Ireland’s unmissable castles

Legend, lore and lavish surroundings have ensured that Ireland’s castles never fail to capture our imaginations.

With over 3,000 castles dotted across the island of Ireland, it would be impossible to visit them all. Here we take a closer look at six castles that are open to the public that you must see on your Ireland vacation.

Dunluce Castle
Dunluce Castle

1. Dunluce Castle

At the tip of the Antrim coast sits the sprawling Dunluce Castle, looming over the sea atop a dark basalt outcrop. Once home to the feuding McQuillan and MacDonnell clans, this is the quintessential medieval Irish castle. From rebellion to fire, mermaids to banshees, Dunluce has seen its fair share of drama. No wonder, then, that this enchanting location is said to have inspired C.S. Lewis to create Narnia’s hallowed Cair Paravel, and now features in Game of Thrones.

With the white chalk cliffs of Portrush sweeping away to the west, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d stepped back in time. But don’t get too close to the edge – local legend says the castle kitchen once collapsed into the sea, dragging seven cooks with it!

Glenarm Castle
Glenarm Castle

2. Glenarm Castle

While the present castle has stood since 1636, there has been a castle at Glenarm since the 13th century. Once stretching all the way up the northern coast of Antrim, today’s Glenarm estate is now much smaller, housing an organic farm instead of an original deer park and a charming Tea Room where the 19th century Mushroom House once sat.

Though still a family home, guided tours of the castle are available at selected times. The grounds are a hive of activity, hosting an annual Tulip Festival (May), as well as the 10-mile Wilderbeast trail run (June) and the Highland Games (July) for the past number of years. And, with the seaside a short stroll away, what more could you want?

Tullynally Castle
Tullynally Castle

3. Tullynally Castle

Occupied by the same family since the 17th century, Tullynally Castle is linked to one of Ireland’s most loved legends, the Children of Lir. Indeed, visitors reported that a ‘fairy land’ had been constructed on the site in the 1830s, when Lady Georgiana remodeled the grounds. Although everything from a llama paddock to a Tibetan Garden has since been added, the castle itself has remained mostly unchanged.

Centuries later, the flawless acoustics of Tullynally’s magnificent Great Hall hosts regular music events, while visitors to the expansive gardens can often catch a plant fair or owner-led spring walk. From summer fêtes to Halloween Terror Trails, Tullynally truly is a castle for all seasons.

Birr Castle
Birr Castle

4. Birr Castle

The Third Earl of Rosse was an innovative gent. His Leviathan telescope, still in working order at Birr Castle, was once the largest in existence, and his wife Mary created one of the world’s first darkrooms in the estate stables. It’s not difficult to see why – Birr Castle Gardens are some of the most stunning in Ireland. Endless exotic flowers enliven the grounds in a rainbow of color, while waterfalls and lakes are home to otters, herons and kingfishers.

Within the castle, visitors are guided by descendants of the Earl and his wife, whose portraits still adorn the great Victorian dining room. The view from the spectacular, octagonal Gothic Saloon drinks in the River Camcor, from where the couple’s son once harnessed the current to provide Birr with electricity.

Blackrock Castle
Blackrock Castle

5. Blackrock Castle

Cork’s coat of arms heralds the city as a “safe harbor for ships”, but this wasn’t always the case. The formidable limestone outcrop of Blackrock Castle was built in the 16th century to protect one of the deepest natural harbors in the world from pirate and naval attacks – and to protect the nobility from the rowdier factions within the Rebel County.

Twice destroyed by fire, the castle was faithfully restored by the people of Cork. Today, it is home to the invaluable astronomical research center of the nearby Cork Institute of Technology. Its award-winning interactive astronomy exhibition, Cosmos at the Castle, is the first of its kind in Ireland.

Ballynahinch Castle
Ballynahinch Castle

6. Ballynahinch Castle

Tucked away among 445 acres of rugged Connemara landscape, Ballynahinch Castle Hotel is a safe bet for those seeking a relaxed setting and the opportunity to actually stay in an Irish castle. In its old age, the estate has mellowed, but half a millennium ago, it was home to some of the most infamous figures of Irish legend. Pirate queen and chieftain, Grace O’Malley, and the ‘Ferocious O’Flaherty Clan’ all graced its halls.

The grounds of Ballynahinch can be easily enjoyed on horseback or on foot, while seasonal woodcock shoots and a trip to the deserted Inishlacken Island are particular visitor favorites. Those who prefer to appreciate the historic surroundings from a more comfy location can cuddle up in a fireside armchair.


Ireland’s unmissable castles: Part 2

Here is’s second instalment on Ireland’s castles, we delve into ancient lakeside piles and the favorite haunts of ghosts and starlets alike. Click here to read part one of this series!

In part two of our series exploring Ireland’s unmissable castles, we take another tour of the living history on offer to the public. This time around, feuding clans and Bronze Age beauty add mystique to these mesmerizing monuments to the past.

Harry Avery's Castle
Harry Avery’s Castle

Harry Avery’s Castle

Harry Avery (Henry Aimbreidh) O’Neill was an over-protective brother, to say the least. As the story goes, O’Neill took such offence at the difficulty his sister encountered in finding a husband that he proceeded to hang 19 men who refused to marry her – right here, on the site of the castle named after him.

