Monday, 6 July 2015


Below is an article from the Why Donegal? site:

In the early 1800's, the townland of Urris on the Inishowen peninsula became an independent poitín republic for a three-year period.
The Urris Hills were often referred to as "The Urris Poitín Republic" and were considered an ideal place for poitín-making because the area was surrounded by mountains and only accessible through Mamore Gap.
It became the second republic in Europe, after France. With its proximity to the North, and over 40% of home-based distillers located in Inishowen, Derry provided a major market for the trade.
To protect their lucrative business, the locals barricaded the road at Crossconnell to keep out
The Red Coats enlisted look outs and guards who laid iron rods on the roads to detect visitors as far away as 5 miles. But in 1815, British forces attacked Urris Hills and brought three years of self-rule and freedom to an end.
Long considered an old-time drink throughout rural Ireland since 584 AD, poitín or poteen, gets its name from pota, referring to the copper pot traditionally used by distillers to make the powerful alcohol.
Though poitín was originally made for private consumption, it became an important source of income for fishing communities and was used to numb severe body aches from hard labour.
Irish monks even caught on and brought their distillation skills to the rest of Europe calling it "Uisce Beatha," meaning "Water of Life." The mispronunciation of the word Uisce, became Fuisce, meaning whiskey.
Though the drink was often sold, its humble beginnings in small homes would eventually become its strongpoint once it was outlawed in 1661, and then made illegal to distill without a license in 1760.
Still, the traditional homemade brew remained especially popular in County Donegal with poitín making happened throughout the county.
It was made with potatoes, malted barley, sugar beet, crab apples and other natural sweet starches as the base. From 1820-1880 it was made from malt, and afterwards, sugar was used. Four stone worth of sugar could make 3 gallons of the powerful drink.
Before distillation, a wash that concentrates and ferments the alcohol was heated by turf fire, which was believed to create a strong smoky flavour. For several days the fermenting liquid was then kept heated and carefully watched over.
In order to protect the illegal trade, Distilling poitín in windy weather was crucial because it prevented gardaí from detecting the wafts of smoke permeating the air.
Raids that occurred throughout the county and country eventually led distillers to store and hide poitín in clear glass bottles. While people tried to avoid the gardaí, they didn't forget to honor the fairies, as the first glass of a new batch was always poured out as an offering to them.
The Catholic Church eventually denounced distilling the powerful brew.
The local bishops in Raphoe (and Derry) once deemed poitín-making a sin only forgivable by a bishop.

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