Searching for Midleton’s ‘lost’ 19th century brewery.

View of Drury's Avenue through the archway under the granary which marks the north-eastern boundary of the site of the 'lost' brewery.

View of Drury’s Avenue through the archway under the granary which marks the north-eastern boundary of the site of the ‘lost’ brewery. This archway seems to be too low to be the main entrance to the brewery. Very likely the entrance was on Charles Street, now Connolly Street.

When researching the history of Midleton, one must admit that it can be very frustrating trying to put together an accurate picture of the town’s past. There really must be something in the local water supply that allows people to forget that there were once TWO distilleries in Midleton. And there were TWO breweries. As already noted on this blog, Midleton had a brewery established and run by the Coppinger family from at least the 1790s to the late 1830s when it closed, probably under pressure from Fr Theobald Mathew’s temperance campaign. The site and the main brewery building are still extant at the southern end of Main Street.

In his Topographcial Dictionary (1837), Samuel Lewis mentions ‘….two very large breweries and two extensive malting establishments….’ We know that the malting establishments were in Ballinacurra, and one brewery was the Coppinger establishment in Midleton, which was noted by the Ordnance Survey in its first edition six inch map of the town c.1843. But the Coppinger brewery had closed by then. William Shaw Mason’s Statistical Account or Parochial Survey of Ireland (Vol 3), from 1819, notes only one brewery in Midleton. So where was the other brewery mentioned in Lewis?

Midleton's 'lost' brewery (outlined in orange) was located between Main Street and Drury's Lane (now Drury's Avenue) but seems to have closed as a brewery before the first edition six inch Ordnance Survey map of the town was published.

Midleton’s ‘lost’ brewery (outlined in orange) was located between Main Street and Drury’s Lane (now Drury’s Avenue) but seems to have closed as a brewery before the first edition six inch Ordnance Survey map of the town was published. The ‘Old Brewery’ at the bottom of the map was the establishment of John and Joseph Coppinger.

A gentleman who joined my second Heritage Week walking tour of Midleton’s commercial and industrial heritage on Sunday 30th August has supplied me with information from the preliminary maps made by the Ordnance Survey. These preliminary maps or surveys were never published, but they do show the presence of a brewery on a site just off Main Street.

It seems the site of the brewery stretched from Main Street to Drury’s Lane (now called Drury’s Avenue, although it is still a laneway in its dimensions). It seems that the premises on Main Street may have been a public house or a shop selling beer. Because the old archway into the site from Drury’s Avenue is so low, it is likely that the entrance to the brewery was almost certainly on Charles Street (no Connolly Street), at the former Tattan’s Yard, now redeveloped into an apartment complex called Granary Court. The granary referred to by this name is actually located on Drury’s Avenue and stretches down both the northern and southern side of the site. The large building is now converted into apartments. Almost certainly part of this was actually a malthouse for supplying malt barley for brewing.

The site of Midleton's 'lost' brewery was a long narrow town plot with tall maltings and grain stores on each side. Behind the building on the right was a tannery.

The site of Midleton’s ‘lost’ brewery was a long narrow town plot with tall maltings and grain stores on each side. Behind the building on the right was a tannery. The buildings are now converted into apartments. The spire in the distance is that of St John the Baptist’s Church (Anglican). The archway noted above would be located behind the viewer.

The key difficulty now presented to us is to identify the owner. Pigott’s directory of 1824 gives us John and Joseph Coppinger as brewers and maltsters in Midleton. But it also gives us John Lomasney as a maltster. No address is given for him so we must presume that, like the Coppingers, he was based in Midleton itself rather than in Ballinacurra. To make matters even more interesting, the adjoining plot to the north of this brewery was a tannery. One can hardly imagine two less congenial neighbours. Obviously the brewers had to ensure that their water supply was not contaminated by runoff from the tannery.

Two things come out of this. First is Lewis’s description of TWO…’..very large breweries…’ in Midleton. The scale of the buildings remaining on this second site seems to support this. Midleton could easily have developed into a major brewing center in County Cork. Secondly, the fact that the second brewery seems to be omitted from the local memory or even the local record is striking, almost as if the town wished to forget its association with brewing, whilst acknowledging its links to distilling.

There’s more work to be done on this! Watch this space!

I wish to acknowledge the assistance of Caen Harris in providing valuable information for this post.

The Fr Mathew Tower Glounthaune – a monument or test of sobriety?

Fr Mathew Tower near Glounthaune from the Illustrated London News 1846.

Fr Mathew Tower near Glounthaune as depicted on its opening day in the Illustrated London News, 1846.

When Fr Theobald Mathew persuade about half the adult population of Ireland to give up alcohol the crime statistics changed dramatically – the incidence of serious crime dropped so swiftly that the number of death sentences passed in the courts dropped by 80%, an astonishing feat in an age when capital punishment was extremely common. The police reported that even faction fights were becoming scarce!

Now most visitors to Cork would have (hopefully) noted the statue of the good Capuchin presiding over the northern end of St Patrick’s Street, as if Fr Mathew was looking back towards his family home in Tipperary. But how many are aware of the other monument in Cork to this man – a monument erected in his lifetime?  Oddly enough, a lot of people in East Cork are totally unaware of its existence!

Fr Mathew Tower looking forlorn and derelict in 1983.

Fr Mathew Tower looking forlorn and derelict in 1983.