More of a tower house than a castle, the stout building was once a vital defence in the contested lands between the O’Neill and O’Domhnaill clans. Today, the ruins sit calmly atop unspoiled rolling hills, with the Mourne Valley spread at their feet.

Enniskillen Castle
Enniskillen Castle

Enniskillen Castle

The jewel in the crown of Fermanagh’s collection of castles, Enniskillen Castle is a master of reinvention. This turreted behemoth on the banks of the River Erne has proven instrumental in the survival of the town throughout its 600-year lifespan.

Poets and minstrels, satin-clad maidens weaving wondrous golden fringes, soldiers reclining, smiths preparing weapons


Today a modern hub of history, architecture and culture, the castle documents everything from the Ulster Plantation in the 17th century to Fermanagh’s unique role in the Second World War, and the story of the Medieval Maguires.

Enniscorthy Castle
Enniscorthy Castle

Enniscorthy Castle

As a young girl growing up in 19th century Enniscorthy, little could Eileen Gray have realised the fame that lay before her. One of the most internationally renowned furniture designers and architects of the 20th century, her designs now take pride of place in an exhibition at Enniscorthy Castle itself.

Now a museum, the castle has worn many hats in its 800 years, from prison to munitions store and rebel hide-out. A rare treat is the castle roof: one of the few of its type open to the public, it provides uninterrupted views of the surrounding countryside, including the battleground of Vinegar Hill.

Ross Castle
Ross Castle

Ross Castle

In this quiet corner of Killarney National Park, Ross Castle’s sprawling history is reluctant to remain in the past. Every seventh year, the benevolent ghost of the castle’s founder, O’Donoghue Mór, rises from the bottom of Lough Leane, and circles Ross Island on his magnificent white horse. The island’s occupation stretches back further still, to 4,000 years ago when it was one of Europe’s earliest Bronze Age copper mines. Today, this history can be explored on a mining and nature walking trail.

A relaxing rowboat ride across the lake leads to the 15th century Muckross Abbey and the luxury of Muckross House and Gardens. Gazing up at this Disney-esque castle, it’s not difficult to understand why Killarney was voted TripAdvisor’s top destination to visit in Ireland in 2015.

Kinnitty Castle
Kinnitty Castle

Kinnitty Castle

Deep in the heart of the Slieve Bloom mountains, Kinnitty Castle is a sight to behold. A masterpiece of Gothic revival architecture, it was the 18th century home of Charles Óg O’Carroll, one of the signatories of the American Declaration of Independence. The site of much political turbulence over the centuries – the Castle was first built in 1209 and repeatedly destroyed – its expansive grounds, Augustinian abbey and intimate courtyard today host more wedding guests than revolutionaries.

Probably the most amazing hotel experience I’ve ever had…It was like staying in a museum


Kinnitty sits on a 10,000-acre estate, where it is not uncommon to spy fallow deer and wild goats wandering through the woodland – a night in the Giltraps Guesthouse & Glamping grounds will ensure you get a close-up look. Of course, then you’ll miss the party-loving ghost of a monk who haunts the castle itself…

Ashford Castle
Ashford Castle

Ashford Castle

Ashford Castle has been around a long time – since 1228, in fact – so it stands to reason that its 820 windows have hidden many a story. Even the staff don’t know all Ashford’s secrets: some rooms of the castle remained unexplored even up until renovations two years ago.

Loved for its luxury as much as for the pretty surrounds of Cong, Ashford has welcomed some very famous faces in its time. Once owned by the Guinness family, a visit could have you tracing the footsteps of anyone from Oscar Wilde (who spent much of his childhood on an adjoining estate), to John Lennon, Brad Pitt or Princess Grace.

Monster armour-clad fish caught off Blasket Islands

Monster armour-clad fish caught off Blasket Islands
The armour-plated monster was caught off the coast of Kerry.Photo: “The Americana” by Frederick Converse Beach and George Edwin Rines. Via the Internet Archive (

Kerry, 11 August 1908 – A monster fish – known as a barracuda – has been caught off the Blasket Islands.

The fish is more than 9ft in length and is furnished with a breastplate of armour more than two inches thick. The tail is like that of a shark and its dorsal fin retracts into its body like a periscope while it attacks its prey. A barrel of small herring is considered the standard meal for a barracouda.

[Editor’s note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]


Tourism promoted in Kerry despite war in Europe

Tourism promoted in Kerry despite war in Europe
A view of Garinish Island in Parknasilla, Co Kerry, one of the areas visited by journalists touring the south of Ireland as part of a tourism promotionPhoto: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Killarney, 19 June 1915 – Journalists touring the south of Ireland as part of a tourism promotion have arrived in Kerry where they were greeted by leading politicians and businessmen.

The journalists were given a tour of the area around Killarney by boat, and later travelled by car to Parknasilla. A tour of the mountains was conducted before the visiting party travelled back to Dublin by train.

[Editor’s note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]


The Chemistry of Whisky


Chemistry of Whisky

Whisky is one of the world’s most popular spirits, and comes in many different classes and types. The character and flavour of these differing types vary widely; this, of course, comes down to their varying chemical composition. Here, we take a look at where some of these different compounds come from, and what they contribute.

