In a cosy pub in Ballycanew last week, people from across the community raised glasses of Soraghan Irish Whiskey in a toast to the late Dora Maguire – a Ballycanew woman whose drive, determination and community spirit serves as the inspiration behind this new tipple.
The brainchild of Stephen Soraghan, whose family has run Soraghan’s pub in Knockbridge, county Louth for six generations, Soraghan Irish Whiskey is an idea that came to fruition during lockdown.
While isolated at home during this challenging period, Stephen reflected on how people worked through tough times in the past – by joining together and working as a community.
Inspired by this, he decided to create something that would allow him to share the stories of generations gone by while, in turn, bringing people together. The result is Soraghan Irish Whiskey.
While concocting the idea for the whiskey, one person stayed at the forefront of Stephen’s mind: his grandmother Dora Maguire from Co Wexford.
"My grandmother Dora Maguire is the ambassador of the story. Dora was originally from Ballycanew. She worked in the bank in Dublin for years and lived with my granddad’s sister. That’s how she met my granddad Desmond. When they got married, she moved to Louth to run Soraghan’s bar with him and she stayed there all her life,” he explained.
“She was one of those people who worked in the farm and bar, raised kids and looked after all of us who came in to see her. She was always on the go. She wasn’t the typical grandmother. She had her sleeves rolled up all the time and worked really hard all her life. She never seemed to stop. She really was the heart and soul of the place.”
"Wexford won the All-Ireland in 1996 but I always say that my granddad won the All-Ireland when he met her.”
The story of Dora and Desmond and their long-running family business is similar to many in rural Ireland, said Stephen.
"There are small family businesses like Soraghan’s all over the country in which families have been working for generations. They provide a community function where people can meet, exchange ideas and understand a bit more about what’s going on in the community. You don’t see it as much as you used to. I wanted to remind people about that,” he explained. “This product is a celebration for the hardworking people, men and women, across the community. People can relate to that across the country. I didn’t want to put Soraghan’s on it in large writing. That’s our label on there but the story is about and relevant to people around Ireland.”
While the messaging for the product was clear in Stephen’s mind from the beginning, the idea to weave it into a new whiskey brand came later.
"The whiskey was the last thing that I thought of. It honestly came to me through inspiration. I needed something that could sell internationally, that was non-perishable and that could carry a message. I found so many ways that what we did was suitable. There’s a growing global market and Irish whiskey is renowned, it’s the water of life, “uisce beatha”. I chose that because I know enough from growing up in an industry where we deal with people and beverages and it’s something I could invest in and I don’t need a huge team to do. It was also something I could scale,” he said.
To create the product, Stephen went to the Teeling-run Great Northern Distillery in Dundalk for tastings. He worked with master blenders to create a premium blend which he describes as unique and mild, with a nice sweet finish.
When working on developing the label, Dora remained a strong inspiration.
“Every time I tried to think about the brand and what was good about it, she was in my mind a little bit,” explained Stephen.
“I received a design proof and it showed a guy pushing a cart and I said ‘it needs to be a woman’. I thought it was fitting.”
The final label depicts a silhouette of woman driving a horse and cart. The artwork in purple and gold, against a vanilla background, reflects the county colours of Dora’s native Wexford.
Soraghan Irish Whiskey is now being sold nationwide, while Stephen is now in talks with importers in Denmark, Italy and the USA. However, rather than travel to such far-flung destinations, it was important for Stephen to first return to the source of his inspiration. His launch at One for The Road Pub in Ballycanew last week offered him the opportunity to pay a tribute to his grandmother Dora and catch up with relatives living the locality. This included some of Dora’s brothers and sisters, while many other family members travelled from Louth for the occasion.
"I didn’t realise it was going to have that kind of impact. They’re very proud that she got a central role in the whole thing. It feels really special,” said Stephen.