THE world's oldest distillery, Cooley, has been sold to the American bourbon whiskey giant Beam for €73m.
The deal is a big pay day for its investors, including entrepreneur John Teeling and his family, who own about one-third of the company.
They will receive more than €20m.
The next biggest shareholder is businessman Lee Mallaghan, who developed the Carton House Hotel in Co Kildare. His shares are worth over €6m.
Donegal businessman Willie McCarter is also one of Cooley's founders, and he is in line to receive over €3m from the proceeds of its sale.
Two other directors, David Hynes and James Finn, will get about €500,000 each for their shares.
About 20 shareholders own 45pc of Cooley, according to Mr Teeling.
Another 290 smaller shareholders, who invested in the company through a Business Expansion Scheme in 1989, will also be in line for a payout once it is approved next year.
Mr Teeling said none of the shareholders had put any more money into the company since 1991. The sale price, he said, was a "good" return on their investment.
Beam, which is famous for its Jim Beam bourbon, is paying $8.25 (€6.33) in cash per share to Cooley shareholders and will take over its entire business.
The Illinois-based whiskey company said it was buying one of only three sources of Irish whiskey, and the only independent player.
Its president, Matt Shattock, said Cooley's brands and distilleries had "a heritage that is unmatched in the world of Irish whiskey".
Mr Teeling says Beam has been "courting" Cooley for the past four years and things "got serious" over the last 18 months.
The decision to sell, he said, was easy because it was such a "big opportunity" for Cooley.
He believes Beam will invest heavily in Cooley's award-winning whiskeys and will grow its operations here in the future.
"The distilleries at Cooley and Kilbeggan will be expanded. We are already at full capacity" he said.
"They will create big opportunities for the brand."
The existing staff and the management team, led by Mr Teeling's son Jack, will all stay with the business.
The board of directors, including Mr Teeling, will also remain in place for some time.
"Beam doesn't know Irish whiskey so the management have all been tied in to the business and we will be staying put for the meantime," he said.
Cooley sells its whiskey in 40 countries and the market for Irish brands is growing rapidly, particularly as it is proving popular with younger drinkers.
Jameson is the biggest selling Irish whiskey but the takeover of Cooley by Beam could rapidly expand its sales, particularly into fast-growing markets like India.
Mr Teeling is confident about the future of the unique products Cooley produces because he says they can only be manufactured here.
"We have the right climate and grain to make it here. Scotch and bourbon can't be as good," he said.
"You can only produce Irish whiskey in Ireland."