“Killeavy Cream” will once again grace the shelves of public houses and drinks cabinets as local businessman and entrepreneur Micheal McKeown announced his plans for re-establishing the historic brand Matthew D’Arcy & Company Ltd at its original premises on Monaghan Street, Newry.

Mr McKeown announced “It is our intention to restore the early 19th century buildings and within these buildings provide a working distillery, a visitor’s centre, restaurant and an authentic Victorian public house. The site also allows for an open courtyard and a passageway from busy Monaghan Street to the Council carpark at Corry Square. On the upper floor will be a small theatre space for multiple uses, such as the Visitor Experience, private functions and local theatre and film groups.”

In the 18th Century whiskey was identified by townland with earliest available newspaper records showing “Newry Whiskey” ranking just behind “Dublin Whiskey”. Ideally placed half-way between Dublin and Belfast, the proposed centre will become an important stop on the Irish Whiskey Trail being developed by Tourism Ireland.

Plans for Newry Distillery

Mr McKeown said “Regarding our ambitions for return of Old Newry Whiskey is our intention to produce around 9000 cases per year of single malt and to retain stocks for at least 10 years to obtain premium prices. We will now intensify our efforts to recruit a master distiller of ability and reputation to achieve that target.”

“In the intervening years we will market blends of purchased whiskey from other sources under the very attractive brand names which we have registered and which are all inherited from previous occupants of this site, such as Duncan, Alderdice & Company Ltd. These brands are: The Blackthorn, The Native, Hand-in-Hand and Killeavey Cream.”

The project reinforces Newry & Mourne District Council’s plan to regenerate derelict area’s in the town centre, provide employment, generate exports, enhance tourism and support the cultural arts.

Michael McKeown acquired the site on Monaghan Street, Newry in February of this year and has worked with RIBA Chartered Architect and Urban Planner, Alina Holyst to develop plans for the project and have recently submitted their planning application.

Newry’s Whiskey History

Eminent historian Jonathan Bardon writing in the ‘The Plantation of Ulster’ states that when Arthur Bagenal inherited the town of Newry in 1603, ‘The town had to be largely rebuilt as a result of an accidental fire, caused by a whiskey distiller, in 1600.

It is further recorded in the Rent Roll of the Town of Newry in the year of 1575 that there existed “The queen’s back-house and Brewhouse.” Further research might reveal that the tradition of distilling was begun in the Cistercian Monastery which preceded the town of Newry. This may certainly be a contender for the oldest distillery in Ireland.

The distilling businesses operating in Newry before 1800 were Chapman, D’arcy, Caulfield and Thompson. Chapman put his working distillery up for sale in 1802 and it is known that in 1817 all of these other parties were acting in partnership on two sites in Newry with the premises on Monaghan Street being one of those original sites.

A background in Distilling – Michael McKeown

I was born into the wines and spirit blending, bottling and distributing business in Lurgan in 1946. Our environment was one of bottles to be washed, barrels to be decanted, the smell of whiskey, rum and wines. Even when we moved to a bungalow in the country in 1952, when the well failed my father brought home water in old wine or whiskey barrels. I am reminded of the saying of St Ignatius of Loyola who said, ‘Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man.’ So, my apprenticeship in my formative years qualifies me if nothing else does.

Surprisingly I am quite the teetotaller myself but I remained actively in the wines and spirits industry until the age of 30 and thereafter as a shareholder in the family business of Reihill-McKeown Ltd which was absorbed into the C&C Group in 1995. One of my earliest memories of my father is waiting patiently for my pocket money while he completed the proof testing of whiskey that he was blending.

To honour the last distiller who occupied this site we have resurrected the title of Matthew D’arcy & Company Ltd. I am the sole owner and director of Matthew D’arcy & Company. In 1983 I entered the information technology arena and created a public company Expert Information Systems PLC. In 1995, upon the sale of Expert, I launched what has become a highly successful business, CRASH Services. In 2015 I sold CRASH and embarked on the present venture.

Michael McKeown has published three books – The Story of Newry Post Office; The Treasures of The Cardinal Tomas O Fiaich Memorial Library & Archive; The Book of Newry.