Some spirits of Kilbeggan Whiskey Distillery in County Westmeath have never left the premises, ANN MASSEY writes
Kilbeggan Distillery has the accolade of being Ireland’s oldest working distillery. Yes, Bushmills in County Antrim may well have the oldest licence in the world, but they didn’t use it for some time, so Kilbeggan has the title, along with a working pot till more than 250 years old – so old spirits and old spirits!
It is little wonder that the ghostly presence of a monk remains, when it was the early medieval monks of Irealnd who started the whole thing. They would make whiskey in their monastic stills and called it Uisce Beatha, meaning Water of Life. Perhaps trying to make the whole process sound divine was a way of getting around their Holy superiors!
The History of Kilbeggan Distillery
In 1757, owner Matthew McManus began distilling whiskey in the town of Kilbeggan, where his family continued the skilled craft for a century. His son John worked in the distillery, as well as serving with the United Irishmen as a colonel. A role that ended with his execution after a rebellion assault in Kilbeggan.
It then passed to John Locke and the Locke distillery became a major source of employment for the local community. The townsfolk were distraught to discover the distillery might close due to a boiler explosion, so they got together and purchased a replacement boiler to save the distillery.They would save it once more – when a fire broke out the entire town came out to rescue the barrels of whiskey and extinguish the flames. It went on to thrive and brought additional employment and more revenue than ever to the town of Kilbeggan.
After his death, the whiskey producing endeavour went to John Edward Locke (junior) and his brother James. While their mother remained a devout Catholic, donating to the local nuns and living a pious life, the brothers and indeed John Locke’s wife (known as Muds due to her hands on love of hunting), was known for cavorting around the town with any man who took her fancy. Before she was thrown out, the couple had two daughters called Sweet and Flo.
It was these two ladies, caught up in lavish lifestyles, that were the catalyst for the downfall of the Locke Distillery. Leaving the running of the whiskey making business to the male management, they no longer played any part in the running of their parental legacy. Already hit by The Temperance Movement, booming Dublin whiskey manufacturing and the second world war, the management decided to cut corners and costs by mixing in raw alcohol and shipping the lethal concoction under darkness of night which destroyed their reputation permanently.
The sisters sold the ailing distillery to a strange syndicate, including a Swiss national, a politician for Fianna Fail and a local solicitor. The group set up an elaborate scam involving political sway and the gift of a Swiss watch to Taoiseach Éamon de Velera. They planned to gain the rights to a larger export quota of whiskey, which they intended to sell on the English black market.
Managers of Locke’s Distillery blew the whistle and it brought both the scheme and the distillery down. By 1958 the water of life for the people of Kilbeggan was in administration and closed permanently, not to begin to distil whiskey again until 2007, 250 years after it began. Direct descendents of the McManus and Locke families were present for the refiring of the dormant pot stills. Was their presence and the reactivation of the distillery the source of the resurgence in paranormal activity?
Spirits of Kilbeggan
Throughout these years of turmoil, through to today, a ghostly monk has been seen in his black robe, pacing the courtyard that once was adjacent to his Cistercian monastery until the monks were forced out in the sixteenth century. Silent and judging, he can not have been happy with events over the centuries!
Matthew McManus is said to have remained, watching his business crumble and rise, alongside his executed son John. Both have been seen inside the distillery walls. In fact when ‘physic medium’ and Most Haunted regular, Derek Acorah visited Kilbeggan Distillery, he referred to McManus senior as Mathias, a little known family name for Matthew. He then stated that John told him he would never be at rest following his untimely execution.
The ‘medium’ also says he saw the workers of the Locke Distillery presenting John Locke with a replacement boiler, in some kind of residual haunting replay of the real life event. Acorah claimed to have seen and spoken with the spirit of Flo, shamed and disappointed at her role in the destruction of her father and grandfather’s whiskey business.
Numerous accounts of spectral sightings, banging doors and squeaking floorboards continue to be reported. Otherworldly whispers engulfing empty rooms and silent machines in the dead of night are heard again and again. More recently the team of Travel Channel’s Destination Fear visited Kilbeggan Distillery as a part of their Ireland based Season 3 Finale.
One thing is for sure, if you visit the Kilbeggan Distillery Visitor’s Centre, you are guaranteed to encounter a spirit in one form or another. Slainté!
Have you witnessed the paranormal at Kilbeggan Distillery? Tell us about it in the comments section below!