The Times We Lived In: Jack Moore, Kilbeggan cooper

Published: May 16th, 1987. Photograph by Peter Thursfield

Retired cooper  Jack Moore outside the disused distillery that was transformed into the Kilbeggan Distillery Experience. Photograph: Peter Thursfield

Retired cooper Jack Moore outside the disused distillery that was transformed into the Kilbeggan Distillery Experience. Photograph: Peter Thursfield

 

Coopers are a rare breed. A couple of months ago this newspaper reported that the first home-grown barrel-maker to qualify in Ireland for 30 years, Chris Kane, had just started work at the Bushmills Distillery in Co Antrim. The man in today’s photo, Jack Moore, was also a cooper – a retired one – and his picture was used to illustrate a 1987 article about a community initiative in Kilbeggan, Co Westmeath.

“An obsolete distillery in the midlands is being transformed into an unusual tourist attraction,” the piece declared. The Kilbeggan Development Association had come up with the idea, which provided employment for 100 local people and aimed to turn Kilbeggan from “just one more village on a straight road into a worthwhile stop for tourists and passers-by”.

Craft whiskeys

The Kilbeggan Distillery Experience is now a significant point on the Irish tourism map. And although the article gives the impression that by the late 1980s distilling was pretty much a thing of the past, these days craft whiskeys (and craft spirits of all varieties) are springing up all over Ireland.

Which are developments to be greatly welcomed. But it’s only when you look at a man such as Mr Moore – 91 years young in 1987 and as neat as a pin – that you realise how much nonsense we habitually spout nowadays. And we’ve got so used to it we don’t even hear ourselves any more.

Contemporary whiskey-makers like to emphasise the continuity in a business which depends on an age-old, enigmatic, even – ahem – spiritual interaction between spirit and wood. So far, so good.

But then they start talking taste. Check out the whiskey websites and you’ll find a collection of rhapsodic flights of fancy, characterising a particular whiskey as having a nose of “deep butterscotch, honeycomb and rich lemon meringue. . .”

Maybe it’s ironic. But I’m trying to imagine Mr Moore using such language, and I can’t. I think he would have been happier brandishing his adze and his croze. Lemon meringue whiskey? Ah, lads.

These and other Irish Times images can be purchased from: irishtimes.com/photosales. A book, The Times We Lived In, with more than 100 photographs and commentary by Arminta Wallace, published by Irish Times Books, is available from irishtimes.com and from bookshops, priced at €19.99.

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