Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Michael Collins and Whiskey

We received a release today on the launch of Michael Collins Irish Whiskey, created by Sidney Frank Importing Co., Inc., a U.S.-based spirits company, and distilled at the only independent distillery in Ireland.

Why Michael Collins? Says Lee Einsidler, CEO of Sidney Frank Importing Co., Inc., “Our late founder and Chairman, Sidney Frank, had read the biography of Michael Collins and was so inspired by it, he felt it was only fitting to create an Irish whiskey named for the legend.”

I guess that linking an Irish hero with drink is not really sacrilegious.

Besides, on August 22nd, 1922, the day of Collins' death, his convey had stopped in my hometown Bandon and the group had a few drinks, which may have been a factor in Collins getting out of his armoured car in response to an ambush seven miles north of Bandon at Béal na mBláth.

Collins' jealous political rival de Valera was in the area and had stayed the night before in Ballyvourney. There are various accounts of his involvement in meetings with the anti-Treaty IRA there.

According to Tim Pat Coogan, biographer of both Collins and de Valera, in 1939, de Valera who was then Taoiseach, forbade any public attendance at the dedication ceremony of a memorial cross at Michael Collins' grave in Glasnevin, either by the press, the public, or by any member of the Collins family apart from his nephew who was a civil servant. Only the officiating priest and an altar boy were permitted to be present.

In an article in the Irish Times in Jan 2005, Coogan wrote:

Before leaving the attitudes issue, let me place on public record for the first time another incident from 1966 which indicates that the turning down of McGrath's (Michael Collins) foundation approach was not an aberration, but an accurate indication of de Valera's mindset towards Collins. It was described to me by Gene Foley, a member of President Kennedy's cabinet, whom I interviewed in Washington in March 1997.

I still have my reporter's notebook containing the record of our conversation.

The 1916 50th anniversary celebrations at the GPO were attended by a distinguished Irish-American delegation, including Congressman John Fogarty of Rhode Island, a particular favourite of de Valera's because of Fogarty's record in sponsoring House resolutions advocating Irish unity. Foley was so close to Fogarty and his three brothers, that he said he was described as "the fifth Fogarty".

Foley told me that, at a convivial reception in Áras an Uachtaráin after the GPO events, Fogarty took advantage of his standing with de Valera to inquire: "Mr President, what's the story of your involvement in the death of Michael Collins?" De Valera replied: "I can't say a thing John but - that fellow had it coming to him."

In 2004, a RTE 1 documentary detailed how de Valera had funds that were raised in the US during the War of Independence (1919-1921) diverted for the establishment of the Irish Press newspaper, that ended up in the control of his own family.

In 1927, the New York Supreme Court had ordered that the funds be returned to the subscribers as with the formation of the Free State, the legality of ownership was in doubt. Dev requested the subscribers to endorse cheques issued from the account, to him and wrote that the existing press: “is consistently pro-British and imperialistic in its outlook”.

The following is from a Sunday Independent article:

But de Valera already had plans for any money raised in the US and had cautioned his fundraisers to pitch the campaign to the Irish-Americans. He had warned them to be careful not to suggest that they would get shares or certificates directly from the company, but instead would get participation certificates from an American trust company.

Instead of getting shares in Irish Press Limited, they received certificates from Irish Press Corporation which was registered in Delaware, the US equivalent of Switzerland. Files undisclosed for decades show that once de Valera had secured the money in 1931 the company sent out 'A' class share certificates from IPC.

Although there were over 60,000 'A' class shares, total control of the company would rest with the owner of 200 'B' class shares. In a simple transaction, the documents reveal how de Valera, the owner of the B class shares, gained total power of over $250,000. "Nobody could take it from him. This was carried on out of sight of the public. And the next phase would be to use the American company money to purchase a huge block of shares in Irish Press Limited - the company back in Ireland," the documentary explains. By clever cloaking of figures - a move that would no doubt be the subject of tribunal investigations these days - de Valera secured purchasing control of 43 per cent of Irish Press Limited for a paltry sum of $1,000.

Back to Michael Collins Whiskey...

Made in the only independent Irish-owned distillery left in Ireland, Michael Collins will be available as a Blend and a Single Malt. The blend is a combination of pot and column-distilled whiskeys aged for a minimum of 4 years in small bourbon casks. The casks are stored in 18th century warehouses where the cool, moist Irish air brings the whiskeys to maturity.

Michael Collins Single Malt is pot distilled from 100% malted barley and is lightly peated. The whiskeys are aged in specially selected oak casks for a minimum of 8 years to over 12 years. The single malt is well-rounded with a wonderfully subtle smoky flavor from the peat that lingers on the palate. It is best enjoyed neat or on the rocks.

Last photo of Michael Collins, taken outside Lee's Hotel in Bandon, West Cork on 22 August 1922. He and his colleague General Dalton are in the back of the touring car. Collins is on the left.. Collins was killed in an IRA ambush, seven miles north of Bandon.