Making whisky is, to an extent, a relatively simple process (albeit a long one). It starts with barley, which is soaked in water and then dried. The manner in which this drying is accomplished can affect the chemical composition of the finished whisky, and in the case of Scottish whiskies, was traditionally carried out using peat fires. The barley is then milled, then added to water. Mashing breaks down the starch in the barley into sugars, producing a sugary liquid called wort which can be used in the next stage of the process.

This is where fermentation comes in. Yeast is added to the wort, which turns the sugars into alcohol; the exact yeast used can also have an effect on the final taste. After fermentation, the alcohol percentage of the wort is between 5-10%. Up to this point, the process has differed little from that which produces beers, but here is where it deviates.

After fermentation, the liquid is referred to as the ‘wash’. It is transferred into a copper still – a piece of apparatus that functions exactly like a distillation apparatus in chemistry classrooms, albeit on a much larger scale. The alcohol desired from this process is that which comes out during the middle of the distillation process, known as the ‘heart’. The ‘foreshots’ which come out first are the compounds with the lowest boiling points, and include methanol, whilst the ‘feints’ which come out at the end of the distillation are mostly water. The ‘heart’, when removed, has an alcohol content of up to 70%.

The final, most important step of whisky manufacture is ageing. The spirit is placed in oak barrels, and stored to mature for at least 3 years before it is then bottled and sold. This ageing process is also a primary source of chemical compounds in the finished product. Additionally, the environment in which the casks are stored can also have an influence on composition.

So, now that we know a little more about how whisky is produced, it’s high time we discussed some of the compounds that give it its flavour.

Phenolic Compounds

Phenols primarily contribute bitterness and smokiness to a whisky’s flavour. They’re particularly noticeable in whisky produced from barley that was dried using peat fires, as is still the case in a number of Scottish distilleries. The burning produces the phenolic compounds in the smoke, which are then absorbed by the barley. Charring of the barrels in which the whisky is later matured can also lead to the presence of phenolic compounds in the spirit.

Phenol, cresols, xylenol and guaiacol are amongst the most important phenolic compounds in whisky, in terms of contribution to flavour. Guaiacol is also somewhat responsible for smokey flavours in coffee, and in smoked meats. Compounds called cresols are the culprits when it comes to the oft-mentioned similarity in aroma between Scotch whisky and band-aids. The particular compound responsible is meta-cresol, which has a medicinal aroma, and was also traditionally used in band-aids as an antiseptic. Eugenol is also present in many whiskies, a compound more commonly found in cloves, and partly responsible for their spicy aroma.

Whisky Lactones

A large number of compounds get into the whisky during the ageing process. Amongst these are two compounds that have actually taken on whisky’s name: the whisky lactones. These are, in fact, just isomers of each other, and chemically are named cis- and trans-3-methyl-4-octanolide. Both of these isomers originate from the oak barrels in which the whisky is aged, and both offer a coconut flavour. The cis isomer is the dominant of the two, and has a stronger, spicier flavour.


Although not shown in the graphic, acetaldehyde is a feature in many whiskies, representing a large percentage of the total aldehyde content. It originates from the fermentation process, and though some is lost in the ‘foreshots’ during the distillation process, some remains, and adds a pungent, sharp note to the taste.

Other aldehydes originate, as with the whisky lactones, from the oak barrels in which the whisky is matured. Syringaldehyde gives a spicy, smoky note, with furfural providing an almond-like, grainy flavour. More familiar is vanillin, the compound that also gives vanilla its aroma. Bourbons are particularly noted for their vanillin content; new casks are used for the ageing of each batch of bourbon, as the vanillin content of the wood is much lower after one ageing cycle. Other aldehydes from the wood include coniferaldehyde and sinapaldehyde.

Additionally, some simpler aldehydes such as hexanal can contribute a grassy note in some whiskies, whilst a malty flavour is associated with 2- and 3-methylbutanal.


A large number of esters are produced during the fermentation process, resulting from the combination of alcohols and either fatty acids, or the acetates produced during fermentation. Many light esters with fruity flavours and aromas are formed, though these are removed in the ‘foreshots’ during the distillation process. These include isoamyl acetate, an ester with a banana-like aroma. The most abundant ester in the ‘heart’ is commonly ethyl hexanoate, which has an aroma described as apple-like. There are a whole range of other esters that can be formed (check out this handy guide to their aromas), and these can be influenced by fermentation conditions.

Many whiskies undergo chill filtration to remove much of the ester concentration from the final product. The reasons for this are purely aesthetic, as their presence can contribute to the development of cloudiness in the final product.

Other Compounds

Other compounds in whiskey, outside of the aforementioned categories, can further contribute to its character. For example, two compounds commonly found in roses, beta-damascenone and phenylethyl alcohol, can also be found in some whiskies, and contribute a floral note. Diacetyl, a compound commonly associated with off-flavours in beers, is also found in whiskies, and has a buttery aroma.

The presence of some compounds is less than desirable. Sulfur-containing compounds, from the simple hydrogen sulfide to the more complex sulfur-containing aromatic compounds, are the primary cause of off-flavours in whisky. Their presence is reduced by the use of copper stills, as the copper is capable of binding the sulfur compounds, and preventing them from making their way into the final spirit.

