Island spirit: Offshore community to develop distillery in Cape Clear

A Gaeltacht island off Co Cork is set to become the first offshore community in the country to develop a whiskey distillery.

Island spirit: Offshore community to develop distillery in Cape Clear

The facility will provide Cape Clear with sustainable jobs and a tourism spin-off.

The West Cork island’s co-op has just lodged a planning application for a €7m distillery and visitor centre, and it hopes to start construction sometime next year.

Seamus Ó Drisceoil, Cape Clear Co-op project manager, said the visitor centre would have a balcony area where people could see the whole distilling process without the need to disturb the production process.

Cape Clear Co-op was established in 1969 to administer the new electrical system on the island, and to create employment through the development and support of fishing, farming, and tourism.

Mr Ó Drisceoil said it was hoped to create 15 jobs in the distillery itself and increase tourism-related jobs on the island as a spin-off.

“It’s our ultimate aim to have Cape Clear whiskey available in every airport duty-free shop in the world. It would raise the profile of the island globally,” he said.

He said a number of islands in Scotland had created their own distilleries and were all successful.

He said the co-op would be looking for an external investor to progress the project, but hoped planning permission will be acquired within the next six months and construction will get under way some time in 2016.

“Last year, we carried out hydrogeological and geophysical surveys and established a very good new water source. We have a fantastic new well which will be used to supply water to the distillery,” Mr Ó Drisceoil said.

He said the distillery would be compatible with the island’s tourism product.

“This is the right way to go for a small community which has great natural resources. It will help with sustainable employment.”

Employment and population have declined on the island in the last 150 years.

The current permanent population is about 130, but numbers swell at weekends and normally triples during the summer.

“West Cork has a history of illegal whiskey and poitín production. We know that poitín was made on the island up to the 1920,” he said.

A shebeen, it emerged, saved the island from major destruction during Cromwellian times. “Two boat loads of soldiers came over to cause wreck and ruin. All the islanders fled, except for one old lady who ran a shebeen. They spent most of their time there and didn’t cause any problems.”

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