Birches Distillery at Birchgrove, Roscrea began operations in about 1780. In a very short time a considerable reputation had been built. In 1815 Atkinson’s Tourist Guide said:
“The principal commercial feature of Roscrea, a town of considerable extent and of some trade is that of whiskey manufacturing which supplies the dealers in Irish Spirit with considerable quantity of that favourite liquor”. The distillery was quite large and some of the outbuildings are still to be seen at Birchgrove. When the distillery was operational, a canal four miles long was dug from Monaincha to Birchgrove for donkey drawn barges full of turf, which was the fuel for the stills. In the early and mid 1800’s John Birch was the distiller. Unfortunately his profits were declining sharply:
In 1807 he had a still of 1797 gallons
In 1818 he had a still of 300 gallons
In 1822 he had a still of 250 gallons
Between 1810 and 1820 John Birch was trying desperately to make the business profitable once more and a successful experiment into heat conservation earned him worldwide recognition. He was using steam to heat his still and, with the help of a professor of Chemistry at Trinity College, developed a wooden jacket that was used as a steam-case. With this invention he was able to conserve the steam and heat and make the whole still more efficient, therefore saving money. But his success was short lived as it attracted the eye of some powerful Dublin distillers.
They petitioned the Board of Excise-on the pretext that illegal poteen brewers would be able to use this system to hide their steam- and the invention was banned. Birch could only stand back and watch as his business slowly died. The final blow came in 1850 a large fine for evasion of taxes led to the inevitable closure of Birches Distillery. Later that year the distillery was up for auction.
Four known bottles of Roscrea Whiskey are known to have survived. The whiskey was also frequently mentioned in 19th century literature such as “Diogenes; Hys Lantern” and “Fairy legends and traditions of the south of Ireland” by T.C. Croker.
(If anyone could produce a high quality photo of at least one of those bottles, it would be much appreciated. Thank you)