Whilst we’ve mentioned a fair number of compounds here, really, we’ve barely scratched the surface as far as the assortment of compounds in whisky are concerned. Whilst it would be an impossibility to discuss them all, you can read a little more about some of them via the further reading links below. In the meantime, if you’re a whisky drinker, you’ll hopefully have a new-found appreciation for the chemical complexity of the spirit the next time you pour yourself a dram!


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References & Further Reading

A whisky tour

Is this the most chemically complicated drink in the world? Victoria Gill attempts to unlock some of the mysteries of Scotch malt whisky

In Short

  • The finely-tuned process of Scotch whisky production is governed by its own law – the Scotch Whisky Act
  • There are 92 malt whisky distilleries in Scotland, and each one has a slightly different process – with different stills, malts and casks for maturation
  • Under the Act, Scotch whisky must be matured for at least three years, during which time the spirit reacts with compounds in the timber casks
  • Chemists continue to study the complex effects of dilution on the sensory perception of whisky flavours
A whisky tour

When I worked in a tiny Edinburgh pub, I occasionally incurred the wrath of the regulars when the water jug sat on the bar wasn’t at room temperature by the time they wanted their whisky. So I’ve long been eager to find out if there’s any chemical truth behind this received bar wisdom, and similar whisky lore.

I’ve heard much postulating about ‘releasing the flavours’, so during my visit to Edinburgh’s Scotch Whisky Research Institute (SWRI), I hoped the real experts might teach me how to make it – or fake it – as a whisky connoisseur, so that I could smugly explain to my friends in the pub exactly how one should dilute one’s whisky – and more importantly, why.

But embarking on a whirlwind tour of whisky chemistry raised far more questions than I could have predicted. Like the heady, aromatic spirit itself, it’s far from simple. There’s no single chemical composition to describe a whisky, so there’s no single way to explain what exactly happens in your glass when you add water, ice or even (heaven forfend) cola.

Making flavour

Whiskies contain hundreds of compounds, including fatty acids, esters, alcohols, and aldehydes, in a wide range of concentrations. According to Paul Hughes, director of the International Centre for Brewing and Distilling (ICBD) at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, the most important flavours in a whisky come from ‘the raw materials, the distillation process, and the maturation’. So that’s the whole whisky-making process, then – and there’s just no narrowing it down.

To begin at the beginning, we need to go back to the raw materials. That’s Scotch whisky 10, 12, 16 or more years before it’s poured into your glass. The Scotch Whisky Act quite literally lays down the law about raw materials and the production process.1 Scotch malt whisky is made from 100 per cent malted barley – grain that has been germinated very briefly, releasing the enzymes that convert starch into the sugar that eventually becomes alcohol.

Whisky-producers start with a mash of malt and water. (Under the Act, distillers must use that water as it arrives at their distillery, untreated in any way). The aim is to turn as much of the grain’s starch into sugar as possible, for the highest alcohol yield.

The strong sugar solution is taken from the mash, and yeast is added for fermentation. This takes about 72 hours, after which the alcoholic solution – or wash – goes for distillation.

A whisky tour

Maturation casks – where up to 16 years of chemistry takes place


This is where those impressive, bulbous copper stills come in. Distillation is essentially very simple – heating the mixture to separate it into fractions based on their volatility – although the copper also catalyses some important reactions on the side. And as with any scaled-up process, there are a lot of variables. Reflux, for example, is determined by the neck of the still, so its shape is very important, and each distillery designs its own.

‘Copper catalyses the reactions you want most in distillation – especially those reactions that remove sulfurous compounds,’ explains Craig Owen, a chemist and laboratory manager at the SWRI.

The research at the SWRI is funded by its members – Scotch malt whisky producers -who are constantly refining the efficiency of their processes. ‘What distilleries are looking for is continuity,’ says Owen. ‘They want to understand each part of the process, so that if anything starts to drift they know exactly where the problem will be – to get it back on track again.’

Distillation of the spirit gives three fractions – the foreshots that contain the highly volatile components such as acetaldehyde and ethyl acetate, the spirit fraction that will go on to be matured into Scotch, and the feints which contain the low volatility compounds, including phenols and many nitrogen-containing compounds. Foreshots and feints are removed but, since they contain alcohol, they are recycled and redistilled.

‘Most Scotch whisky is distilled twice,’ explains Brian Eaton, senior teaching fellow at the ICBD. ‘That’s a key difference between Irish whiskey and Scotch. Irish whiskey is triple-distilled, and that’s a big marketing point – its purity. But the thing about double-distilling is the flavour compounds that remain in the whisky. You could say that the aim with Scotch whisky is to distil it just enough.’

The spice of life

There are 92 malt distilleries in Scotland, all unique. Each takes a slightly different fraction during distillation – so each spirit is chemically different before it even gets into the cask to mature. This colourless liquid already contains some of the compounds that are evident in the final flavour – phenols, esters, lactones, aldehydes some sulfur and nitrogen-containing compounds.

