The Birch family, Birchgrove House and Roscrea Whiskey by Joe Coughlan
In the early part of the 18th century the Rev Henry Birch came to Roscrea and his ancestors went on to become of the biggest land owners and the biggest employers in the area in the 19th century . In 1870 George Birch of Monaincha House had 822 acres , James Sayce Birch of Birchgrove had 1086 acres, and Mary Anne Birch had 898 acres.
In 1770 Captain Edward Birch built Corville house . He is believed to have married an Afghan princess who he met on his travels. George Birch owned Birchgrove house and the Distillery in 1814. Mrs G Birch was living in Monaincha house in 1850. Mary Birch resided in Rackett Hall and Rev John George Birch resided in Sheehills House.
Birches had a brewery at racket hall and in 1780 started a distillery at Birchgrove. Their brand , Roscrea Whiskey became famous far and near and built up a considerable reputation in a very short time. Along with building a distillery they built a network of canals through the bog to the Sheehills as the turf there was the best quality to run the stills they also built a harbour for turning the barges which were transporting the turf.. They were a huge employer in the town , along with giving employment in the distillery many people from the town were employed at cutting and saving turf . At the time it was described as “the principal commercial feature of Roscrea “. In 1807, 1797 bottles of Roscrea Whiskey were produced.
By 1810 Birch’s whiskey business was in decline so he began to experiment with heat conservation to make his business profitable again. His experiments were very successful and gained him worldwide recognition. He used steam to heat the still and developed a wooden jacket to surround the still and preserve the heat and make his operation more efficient. But the big powerful distillers in Dublin were not impressed with his success. They decided to petition the excise board saying that this method could be used by poteen makers and they would be better able to hide their stills so the government banned it. From here Birch’s business went downhill and the final blow came in 1850 when he got a large fine for evasion of taxes . This finally leads to the closure of the distillery.
There are four bottles still in existence and still in the town today. Who knows only for the greed of the big distilleries it could have been up there with the Jameson and Bushmills today.
On August 1st 1850 Birchgrove house and the distillery was put up for auction but didn’t sell. They then decided to start again with a flax industry and hired a Mr Devlin down from Belfast to show them how to manufacture the flax. This only lasted a few years until it closed again and went in to ruin.
Since then the house has been used for many purposes. At one stage it was converted into apartments. In the 90s it was restored to its former glory and was used for awhile as the Equality Authority headquarters when the government started its decentralisation of public body offices. It is now back in private hands again.
ABOVE PICTURES .
1. Birchgrove house today
2. Old picture of Birchgrove lodge which was demolished in the 80s
3. The remains of the distillery
4 . Old cartoon mentioning Roscrea Whiskey
5. The remaining bottles of whiskey.
The pictures above are of George and Marian Birch taken around 1870