Ireland’s love of whiskey and stout is well established. What is less known, perhaps, is that the country has a long association with the grape, too, longer than the arrival of Blue Nun on our shelves a few decades ago.
In Susan Boyle’s entertaining one-woman theatrical performance, A Wine Goose Chase, which arrives at the Kinsale Arts Festival this week, some of the unlikely stories behind Ireland’s 2,000-year connection with wine are uncorked.
The lack of the requisite 100 days of sunshine didn’t impede Ireland’s love affair with wine, which was first brought to the island by the Celts. It was Irish Christian monks who spread the gospel far and wide, among them St Fiachra, renowned for his work in the vineyards of France, who became immortalised as the patron saint of gardening. St Killian, the patron saint of winegrowers, toiled in the vineyards along the Main Valley.
“There are points in history where we were importing four times more wine than the rest of the British Isles,” says Boyle. “It was an enormous industry. It wasn’t just wine, there were ancillary industries that came off the back of it — we were chopping down trees and sending wood out so it could be made into barrels. Cooperage was a big industry here. Because we were drinking such nice wine we needed something nice to drink it out of, which is the reason why Waterford Crystal and the Irish glass industry kicked off.”
It was an Irish man, Thomas Reid, who invented the first commercial corkscrew. “His shop is still in Dublin,” says Boyle.
“George Berkeley wrote that wine was being drunk by everyone in Ireland,” she adds. “It wasn’t just the elite, it permeated all through society. You’ve got people like Richard Hennessy who left Ballymacroy near Mallow in Co Cork in the 18th century and found his fortune in France. He created a cognac distillery, and the cognac that bears his name, which is part of the largest luxury brand corporation in the world.
“Old Irish families ended up as pioneers of wine, planting vineyards in Chile and Australia. An Irishman planted the first vineyards in California.”
A Wine Goose Chase, which is co-directed by Gina Moxley and Sonya Kelly, will be performed at the International Museum of Wine in Desmond Castle. The idea for the show involved a slow fermentation process.
Boyle grew up helping out in her father’s pub in Kildare Town, which led to her being introduced to wine tasting. She reckons she’s tasted over 10,000 bottles of wine. During the show, she invites the audience to taste three wines with Irish links and finishes up with something special like a brandy.
“When you think of wine and you think of theatre, there are elements of both which can be a little bit alienating, and I’m spanning an enormous amount of history,” she says, “so I wanted to create an experience that’s enjoyable, as well as telling a story that has those gems that you can tell people in the pub afterwards.”
* A Wine Goose Chase will be performed at the International Museum of Wine, Desmond Castle, Cork St, Kinsale, Co Cork, 7pm and 9.30pm, Thursday, Jul 11— 2.30pm, Friday, Jul 12. For more information, visit: http://kinsaleartsfestival.com.
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