But the cask is where the really interesting stuff happens – with the maturation process finely tuned to each individual whisky. ‘When you mature a Scotch, you’re trying to balance the spirit character with the maturation character,’ says Eaton. ‘Some may be matured for eight years, but most of the very smoky malts are matured for 12 to 16 years – because it takes longer to get the balance right.’

Most casks are made of American white oak, and have already been used once to make bourbon. ‘The American bourbon industry uses new casks every time, so it’s a cheap and efficient way to buy them,’ says Eaton. Bourbon-making is also a good pre-treatment for the casks. White oak contains a lot of vanillin – the compound responsible for the sweet, vanilla note that is a signature of bourbon. Making bourbon extracts a lot of the vanillin from the casks, and only then are they ready for Scotch.

All casks must be less than 700 litre capacity, because much of the maturation chemistry depends on good contact with the wood. Three types of reaction happen in the cask – additive, subtractive and interactive. In subtractive reactions, compounds are lost through the timber – including the pungent sulfur compounds, such as dimethyl sulfide.

And as oxygen diffuses into the cask, reactions take place between the molecules in the spirit, and between the spirit and the wood. Alcohols and aldehydes are oxidised, and acids react with ethanol to form esters – which are some of the most aromatic of whisky flavour compounds.

The casks are often fired to char the inside. The resulting layer of active carbon on the inner surface removes some unwanted compounds, and charring starts the breakdown of lignin in the wood.

‘Lignin undergoes what’s been termed ethanolysis,’ says John Piggott from the University of Strathclyde. ‘Ethanol reacts with the lignin to break it down into some of the important flavour compounds, such as aromatic aldehydes.’ Piggott has compared charred with uncharred oak in the maturation of Scotch malt whisky, and found that charring increased the production of whisky lactones (cis – and trans  -methyloctalactone) – fruity flavour compounds often described as smelling like coconut.2

And it’s maturation in timber casks that gives the whisky its golden colour. Melanoidins – from the breakdown of cellulose – help to brown the spirit. And some distilleries use old sherry or rum casks, which also darken the whisky, as well as contributing to its flavour. The only additive allowed, apart from water, is caramel, which can be added to bring the whisky to a standard colour.

Smoky notes

Not all distilleries smoke their malt – but some, including Laphroaig, Ardbeg and Lagavulin, all on the Scottish island of Islay, are famous for it. It’s a practice derived from the days when people would dry out their malted barley over a peat-fuelled fire, simply because peat was an easily and locally accessible fuel. Phenolic compounds transfered from the peat give these whiskies their signature smoky flavour.

A whisky tour

Each peat bog on Islay adds a unique flavour signature to the final whisky


But even peat chemistry is complex. Barry Harrison, a distillation researcher at the SWRI, has studied different peats and found that the chemical composition of a peat bog depends on its geographical location. ‘So I tried to find out if we could match that to chemical fingerprint of the spirit,’ says Harrison.

He dug peat samples from six locations across Scotland – three of which were peat bogs on Islay. ‘I smoked malt in the fume cupboard in a lab, then distilled my own spirit with it.’ Harrison used a combination of analytical techniques to study his peat samples and smoked malt, and even volunteer nosers to test his lab-made spirit.

He found not only that peat from different bogs could be distinguished by its chemical fingerprint, but that the chemical fingerprint of a bog was still distinguishable in the final spirit. It’s just one example of a practice steeped in tradition that plays a part in the mysterious chemistry of malt whisky.4

Age is everything

The Act states that whisky is not Scotch whisky until it has been matured for at least three years. And that it must be matured in Scotland. ‘This isn’t the industry being protectionist,’ says Eaton. ‘It’s down to the climate – it’s cold and damp, which affects maturation. In the US, the ethanol concentration in the cask goes up because it’s hot and dry, here it goes down.’

A whisky tour

Whisky tasters can use ‘flavour wheels’ to assess the complex mixture of compounds that make up each individual whisky

Once a whisky has matured, it is blended and diluted for bottling – cask strength whisky can be more than 60 per cent ethanol, and the final bottled spirit is 40 per cent. Each distillery has a master blender – a person able to detect hundreds of flavour compounds by nose alone. This is still a talent no piece of analytical equipment can match, and everyone interviewed for a job at the SWRI is asked to take a smelling test to see if they could join the institute’s panel of 19 nosers.

Single malts are usually blended from several casks – all from the same distillery – to establish just the right flavour. The age on the bottle indicates the youngest whisky in that blend.

A whisky tour


Eaton says the belief that single malt whiskies are far superior to what we commonly refer to as blended whiskies is something of a misconception. ‘From around 1890 to the 1960s everyone drank blended whisky,’ says Eaton. The late 1800s are significant because an aphid-related pest called phylloxera, accidently imported from America, had wiped out the grapevines across France and the rest of Europe.

‘People in the UK who drank brandy couldn’t get it, so they looked to Scotland where they were making this very fiery spirit called malt whisky. This was too strong for most people, so they started making grain whisky – distilled from a mixture of whole grain cereals, usually wheat or maize, and the malted barley that produces the necessary enzymes.

‘Grain whisky is distilled to a higher alcoholic strength, and it is blander. By blending the grain whisky with the malt whisky, they made a spirit that was acceptable for the would-be brandy drinkers in the UK to have as an after-dinner drink. So people started drinking blended whisky.’

