The story of Tullamore’s famous Irish whiskey liqueur, Irish Mist, is charted in a major new history which was launched on Friday night last.
“Irish Mist: The Story of Tullamore’s Whiskey Liqueur 1945–1985, Ireland’s Legendary Liqueur and the people who made it”, was edited by local historian, Michael Byrne, and John Flanagan, who worked in Irish Mist for almost three decades.
A large number of other contributors also penned chapters in the book which was launched by Ferbane native, Seamus Dooley, Irish Secretary of the National Union of Journalists, at a function in Offaly History Centre.
The book, which sells for €19.99 is attractively printed and features many photographs which will bring back poignant memories for former employees, their families and the wider communities.
Many former Williams’ employees made the journey to the Offaly county town for the launch which was also fortunate enough to have some bottles of Irish Mist on hand for the guests to sample after the conclusion of formalities.
Launching the book, Seamus Dooley, said Irish Mist was not just a triumph of distilling, it was recognised as an example of the importance of good design, strategic marketing and attention to detail.
“So too is this book and I want to pay tribute to all involved in what I think is a very important initiative,” he stressed.
Added Mr Dooley: “All too often the history of successful companies tends to be dry and dusty, focusing on facts and figures but devoid of personality. Michael and John have managed to capture the essence, may say the spirit, of Irish Mist, the personality of those who brought Ireland’s first whiskey based liqueur and all those who helped to make Desmond William’s dream a reality.”
“Irish Mist may include secret ingredients but the key ingredient in this book is passion. The passion of the authors and contributors is obvious, but so too is the passion of the Williams family, of Bill Jaffray and of everyone involved at every level within the company.”
Desmond’s artistic and literary links were of course key ingredients in the success of Irish Mist said the speaker, explainingg: “He developed a carefully cultivated image, using extravagant bright colours and distinctive packaging chosen by Louis Le Brocquy. What an inspired choice that proved to be. Desmond also deployed his father in law in the promotion of his new product. He had married Brenda, daughter of Oliver St John Gogarty.”
He continued;’ “I note from this book that Anne Williams made no mistake when she encountered Telly Savalas and his mother and introduced him to the joys of Irish Mist.”.
Mr Dooley also referred to the legendary Costello’s bar in New York, a favourite of literary greats, which was established by Ferbane native, Tim Costello.
The story of Irish Mist, noted Mr Dooley, is as intriguing as the legendary liqueur, a tale interwoven with the social, cultural and economic life of Tullamore in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties. “Offay History, Offaly County Council and Creative Ireland deserve credit for this initiative in celebrating the history of Irish Mist. History is not of course just about the captains and the kings and while it is appropriate to salute the Williams family, and Desmond in particular, this book rightly examines the role of the workforce, the importance of Irish Mist to Tullamore and to the life of the community. This could well be a useful template for other companies and organisations in the public and private sector in the Midlands, not least Bord na Mona and the ESB.”
Mr Dooley said he was struck in reading the book by the impact of the Williams Group not just on the economy but on the social and community life of Tullamore. “The social capital evident in the Tullamore Credit Union, the Musical Society, in sports, arts and culture – the very existence of a loyal employer of that scale allowed people to live, work and contribute to the community.”
Co-editor Michael Byrne pointed out that “Irish Mist Liqueur brought the Tullamore name to every corner of the world and was a unique development in Ireland and a world leader in its class in the 1960s and 1970s. Great ideas and design were used to bring this about. Marketeers and design people for the Irish Mist product from Le Brocquy to the staff member on the floor – all had a role in ensuring quality. The Irish Mist Liqueur Company was led from 1945 to 1970 by Desmond Williams, ably assisted by William G. (Bill) Jaffray. Bill Jaffray led from 1970 until the sale of Irish Mist Liqueur to Cantrell & Cochrane (C&C) in 1985.”
