far ahead of his time, he campaigned vigorously to end slavery and for all human rights, regardless of race, gender or religion and was an acknowledged influence to many from Gandhi to Martin Luther King and Frederick Douglass.

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 Hunting Cap in his late 90's, the Revenue men getting ever closer and 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.

The Estate has a famously changeable microclimate. Warmed by the Gulf stream and next to the lake and the MacGillicuddy Reeks range of mountains, clouds coming off the Atlantic break against these and drop all their moisture on our land. The variability has proven to be a gift to a Whiskey maker.

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