It was only when the first single malt was marketed by Glenfiddich in the 1960s that single malts became more widely available. And today they represent about 5 per cent of the whisky market.

‘In a single malt you get a narrow band of flavour – peaty, waxy, meaty sulfur, grassy – so if you like that flavour, you find the malt that’s to your exact taste,’ says Eaton. ‘A blender may take 35 different malts and two to three grains, and blends them to give all the different characteristics. People think blends are cheap and nasty and they’re not, many of them are superb.’

How to drink whisky

Just as diverse and complex are the ways in which whisky is consumed. But single malt purists will often tell you to add just a little room temperature water. So is that the ‘right way’ to drink whisky?

‘It’s personal preference – there are no instructions on the bottle that say “dilute to taste”,’ Owen points out diplomatically. ‘It’s partly about practicality. When we’re nosing the whisky, it’s diluted to 20 per cent [ethanol concentration] because at 40 per cent, after nosing a few whiskies, you wouldn’t be able to smell anything.’ Since the whisky producers rely very much on teams of nosers for their quality control (whisky producers’ master blenders often have their olfactory equipment insured for large sums) avoiding numbing the nosers’ precious noses is very important.

‘With sprits, there’s a magic dilution of 17 per cent where you have a continuous phase of water and ethanol,’ adds Hughes. ‘Otherwise you get some clustering – pockets of ethanol where the more ethanol-soluble compounds will gather.’

Perhaps this is something I can finally quantify – you need just the right amount of water to bring the spirit to this continuous phase. But, as always, it’s far more complicated for Scotch, as Hughes explains: ‘Whisky is not ethanol and water alone. Once you start to introduce all the other components, the simple dynamic of ethanol and water mixtures is affected. So it’s much trickier to put a critical dilution on whisky.’

Piggott has tested the influence of dilution on the sensory impact of a whisky. His team at Strathclyde measured the compounds occupying the ‘headspace’ above the whisky – that’s the part you stick your nose into to take in all of those aromatic notes. And dilution, it seems, is not just about the oft-quoted release of flavour compounds – it releases some but masks others.3

A whisky tour

Dilution affects every whisky’s aroma differentl


‘If you increase the water content, you reduce the solubility of some long-chain compounds – such as esters,’ he explains. ‘You also increase the volatility of some compounds, especially hydrophobic ones. While phenols, for example – the smoky compounds – are particularly water-soluble, so you’d expect to reduce the volatility of those as you dilute. Nitrogen-containing compounds too – they’re the roasted nut and cereal flavours – would be reduced.’ So if you like the cereal tones or that smoked peaty aroma, drink your malt whisky neat.

And the insistence upon room temperature water? ‘Ice or very cold water will reduce the volatility of many flavour compounds – it keeps the flavour in the liquid, so you may not get the aromas, but you’ll still get the taste,’ says Hughes.

One guaranteed effect of dilution for every whisky is that it diminishes the ethanol concentration. But whether that reliably reduces the alcoholic burn depends, once again, on the whisky you’re drinking. ‘If you dilute to 20 per cent ethanol, you reduce the pungency, so for younger spirits that would seem to be a good idea – to get more out of the rest of the flavour. But something very strange goes on as whisky matures.’

Piggott’s experiments have shown some whiskies are not as pungent as they should be given their ethanol concentration. ‘If you plot the amount of ethanol in the head space against pungency [detected by nosing], you would normally see a direct correlation. But we found that some whiskies were less pungent than they should have been – and that seemed to tie in with maturity, which links with the popular view that you should drink well-matured malts neat.’

‘At tastings at the Scottish Malt Whisky Society, they tend to taste cask-strength whiskies, diluting them to taste,’ says Hughes. ‘When you add water to one it tastes much better, but add water to another and it might taste far worse. For example, heavier whiskies that have strong sulfur notes -those compounds are released when you dilute the whisky, and most people find them unpleasant.’

Only Hughes will be drawn on the best way to drink a whisky, and his advice is surprisingly specific. ‘The master blender at the Talisker distillery once told me 18 year old Talisker with vanilla ice cream and pepper was the best combination,’ says Hughes. ‘I just wonder how on Earth they found that out.’

‘Blue cheese or chocolate often go well with whisky,’ says Owen. ‘But it’s entirely down to personal taste. In China it’s often mixed with green tea. In Spain many people drink it with a mixer, like cola.’

And according to one well-known Scottish joke, that’s actually the only way to drink the stuff – cola, that is.


1  The Scotch Whisky Act
2 J M Conner, A Paterson and J R Piggott, J. Sci. Food and Agric., 2006, 62, 169 (DOI: 10.1002/jsfa.2740620210)
3 J M Conner, A Paterson and J R Piggott, J. Sci. Food Agric., 1999, 79, 1015
4 B Harrison et al, J. Inst. Brew.,  2006, 112, 333


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Inspired by a recent article by the, titled “19 of Ireland’s most spectacular pubs to drink pints with a view” see here:  we decided it was essential to create our own list. We hope you enjoy our list, and please feel free to contribute or let us know if we forgot to mention your favourite ‘West Cork pub with a view’!

