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Chapter 1: The Land of Legends; "Bushmills: 400 Years in the Making”

The Giant’s Causeway, 2 miles – or a (giant’s) stone’s throw – from the distillery.

If the Giant's Causeway is the 'Ninth Wonder of the World', then the Old Bushmills distillery some two miles south, is surely the Tenth.

The Giant's Causeway, that magnificent place where hexagonal columns form stepping stones that disappear under the sea was created, we are told, by volcanic rock cooling very quickly. But when you are standing there the legend of Fionn Mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) seems to make more sense. Apart from being a giant and presumably very strong, Fionn is Ireland's greatest hero. According to the legend he built the Causeway so he could walk to Scotland without getting his feet wet.

It is a legend yes, but about 10,000 years ago, around the time of the last Ice Age there was a land bridge between Ireland and Scotland. Maybe people used it to cross from one coast to another. Maybe not, but it is just possible. Around here fact and fiction are curiously interwoven.

There is a small stream nearby called St Columb's Rill and it travels over the same basalt rock that makes up the Causeway, before joining the River Bush and flowing on to the sea. But on the way something quite magical happens —some of the water is transformed into whiskey. It has been going on for some time, some say since 1784 while others say 1608. In truth though it goes back further than that: much further. Whiskey has been made in this area for so long that dates are immaterial; the stuff has woven itself into the fabric of everyday life.

The Book of Dun Cow was written in the 11th or 12th century. It is the third-oldest known manuscript in Ireland and it contains another legend. This concerns two warriors who worked up a terrible thirst in battle. So ferocious was this thirst that the rivers of Ireland had to be visited in order to slake it. What is surprising is that alongside Ireland's major rivers, like the Shannon and the Liffey, the story takes time out to mention the River Bush. Even then, the quality of the water must have been legendary.

There has never been a shortage of water in this part of Ireland, but there is no knowing when the alchemy of distilling arrived. However the magic that turned usice into usice beatha, the 'water of life', can be traced back to the Norman invasion. Yet again legends weave their way into fact, so it is hard to know where one ends and the other begins.

‘One of the King Waters of Ireland’ … a few miles downstream, it turns into one of its finest whiskeys.

 

 


Written by Peter Mulryan

 

The text is an excerpt from "Bushmills: 400 Years in the Making" (pp. 10 - 13), written by Peter Mulryan, published 2008 by Appletree Press Ltd.



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