This monument is the Fr Mathew Tower in Glounthaune.  In fact it’s nearer to Dunkettle than to Glounthaune village, but it IS in the parish of Glounthaune.  It is a three storey round tower with large gothic-style windows erected on what is now Tower Hill a mile or so west of Glounthaune.

The tower was erected by one of Fr Mathew’s admirers in 1846. Mr William O’Connor owned the demesne of Mountpatrick and wished to signify his appreciation of Theobald Mathew’s temperance campaign by building this tower as a folly in his garden. It also made a useful navigational marker for vessels heading up the Lee to Cork. Mr O’Connor built it during the first year of the Irish Famine and opened it to the admiration of a large crowd in the summer of 1846, just as the second round of potato blight took hold.It is worth noting that Mr O’Connor had five hundred quartem loaves baked at Mr Casey’s bakery in Cork and distributed to the poor the day after the tower was opened with fireworks and a grand dinner for invited guests.

Fr Mathew Tower restored and incorporated into a discreet modern house.

Fr Mathew Tower restored and incorporated into a discreet modern house.

For a time the Fr Mathew Tower was a popular attraction, but later it became totally private until eventually with the destruction of the Mountpatrick demesne, the tower gradually became derelict. Happily, in recent years it has been superbly restored and incorporated into a modern house that is now up for sale. Once the tower was decorated with marble busts of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Cork and of Fr Mathew himself, while the parapet was decorated with figures of the virtues,  I haven’t been up to the top, but I am sure the view is splendid.

One thing bothers me….was it really just a monument to Fr Mathew or was it a test of sobriety. I imagine that the spiral staircase inside was a very good test of whether or not one was sober on arrival – if you didn’t fall down it might be safely presumed that you were sober!.

Fr. Theobald Mathew’s extraordinary temperance movement

The Irish and drink seem to be a combination that go together like gin and tonic or, more wholesome, mom and apple-pie.   In fact our reputation for drinking is somewhat misleading (or probably just jealousy!). This year the Wall Street Journal published a list of the top ten alcohol consuming countries on a per capita basis.  And the bad news – the Irish don’t qualify!  Yup, the most alcoholic country in western Europe is…..tiny Andorra!  It comes in at number 7, downing just 13.5 litres of alcohol per capita per annum! And almost no binge drinking! Topping the list of the mostly eastern and central European countries is…..Belarus at 17.5 litres per capita per annum!  Over a quarter of the people there binge-drink and some 34.7% of deaths are related to alcohol.  By the way, even Poland doesn’t make the top ten – at least we Irish have something else in common with the Poles.

WJS survey:

Mind you CBS News puts Ireland at number 15 out of 27 countries for drunkeness:

CBS survey:

You’ll notice that the listings are different – although the same countries appear in both.  That’s the trouble with surveys – you can get different results from different, but similar, surveys.  Hence the old saw: Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics! 

Way back in the nineteenth century there was a highly successful and dramatic attempt to wean the Irish off drink. Fr Theobald Mathew, a Capuchin friar whose statue still marks the entrance to St Patrick’s Street in Cork, ran an astonishing campaign that attracted the attention amazed Americans and Europeans.  Mathew started his campaign in Cork in 1838, and at its height in 1844 some three million people had ‘taken the pledge’ to foreswear alcohol – half the adult population of Ireland at the time!  Fr Mathew must have been truly charismatic – like his contemporary Daniel O’Connell. The Irish temperance campaign actually bankrupted some brewers and probably some distillers – or at least weakened them, so that when the potato famine struck from 1845, several brewers and distillers went under. Fr Mathew died on 8th December 1856 in Queenstown (now Cobh) in East Cork.

Fr Mathew statue

An old photograph of JH Foley’s fine statue of Fr Theobald Mathew, the ‘Apostle of Temperance,’ on St Patrick’s Stteet in Cork. Some years ago there was an attempt to move the statue to facilitate the refurbishment of the street, but a popular outcry forced the city council to back down and the Catalan architect, Beth Gali, had to redesign the refurbishment around the statue. The muck on the street surface was perfectly normal in all towns and cities until the advent of the motor car. The sculptor JH Foley also created the statue of Daniel O’Connell that stands in O’Connell Street, Dublin, and the figure of Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s husband) on the Albert Memorial in London.

Sadly, the advent of the potato famine in 1845 led to the collapse of Fr Mathew’s temperance movement – saving lives afflicted by starvation and its related diseases was much more importance.  No doubt the men (and they were all men) working in Murphy’s distillery in Midleton and in Bennett’s maltings in Ballinacurra were glad – they, at least, had jobs that gave them an income to purchase food.  Bizarrely, it could be suggested, with reason, that the alcoholic drinks industry saved many lives during the Irish famine!

the ultimate failure of his temperance movement due to circumstances beyond his control cannot take from Theobald Mathew’s achievement – anybody who could persuade over three million Irish people to give up alcohol, even if only for a while, deserves to be called ‘great’.

The Pioneer Total Abstinence Association was founded in 1898 by Fr James Cullen SJ as a new movement to encourage Irish Catholics to reject alcohol.  Even now one can find people in Ireland who ‘took the pledge’ as and youngsters – and never broke it!   When I was confirmed by Dr John Ahern, Bishop of Cloyne, we were asked to pledge not to drink alcohol until we were at least eighteen years of age.  Clearly the spirit of the great Fr Theobald Mathew lives on in some places.