Due to people power and popular protest we have five new entries.

So in no particular order, here is no 1….



The only Cork Pub to make the ’19 of Ireland’s most spectacular pubs to drink pints with a view’ O’ Sullivan’s Bar is a worthy listing. Located in the beautiful seaside village of Crookhaven or ‘Crook’ as many people call it this pub is an institution on the Mizen Peninsula. You can sit down, relax and listen to the masts of the boats in the harbour cling in the Atlantic wind, and savour the warm sunsets from outside benches. In Winter, you can experience the real Wild Atlantic Way and listen to the wind howl from the safety of a stool by the fire, and watch the grey rolling clouds come in from the Atlantic.

According to Trip Advisor “You will not find a more perfect spot to stop, relax and have a bite of lunch. The best chowder around and absolutely delicious fresh crab sandwiches. Sit outside on the pier and enjoy the friendly service..”

O’Sullivan’s also claim to serve the most Southerly ‘Pint’ in Ireland, and it is Murphy’s Irish Stout, ..of course, like.


O'Sullivan's Bar

(Photos: /TripAdvisor)

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Two pubs located side by side on the Waterfront in Baltimore, they share a spectacular view of Baltimore Harbour and out towards neighbouring Sherkin Island. A pint sitting outside on a bench or converted old whiskey barrel is a must when you visit Baltimore. See the sunset fall behind Mount Gabriel and listen to the impromptu live Irish music sessions in this lively village. Visit during the annual Pirate Festival or Fiddle Fair and you will not be disappointed. Baltimore is steeped in maritime history, the story of the Algerian Pirates is one to discover if you visit Dún na Séad (fort of the jewels) castle that was built in 1215 but restored to its original grandeur.

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(Photo: Best Photos of Baltimore/Facebook)

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Located on the Sheep’s Head Peninsula, this pub is situated in the spectacular Dunmanus Bay with views out towards the Mizen Peninsula to the south. You can watch local fishing boats unload their catch and enjoy some fantastic local produce, all while enjoying a pint. “Devine seafood and a warm welcome in this tiny gastro pub by the sea’ – according to one TripAdvisor user.


arundels by the pierArundels By the Pier 2

(Photos: Arundels by the Pier/ Facebook)

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A perfect place to stop on your travels along the N71, the Kingfisher Bar is home to an amazing view of the Rosscarbery Causeway. This is the best place in West Cork to savour a pint while watching migratory birds swarm in the sky, as the neighbouring estuary is a hive of wildlife activity. You can act like the neighbouring swans and relax and enjoy the pink sunsets in this romantic location.

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(Photos: Celtic Ross Hotel/ Facebook)

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No folks this is not a photo of Oahu island in Hawaii, this is Barleycove Beach, Mizen Head. Situated in a priceless location, Barleycove beach is a gem in West Cork. The beach itself has been designated as a Special Area of Conservation by the European Union, due to the variety of wildlife and interesting habitats present in the sand dunes. The hotel has a wooden terrace with seating to look out and absorb this Wild Atlantic View. I don’t think you can get closer to paradise..

Barleycove Beach FBBarleycove


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This is island living, sun shining on the glistening water, music playing and the faint hum of the ferry making its way into the pier. The Islanders Rest is a must if you are visiting Sherkin Island. No where else on earth has views like this. You can enjoy a great pint here while looking out towards Baltimore and the Beacon Cliffs. Yachts and ferries pass by slowly and dolphins are often seen in this bay, where else could you get it?

Ferries only a short 15 min crossing from Baltimore Village.


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(Photos: The Islanders Rest/ TripAdvisor & Robbie Murphy/Facebook)

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These three pubs have some beautiful views of Union Hall bay, a picturesque fishing village with a jam packed festival during the summer months. Fresh fish is a speciality here as the local fishing fleets dock yards from this village. Dining on Union Hall smoked fish washed down with some local beer is an essential activity when visiting this colourful village. Sit down in the waterside beer gardens and you may be close enough to catch the fish yourself!

Festival by the Sea Union Hall

Dinty (Photo: Union Hall Festival by the Sea/ Facebook, & Dinty’s Bar/Facebook)

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Located only a few minutes from bustling Clonakilty town a spectacular vista of the Atlantic Ocean greets you on arrival at Dunmore House Hotel. This hotel hugs the wild atlantic coastline and Inchydoney Beach (listed as Ireland’s no 1. beach in 2015) is visible from the front decking. If you are travelling along the coast road to Galley Head Lighthouse, mark this on your map as a place to stop, relax, get a drink and take in these spectacular views.


(Photo: Dunmore House Hotel/Tripadvisor)

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Taken from their own description it is one of the truly unique Irish pubs. Located on the Sheep’s Head peninsula, the Tin Pub has remained the same since day one. Sample the stout in the traditional interior, or outside in the beer garden over looking the bay, this is a gem not to be missed.

TinPubThe Tin Pub, Ahakista, West Cork, Ireland

(Photos: Tin Pub/Facebook &

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You cannot miss this bright and colourful pub as you drive the coast road in Kinsale, its bright warm yellow exterior often matches the vivid sunsets year round. Only yards from the sea, there is plenty of seating to sit out and observe the yachts sail by in nearby picturesque Kinsale. According to one visitor on TripAdvisor “From sitting next to the cozy fire with a Franciscan Well Red in hand, to a Bulmers outside in the summer, this is the best place in Kinsale”.

