Poitín making Famed in song and story

The once popular poitín making still

By Jimmy Rhatigan

WHAT WAS our country’s most famous cottage industry?
All kinds of everything will be mentioned including pig rearing, knitting and country butter making.
These and many more would have been hugely popular but the one to hit the jackpot and maybe the pee-pot was the wonderful, if frowned on occupation of poitíin making.
For generations the art of making an illicit strong alcoholic drink kept many poor families afloat and ensured that our Gardai were never short of someone to chase.
Distilling of what was colloquially called Moonshine was a huge cottage industry the length and breadth of our country, vilified and loved at the same time.
It was just ahead in popularity of the back yard earner that was the industry of rearing bonhams or piglets to eventually bring home the bacon.

Dodging boys in blue
There was a strong entrepreneurial spirit among poitín makers who as well as being handed down the tradition of making the rare auld mountain dew also quickly learned the dubious art of dodging the boys in blue.
So cunning and clever were the moonshiners that they often positioned their still or poitín pot on land boundaries so the issue of ownership could be disputed if there was a raid and the often mountainy men were caught with their trousers down.
A bit like the Robin Hoods and Dick Turpins of other times, those who made poitín were usually generous souls with their strong potion, sometimes used to kill cold and also, we are told did the trick as a muscle rub.

Medicinal purposes
Dare we say it, while the constabulary’s job was to close down stills, the nod and wink was that some kindly and broadminded Gardai were partial to the odd dropín themselves, for medicinal purposes!
Sadly or perhaps gladiy for some, poitín is for the most part a thing of the part, but a cottage industry that along with many other such initiatives could play a real part in the revival of our country post pandemic, particularly in rural parts.
The death of cottage industries is blamed by many on the arrival of the so-called Celtic Tiger that turned many of us into small time big shots as with pockets and wallets full we concentrated on eating, drinking and being merry.

Home brewing
Another great home industry was the sewing of the world famous Moccasin Shoes where mothers, fathers, sons and daughters all earned pocket money, in many cases funding bread and butter.
The work was for Padmore & Barnes Boot Factory, Wolfe Tone Street which over the years gave employment to thousands of local families.
As a bonus, family members not directly employed by the company were given an opportunity of making money to boot.
Other, hardly lucrative but vital for existence industries were jam making, with blackcurrant, strawberry, gooseberry and marmalade most popular.
Home brewing and wine making were also perfected by innovative men in particular, with elderberry and mulled wines going down well at Christmas time in particular.

Family sacrifices
There were times when family sacrifices had to be made to facilitate these industries as children, adults too often had to make do with a sink wash as family baths would be filled with fermenting alcohol.
Yet more home products included grandmothers in particular knitting jumpers and jerseys for grandchildren and neighbours’ children, candle making, butter making, rearing of chickens and ultimately egg rounds, bread and confectionary baking, cheese making, pottery honing, dog walking and a dying business called Taxidermy.
Thinning beet, picking strawberries and blackcurrants were other ways of making pocket money.
Many of the latter could be revived to give a new life to rural Ireland in particular.

Ripe for re-incarnation
Taxidermy is ripe for re-incarnation as with our great love of family pets, particularly dogs and cats, there would be an opportunity to keep our canine pals alive after they sadly pass away.
To end as we started we remind that a ballad called The Moonshiner was sung by the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem on an album called Irish Drinking Songs.
By an unknown author, the writer referred fondly to his dad whose passing was due to moonshine and he dared the poitín to kill himself.
As an epilogue we remind of a world famous and inspirational speaker and author Dr Wayne Dyer.
When he was a boy, his father absconded leaving his mother, himself and his brother in bad financial shape.

Courage and hard work
Dr Dyer never despaired, never resorted to ‘poor me’ and instead worked hard. As an orphan he was always thinking and being innovative. When snow would be forecast he would keep a shovel under his mattress in an orphanage. Following a heavy downfall, he would be out at cock crow on the following morning clearing footpaths for US neighbours.
He would then call from door to door reminding that he was the worker who had done the business.
His reward would be a few dollars from practically every home.
In our country we need bundles of Dr Dyer’s courage and hunger for hard work as a survival kit and then a road to progress when we eventually conquer Coronavirus.

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