News Analysis

Thursday 28 August 2014

Alcoholic gripe water?

Rory Egan

Published 11/06/2006 | 00:11

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EVER wondered why little babies never cried in our parents' time? The little darlings smiled, dribbled and even googled in the days when a keyboard was properly located on a piano instead of a desk. The magic potion that soothed all cranky tots was gripe water. Or to be more correct, Woodward's Gripe Water.

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Gripe water was the 3-in-one oil of the fertile classes. It was used for wind, lack of wind, constipation, diarrhoea, colic, hiccups, stomach upsets, coughing, bad form, bad breath, fever. In fact, for any ailment you could think of, gripe water seemed to be the answer.

Mothers from Trim to Tralee regarded it as the panacea for all ills and, more importantly, the soother for all troubles. Filled with goodness such as dill oil, ginger and fennel water, the elixir was a veritable smorgasbord of healthy ingredients.

The use of fennel can be traced back as far as the Greeks, but a company called Willards was the first to market gripe water commercially. It became popular with the British middle classes and was sold in all corners of the Empire. Soon a company called Woodwards started manufacturing it in India, where it is made to this day.

The perfect solution was too good to be true. The reason the little ones stopped crying was that they were slowly but surely on their way to getting smashed. Yes, inebriated. The gripe water we all knew and loved contained between 3.6 per cent and 8 per cent alcohol, depending on which report you read.

In 1982, the FDA banned it from public consumption, and soon other countries, including Ireland banned what was truly the first alco-pop on record. In fairness, it probably did more good than bad in its time, but adding alcohol to a baby's diet seems to be frowned on by some people these days, usually doctors and paediatricians.

However, Woodwards now produce an alcohol- and sugar-free gripe water, which is available in the UK and the US or on the internet. It may not quite put the little one to sleep, but at least you don't have to suffer the child repeating the first verse of Danny Boyad nauseam.

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