Bulman Bar 2Bulman

(Photos: The Bulman/Facebook)

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This hotel is steeped in history and has an oriental feel to its facade, it is in one of the best locations to savour the magnificent Bantry bay. The hotel is located only a short distance from the tropical Ilnacullin/ Garnish Island and the Bamboo park. The perfect place to take in the lush green landscape of Glengarriff.

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(Photos: Tripadvisor &

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These two pubs are located only minutes from the pier and have spectacular views of the wild and natural vistas of this unspoiled island. Cape Clear is accessible by ferry from Baltimore and Schull and hosts an International Story Telling Festival in September. Why not visit to practise your Gaeilge as the island is a Gaeltacht region, or view the seals, basking sharks or dolphins that are often spotted in the surrounding water.

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(Photos: & Tripadvisor)

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These three pubs are situated on one of West Corks most beautiful villages, Glandore where you could spend hours taking in this beautiful harbour. All three pubs have their own unique character and local seafood again is the most popular choice to accompany a pint. Once you visit I guarantee you will return.

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 16.21.11Pints GlandoreGlandore Inn

(Photos: Tripadvisor)

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Located next to the pier on Whiddy Island this can be your first or last port of call when you visit this fascinating island. Sheltered by the beautiful mountains of the Beara peninsula to the north and the Sheep’s head peninsula to the south, Whiddy’s unique location and unparalleled scenery make it an ideal spot to relax and enjoy a pint on this charming island. Being just offshore from Bantry town, access is easy, and the ferry crossing only a matter of minutes.

Bank PierBank House

(Photos: & Whiddy Island Ferry/Facebook)

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An iconic attraction in West Cork Gougane Barra is a mystical place to visit, the hotel is located next to the crystal clear lake and the nineteenth century oratory which stands near the original monastery is famous for its richly decorated interior and as a place of retreat and relaxation. This place is the very antithesis of Temple Bar, and is the perfect location to unwind in the hotel bar. According to TripAdvisor: “Gougane Barra – it is the most serene, peaceful, and relaxing place I have ever encountered”.

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This tiny little pub is located on the bridge into Castletownbere village. This colourful little pub has some amazing views of the harbour and is only a few minutes from the famous McCarthy’s Bar.


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It is not everyday you can enjoy a pint on a disused railway bridge overlooking the beautiful Ilen River. The West Cork Hotel is located right on the Ilen and a clever use of the disused bridge means you can do just that. The river is teeming with wildlife including otters, swans, and herons. You can bask in the evening sunshine whilst watching small boats and rowers glide underneath the bridge and down towards old court estuary.

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(Photos: WestCorkHotel/ Facebook)

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Due to popular protest, The Pink Elephant has been added to the list. What a view in picturesque Kilbrittain. It is a restaurant & bar right on the coast of West Cork, just a few miles west from Kinsale.  The bar has some magical Atlantic views over Courtmacsherry Bay, where you can enjoy a refreshing drink on the outdoor patio.

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Another Beara contender this bar is unrivalled when it comes to picture postcard perfection. Nestled along the R575 road to Eyeries, count this pub as your go to stopover when touring the Beara Peninsula.




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Minihan’s bar located in Lisheen, is only a short distance from Skibbereen town and has one of the most impressive view of Roaringwater Bay. From here you can spot the famous Kilcoe Castle which is occupied by actor Jeremy Irons. The vista ahead reveals some of Carbery’s hundred isles and not to mention you may spot the light from the Fastnet Lighthouse on your way home. Known for its live music sessions, this is the closest you can get to rural Ireland. Its location is indeed off the beaten track, but is ‘not to be missed’ according to one of our UK visitors.


(Photos: Facebook/

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Popular protest from loyal customers granted the worthy inclusion of these three pubs located in beautiful Ring, Clonakilty. Follow the old Timoleague Road for a coastal view of Clonakilty Bay that reaches out to the spectacular Inchydoney Island. Ring village is known for its fantastic local seafood and great hospitality so make sure you mark this colourful little village on your to do list.

DeasysKitty MacsScreen Shot 2015-03-04 at 13.55.38Deasys Bar


(Photos: Kitty Macs, Deasy’s Facebook/ Google Street View)

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Situated on the majestic Beara peninsula, Causkey’s Bar is the location to visit if you want the most panoramic view of the neighbouring landscape. Its brightly coloured front fits in with the world famous Eyeries village. Tourism Ireland kicked off its promotional drive for 2015 with an end-of-year campaign which included ‘wrapping’ the Daily Telegraph with images of Ireland, including a wonderful image of the picturesque village of Eyeries in West Cork. The wrap was seen by more than 1.2 million readers, better get there quick before everyone else does!

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There is no better location to take in in the beauty of Garretstown beach and surrounds. The Blue Horizon a pub and B&B offers just that with ample seating for you to enjoy the perfect pint. Only a few minutes from the Old Head Golf Links, why not make this place your ‘après-golf’ stop off.


Blue Horizon


(Photos: &

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