The History of Irish Whiskey in the Early 20th Century

Gabriela Wade-Abston

Authors:  Gabriela Wade-Abston

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Joseph Spillane

College:  College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


If someone were to visit the museums dedicated to the history of Irish whiskey, they would hear a consistent narrative: that Irish whiskey once dominated the market in the western world, before the alcohol prohibition in the United States in 1919 brought a swift collapse to the once-thriving industry. This narrative, centered on the American Prohibition, is often repeated in journalistic accounts. But the narrative has never been subject to scholarly scrutiny, and appears to be misleading, at best. The purpose of this paper is to address the complex nature of the downfall of the Irish whiskey industry, highlighting the alternative conflicts which caused its near-complete demise. Most of the company records are stored internally, making it difficult to determine the exact nature of external involvement on Irish whiskey. However, using other public documents, this paper will be one of few to question the Prohibition narrative. Rather than focusing on the closing of the legal market in the US, this paper explores such avenues as the mergers of prominent whiskey distributors of the time, the imposition of taxes by the British and subsequent Irish government, the alliances based in the British Empire, and the influence of leaders of organized crime.

Poster Pitch

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5 Responses
  1. Gabriela

    Hello, everyone, This is Gabriela. I am very passionate about this subject and had a difficult time limiting my video discussion to only 3 minutes. As my research relies on outside historical and political knowledge of the United Kingdom and the history of Ireland, my poster and video are my best attempt to break it into a way that would not require prior background information. Feel free to ask me about the politics, the history, the distilling processes and its significance, or ask about anything you need clarified. I can’t wait to hear from you.

  2. Alisson Clark

    This is a fascinating subject! I love learning about long-held misconceptions and the fuller story that enhances our understanding of what may have happened. Well presented!

    1. Gabriela Wade-Abston

      Thank you Alisson! I came back from Ireland fully prepared to do my research based on this myth. It was difficult to find the sources that even discussed the matter because all of the imports were illegal, and it is difficult to find “intent” in 100 year old company documents.

  3. Joyce Jiang

    Hi Gabriela,
    I really enjoyed your video. How did the narrative of US prohibition being responsible become so popular then?