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Are you legally old enough
(and sufficiently curious)
to enjoy terroir-driven whisky?

What would this island look like if humans had never come here?

Legend holds that a squirrel could have swung from tree to tree from Mizen Head to Malin Head before homo sapiens arrived with their glinting axes. 

For better or worse, the evolution of mankind has largely depended on our ability to reshape the landscape around us. It was Neolithic farmers from the east who introduced the first real signs of agriculture to Ireland about six thousand years ago, bringing the knowledge of the cereal farmers of the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East, including such innovations as the use of pack animals to carry cumbersome weights.

By the eighteenth century, Ireland boasted a strong agricultural economy. Its pastures fed the cattle and pigs that supplied the ships bound for the colonies of the British Empire while the produce of its fields was eagerly welcomed by corn merchants in England. Spearheaded by the Dublin Society, later the Royal Dublin Society, landowners across the country did much to tame the terrain to suit their agricultural needs. Between 1793 and 1815, almost a million redcoat soldiers from the British Army were engaged in near constant war with the French. Such an army required barley, lots of it, and Irish farms supplied much of this.

The Walsh family of Ballykilcavan in County Laois knew all about supply lines. They trace their ancestry to Oliver Walsh, who bought the farm near Stradbally just over 380 years ago. Many of those who grew up at Ballykilcavan in the generations to come were army men. General Hunt Walsh, for instance, commanded the 28th Foot at the Battle of Quebec in 1759, while his nephew, Sir Henry Johnson was one of the defeated British generals in the American War of Independence. 

On the watch of such men, much of the land at Ballykilcavan was cleared of stone and transformed into fertile fields, limed and manured, on which oats and barley would grow in abundance. A mill house was built on the farm at about the time Napoleon Bonaparte was facing his final defeat at the battel of Waterloo in 1815.

The grain mill and adjoining cut-stone farmyard were fed with water by a mill-race on the River Bauteogue, which rises in Timahoe, then flows through Stradbally and Ballykilcavan before joining the Barrow and heading south to the Celtic Sea. A lake beside the house was also fed by the mill-race and became a boatman’s paradise in the Victorian Age. 

When the river was dredged in the mid-1900s, the water level dropped far below the entrance to the mill race, which was duly abandoned. Fast forward to the present day and Ballykilcavan is now run by David Walsh-Kemmis and his wife, Lisa, winners of the Waterford Distillery’s inaugural Grower of the Year trophy in 2016. 

David is the 13th generation of his family to live on the 440-hectare farm since the original Oliver Walsh. He is constantly applying his mathematical mind to new challenges. Lockdown 2020 presented an ideal opportunity to rectify the unhappy state of the Georgian mill-race. Niall Clancy, the fourth generation of his family to work at Ballykilcavan, has now almost single-handedly rebuilt the collapsed wall from all the stones lying in the race. The plan is to fill an enclosed section of it with water from the farmyard well. That will be a beautiful sight. Sometimes human hands create works that are entirely in harmony with the landscape.  

– Turtle Bunbury, Writer, Historian.

EDITORIAL