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Issue 3 - National debt

Whisky Magazine Issue 3
May 1999


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National debt

Without Ireland, there would be no whisky in Scotland. Giles Macdonagh traces Scotch back to its Irish roots.

Though it will make me unpopular in some parts of Glasgow to say so, whisky, like Christianity, reached Scotland from Ireland, possibly in a coracle. Whiskey (as the Irish now insist on spelling it), was supposedly made as early as the end of the first millennium. No-one knows how the Irish seized on the secrets of distillation – they were at that time only known in the theoretically teetotal Muslim world. One unsubstantiated theory would have it that the Irish benefitted from the knowledge of Coptic or Christian Egyptian monks, who started the first religious houses on the island. Their origins would have meant they were up to date with the developments of Arab science.

It was King Henry II of England who was unwise enough to want to annex Ireland to to his kingdom. The Romans had left it well alone. Now apparently whiskey found admirers in England too: those soldiers who went to help sort out the quarrel between two Irish kings which gave the Plantagenet the idea of acquiring the Emerald Isle in the first place. As the story goes, they were unable to pronouce the Irish words ‘uisce beatha' or ‘water of life' which provided them with a little inner warmth on their campaign, and rendered it as ‘ooiska', ‘iska', and eventually (after another shot perhaps), whiskey. That process was a long drawn out one, however. In the early eighteenth century whiskey was still being advertised for sale in London as ‘uisce beatha'.

Some modern writers pour scorn on these early ...

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