“This is the story of how Desmond Williams saw the opportunity to transform the Irish whiskey industry and to bring it to American and European markets in new blended formats, using clever and innovative ideas and marketing, while all the while insistent on the highest quality. The work that Williams did for Irish whiskey and Irish Mist in the United States, the main market was to bear fruit from the 1990s with the stunning revival of the Irish whiskey industry. The Irish Mist company employed up to 80 people in the late 1970s and was a significant contributor to the Williams Group of companies.
“Research for the essays in this book began in 1977–78 when the first editor (Michael Byrne) was commissioned to write a history of the Williams Group and took the story of Irish Mist to 1966. It was a family-owned company and very private. Nothing more was done until 2016 when a reunion of the Irish Mist staff was held at the Tullamore DEW Old Bonded Warehouse and turned out to be a great evening.”
Mr Byrne said that his co-editor, John Flanagan, was keen to get the story of Irish Mist into print, and now this series of essays with contributions of great strength and variety. John made his own unique contribution with his essays and, like his mentors in Irish Mist, insisted on the highest standards. John Flanagan has several essays arising from his close connection with Irish Mist and the Williams Group over twenty-five years.
John Flanagan, who worked with Irish Mist for over 20 years, gave an insight into the inner wrkings of the firm.
“In 1961 I joined B. Daly & Co Ltd and two years later SI was transferred to Irish Mist (another wholly owned Williams company) to supervise the production line in the Bond Store. I joined up with Joe Scally, and I was still with him until I finished in 1985 over 22 years later. Joe and I were always involved in Production. We overcame many difficulties in the area over the years due to expansion and increased demand for output, with changes in packaging and design etc. I started on the middle floor of the Bond Store. We shared the building with Tullamore Dew. We had a staff of about 12 at the time, with no machinery as the output was small. Within a short time later, in 1966 due to increased demand, we had to move to the top floor. We became much more mechanised and we saw a dramatic increase in output, and also a big increase in staff numbers. We also saw the introduction of the Figurine, Blue decanter, the pocket Flask, the Waterford Glass decanter, and many more display packs, introduced onto the market. In 1966 a new office block was built, along with a new laboratory and a compounding unit.
Within a few years we were congested again because of the growth in sales and lack of space, and difficulty of access to the top floor, and with only one entry/exit door to the building to get all materials up and down. In 1970 we had to find more space to allow for a further increase in output and we left the Bond Store and moved to a newly built warehouse, with offices and canteen all under the one roof in O’Connell (Row) Street at the back of Bury Quay. This was a major move and allowed for greater expansion to meet demand, as again sales improved dramatically. The whole complex was very impressive to the many groups of visitors, who came to visit from all over the world. It was something the Williams family could be very proud of as we were also.
1980 saw a further upgrading and modernisation of the production line, and much more automation, with the introduction of new packaging and improved quality standards. Irish Mist Liqueur was a quality product and received many awards, Gold and Silver in Trade Fairs around the world, Irish Export Awards, and Quality marks. Irish Mist was exported to over 80 countries around the world and was the first Irish liqueur to achieve worldwide success. Every bottling operation had a reference number, every carton had a number, and every bottle carried the date it was produced, and all the information including the destination of the consignment was recorded in the bottling register. If there was a complaint, and they were very rare, it could be traced back to the initial operation.
The production of Irish Mist Liqueur took place ‘Under Bond’ which meant it was under the control of Customs & Excise. They had a record of every operation, including the number of cartons produced daily, as they all had to be accounted for.
1985 saw a big downturn in the economy both at home and abroad, and a decision was made to sell The Irish Mist Liqueur Company Ltd to Cantwell & Cochrane in Clonmel.
The bottling operations ceased on 27th November 1985, and the last bottle of Irish Mist bottled in Tullamore came off the production line on that date at 4.30 p.m. The announcement of the sale and the closure came as a major shock to all of us. The feeling is something you have to experience to believe. I saw the company grow and expand from its infancy and experienced many milestones on the way. I enjoyed the challenge that each task brought, and I was very sorry to see it close.
The compounding operation remained for a further twelve years until 1997, with six of a staff remaining. The Irish Mist Liqueur was transported by road and was bottled in Clonmel during that time.”