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Dig on Thomas St Reveals Tunnels from Old Distillery

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Dig on Thomas Street Reveals Tunnels from Old Distillery

In this article, Dave Carr talks about a massive tunnel network revealed through construction work on Thomas Street. Before Stout…There was Whiskey! 

Looking out of the window where I’m writing this piece on James Street it’s clear this town was built on beer; the buildings and the tourists wandering back and forth from the store house below. It all revolves around the image of the perfect black and white pint. That image has been sold on so well that today Guinness is as familiar as Coca Cola or Lego worldwide. The very flat I live in was paid for and built by Lord Iveagh in the 1880’s on Guinness sales. The roof over my own head was built on beer.

Just lately this dominance has been called into question. On James Street, around New Market Square and across the river at Smithfield whiskey distilleries are starting to sprout up. Some are planned, some in planning and the very first is about to open. This is the return of a half forgotten relative. The truth is Whiskey had as great a claim as Guinness to calling this city its own.

Walk down Watling Street towards the river from Thomas Street today and you’ll hear the sound of building work behind street awnings. What will be tomorrow’s student accommodation for the Digi-Hub was once owned by the Roe family and part of the world’s largest whiskey distilling operation.

A series of underground tunnels has been uncovered by archaeologist s working on this site. As new developments continue to go up along Thomas and James Streets, the ground underneath is being tested and dug to reveal a rich past.

The site archaeologist Alan Hydan has spent weeks digging up soot from below ground.   “We found at the bottom of the sight huge furnaces and underground tunnels three meters high, and one and half meter wide.  It took hot air from the furnaces uphill toward grain stores on Thomas street”

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 These newly uncovered tunnels were part of massive complex of seventeen acres, perhaps the world’s largest distillery. It included a bewildering array of building, stills, tanks, a cooperage and stables covering two acres, eight pot stills, and sixteen fermenting vats as well as over a mile of belts.

This vast operation, which was closer to being a town then a factory, grew in stages throughout the 19th century till at its height its storage warehouses could hold 23,000 casks representing well over a million gallons of whiskey. That was a lot of booze.

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The entrance to Roe’s was on Thomas Street almost face to face with Guinness across the road. The relationship between the two families seems to have been something like two drunks eyeballing each other from opposite ends of a bar. Guinness’s viewed whiskey as a social evil and engaged in philanthropic acts such as the restoration of Patrick’s cathedral. The Roe’s were not to be out done and donated £250,000 for the restoration of Christ church. Beer and whiskey faced off against each other for more than a century and a half.

Gradually, in fits and starts, things for the Roe’s went into decline. The war of independence, prohibition in America and cheap blended scotch all knocked the stuffing out of Irish whiskey and Roes’ closed in 1923. The distillery which at one time had spread from Thomas Street all the way down to the Liffey, was gradually, in bits and pieces, sold on.  Today Guinness has office space and car parks lying on top of what used to be Roe’s Whiskey Distillery.

Uncle Arthur literally buried the old drink under concrete and yet, as each new distillery comes on line, it’s clear its bubbling right back up again. There is a bite and a depth to whiskey that can’t be touched by any other drink in this writer’s opinion. It’s a fiery drink with a long long history.   With its return Guinness will have to shift along the bar and make room for an old enemy.

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