Opinion Comment

Thursday 26 April 2018

A journey back in time to discover what became of the Irish 'Spirit' of Christmas

'Greyhounds were often said to run better with a small dram of poitin'
'Greyhounds were often said to run better with a small dram of poitin'

John Daly

This first weekend of December was always the only Black Saturday that mattered for those of us with a taste for poitin's unique, and illegal, flavour. In its traditional heartlands of rural Ireland, laying in a bottle or two of 'the crathur' always figured high on country shopping lists as an extra offering for visitors and neighbours who came calling during 'the Christmas'.

It was the rare farming household that didn't have a bottle tucked away somewhere for emergencies, and that included a wide variety of medical conditions. That famous verse from the Cruiscan Lan puts poitin's restorative case most eloquently: "T' would banish heart diseases, from your lungs would drive flamation/ From your soul t'would drive the Devil, from your heart t'would drive temptation."

From September onwards, well hidden illegal stills moved into peak production as farmers and townies placed orders for their usual Christmas supply. Up to the 1980s, newspapers regularly carried images of Garda raids on these contraband operations, with burly sergeants wielding sledge hammers on barrels concealed in hay sheds, turf reeks and hidden cellars.

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