Monday 22 July 2019

Billionaire Pearse Lyons plans to build distillery in the Liberties

THE SPIRIT IS STRONG: St James’s Street Church, Dublin, and Dr Pearse Lyons of Alltech
THE SPIRIT IS STRONG: St James’s Street Church, Dublin, and Dr Pearse Lyons of Alltech
THE SPIRIT IS STRONG: St James Street church, Dublin

Tom Prendeville

St James's Street Church opposite the Guinness Hop Store, which is the country's biggest visitor attraction, is set to be converted into a distillery.

The historic church – which has been closed since 1954 – recently changed hands for €690,000, with the American-based Alltech company now planning to invest a further €5m on converting the building into a distillery.

The American animal nutrition company, which was founded by Irish-born Dr Pearse Lyons, also plans to open a visitor centre in the hope of luring some of the Hop Store's one million visitors to cross the road.

The St James's facility, along with two other new distilleries that are due to open in the same neighbourhood, will transform the dilapidated Liberties into the country's premier brewing and distillery quarter.

In the 19th Century, the area around St James's Church was known as the "Golden Triangle" of distilling; boasting Jameson, Powers and a slew of smaller distilleries. The triangle was also home to the city's coopering and allied trades.

Deirdre Lyons, co-founder of Alltech, is excited about the distilling project and the 20 new jobs it wil create.

"We are very excited about the latest addition to our company, the St James's Distillery in the heart of Dublin's historic brewing and distilling area. We are currently designing a working distillery, which will encompass a visitors' centre to showcase the rich history of distilling in the Liberties," she said. "The St James's Distillery will allow visitors the opportunity to interact with our brand, learn more about the process of crafting Irish whiskey and purchase product produced at the distillery."

For Dr Pearse Lyons, president of Alltech, the new distillery is very much a labour of love. "In 1948, my grandfather, John Hubert Lyons, was buried in the graveyard of St James's and this is one of the many connections my family has with the area. Our plan is to bring the church back to its former glory and make it a tourist destination.

"We plan to restore the church and reinvent St James's. It is located just yards from St James's Gate, home to Guinness and probably one of the best known drinks brands in the world.

"We are thrilled that the church is located on the "Dubline" – the new tourist trail from Trinity to Kilmainham – and it will hopefully attract a great number of people to our St James's Distillery."

Earlier this year, Teeling Whiskey Company announced plans for a new whiskey distillery in nearby Newmarket Square in The Liberties. The €10m investment marked the first new distillery in the city in over 125 years.

The Teeling's distillery will start production by December, with a dedicated visitor centre opening in the spring of 2015. The Pot Still distillery will lead to the creation of 30 permanent jobs, and when in full production it will be capable of producing 500,000 litres of whiskey a year.

Around the corner in Mill Street, the Dublin Whiskey Company is planning a third distillery/visitor attraction.

Although four visitor centres all competing with one another does not appear to make much sense; in reality it is money for old rope. A huge captive audience paying €10 each for the privilege of viewing a working factory while being introduced to the delights of new brands is a marketing manager's dream.

In medieval times, the ancient Liberties – which was located outside of the city walls – was a prosperous enclave and a hive of artisan activities In recent decades, the area grew neglected and run down. But the Liberties is now back on the tourist map.

Due to its illustrious history St James's Church ought to have no problem attracting busloads of visitors. The earliest documents state that the church itself was built in 1268, when it was part of the Abbey of St Thomas in Spain.

When Henry VIII set about the dissolution of the English church, St Thomas's Abbey was broken up and St James's Church in Dublin converted to a Protestant church in 1539. During the 18th and 19th Centuries, the St James's Church graveyard was the main cemetery in Dublin, and the last resting place of many of the city's most prominent citizens.

That church partially collapsed in 1761 and the spire was blown down in 1948.

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