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CULTURAL HERITAGE - Poitín Making on the Corrib

The Corrib is famous for pointí making and this craft features in a chapter in  Tomás Bairéd’s book, Cumhacht na Cinneamhna, published by An Gúm in 1936. There is a story in the book called “An Stiléara” in which a poitín-maker who is making poitín on a low island on Lough Corrib is drowned by a deluge during which the lake rises and drowns him. In olden times, turf fires were used for the distillation and the smoke was a giveaway to the guards looking for poitín makers. There was always a big demand for poitín around Christmas and guards were always on the prowl during the months before Christmas. As a punishment, guards were often sent to stations in Connemara where they would have to go out on poitín patrols on cold wet nights in November and December. Bottled gas was a god-send to poitín-makers as there was no tell-tale smoke and it made it much harder to detect the stills. Unlike whiskey, poitín did not have to aged for extended periods.

The quality of poitín was and probably still is highly variable, depending on the skill of the distiller and the quality of his equipment. Reputations were built on the quality of the distiller's poitín, and many families became known for their distilling expertise, where a bad batch could put a distiller out of business overnight.

With the incease in prosperity in Ireland, the demand for poitín has greatly decreased although if you know the right place to ask, you can still obtain “a bottle”.

Tradition suggests that the islands of the Corrib in the vicinity of Knockferry and Kilbeg are main sources of Corrib poitín. However the eastern shores of Lough Corrib are also famous for poitímaking and many would argue that the product obtained from these sources is of better quality.

Traditionally poitín distilling was from a malted barley base for the mash, the same as Single Malt Whiskey or Pure Pot Still Whiskey distilled in Ireland. The word poitín stems from the Irish Gaelic word "pota" for pot, this refers to the small copper pot still used by poitín distillers. Deviations from the use of relatively expensive malted barley led to significant deterioration in the quality of poitín

The film Poitín (1977) was produced by Cinegael, written and directed by Bob Quinn, and starred Cyril Cusack as a moonshiner in rural Connemara, living in an isolated cottage with his adult daughter. Two local degenerates, played by Donal McCann and Niall Tóibín, terrorize the old moonshiner for his contraband liquor (poitín), threatening to kill him and rape his daughter, until the moonshiner outwits them and tricks them to their deaths.

Youtube has a number of videos showing various aspect of poitín and poitín making.

The Irish Americal Post has an excellent article on “The Poteen Game” by Cormac MacConnell in the March/April 2002 edition, click here.


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