Building the Nephin Distillery is a story of a unique vision, community rejuvenation and reviving tradition.
The founders of Nephin Whiskey Paul and Jude and their 3 children drove through the small village of Lahardane, one wet August day while on a family holiday. On entering the village they noticed the natural friendliness of people they met and experienced the slow pace of village life in Lahardane, which is an oasis from the non-stop globalized world.
Paul recognized the area as fisherman's paradise and convinced Jude to buy a small house in the village where they spent many summers with the family and many years unsuccessfully fishing on Lough Conn. They found themselves spending more and more time in Lahardane and were warmly welcomed into the community, not as outsiders but as a part of village life.
Paul realized that Lahardane was the perfect place to make a very special Whiskey - it has crystal clear water coming from Nephin mountain and is surrounded by bog. Using turf in the malting of barley is associated now with Scotch whiskey but would have been an Irish tradition long before it was Scottish. It has died out in Ireland over the centuries but an idea to revive that tradition was taking hold in Lahardane.
Jude had the skills to setup and manage a world-class production operation and Paul would ensure that the craft and tradition, that he had witnessed so often in Scotland would be a core part of the new distillery. The couple teamed up with Mark Quick, whom Paul had met while he was running a procurement software company. Mark had since sold that company and when Paul told him of the idea he jumped into action. He grew up in Attymass, a village on the opposite side of Lough Conn from Lahardane. Mark approached the Mayo Local Enterprise Office and they became immediate supporters of the project, assisting through contacts, advice and grant funding.
The new team identified a location right in the middle of the village but back from the street that had 2 buildings on the main street that would be a perfect visitor centre, a large building at the rear which could be converted to a distillery and it even had an old stone Granary from the 1800s, which would be ideal for maturation and as a showcase for guests. A lease agreement was negotiated with the landowner andlocal water diviner Padraig McNeely was asked to identify the location of water which could be used as the Nephin spring. Padraig criss-crossed the distillery site and found dozens of sources of water flowing underground. The location that has become the Nephin source had a flow so strong that the rod reaction visibly impacted the diviner's arm.
The newly formed Nephin Whiskey Company spoke to everyone in the local community about the idea of making whiskey and there was an unbelievably positive and active response - not only did they support the idea but so many people offered help in all sorts of ways. An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny visited and commented that the project was visionary and the first thing that struck him was how much behind it the local community were behind it.
Nephin enrolled the services of Vincent Coleman, who was an award winning restoration specialist architect in Ballina. Vincent drafted plans to transform the site with a particular emphasis on restoring the old architecture to it's original splendor. The expanding team next got Dave Dagger onboard who had just completed work on the installation of the Tullamore Dew distillery for the Scottish multinational Grants. Dave had extensive experience in brewery and distillery setups and would now take responsibility for the management of all of the Nephin distillery building and equipment contractor management.
Nephin Whiskey next partnered with local farmers to grow barley for the project and were met with an enthusiastic response. The vision was quickly becoming a reality but soon the spirit would be produced and the maturation of the spirit needed to have the same craft and quality as the distillation. Mark was dispatched to talk to the last remaining Master Cooper in Ireland - John Neilly and tell him the Nephin story. John immediately recognized that Nephin Whiskey were creating something special and joined the Nephin family. As there were no buildings ready for occupation on the distillery site, Nephin decided to open the Cooperage in the town of Kilbeggan, Co. Westmeath in the interim. A small village store was also opened across the road from the distillery site.
Nephin Whiskey will rejuvenate the village of Lahardane. Physically, the project will restore 2 buildings that face onto the main street of the village, renovate a large disused building and will preserve a beautiful stone granary. The creation of 18 jobs in the distillery will have a transformative effect on the local economy and this number will hopefully grow that number in years to come. This will give a sustainable basis to the local economy and opportunities to local young people who typically move away from the village. The Nephin distillery tour will attract up to 40,000 visitor per year to the distillery so that will create a large opportunity for other businesses to tap into the market - offering something for the guests to do after they have toured the distillery - whether that's food, accommodation or other activities.
All of the funding for the Nephin Whiskey project has been raised from private individuals who are whiskey lover or have links to Lahardane, Mayo or Ireland. We have a unique proposition where we have offered investors shares in the distillery, but also casks of Whiskey every single year.
Nephin Whiskey are looking forward to co-operating closely in a 3 way partnership between the distillery, the local community and local government for decades to come and that legacy will continue with the Nephin distillery centuries after the original founders have gone.