Cape Clear Distillery

Meet the people behind Irelands only offshore island distillery.

This is their Story.

Cape Clear Distillery is the only offshore island in Ireland producing gin . The strong community spirit of Cape Clear has made this collective dream a reality. This isn’t just an island distillery, it’s a gateway which will futureproof employment and prosperity for generations to come. How did this multi award winning distillery become what it is today? West Talk finds out.

(The Multi Award winning 3 SQ. Miles gin)

Oileán Chléire (Cape Clear) is the southernmost inhabited island in Ireland. The islanders who live on Cape Clear never back down when a challenge arises and welcome everyone who visits with open arms. The rich history of this Irish speaking island goes back generations. Located just 13km from the mainland shores of West Cork it is neighbored by Sherkin Island and the Calve Islands. From the shoreline of Cape Clear the iconic Fastnet Rock lighthouse also known as “The Teardrop of Ireland” can be seen. Cape Clear would have been the final memory of Ireland etched in the minds of the people migrating to America during the late 1800’s/early 1900’s. Today, Cape Clear is home to over 100 people and through their hard work and resourcefulness it’s no wonder they have managed to produce a distillery that is multi award winning.

(Cape Clear)

I spoke with Niamh Ní Dhrisceoil, Brand Ambassador of Cape Clear Distillery about how they started the business, “ We wanted to create a business that would provide employment for the island, we had done research and found that in Scotland there was a lot of islands creating distilleries and from that they were able to reverse the population decline.” The main purpose of the distillery is to create employment for the people that live on the island. There were so many people that were involved in helping get this distillery off the ground but there were a few people who thought of and developed the idea. They are Séamus Ó Dhrisceoil, Máirtín Ó Méalóid and Chris Mason.

There are big plans for expansion at Cape Clear Distillery with planning permission secured to build a state of the art eco friendly distillery and tourism centre. They are waiting on the right investor who shares the same view as themselves and that is to keep the distillery on the island and create employment for the islanders.

Whilst waiting for this new distillery to be built they decided to start producing gin. The people of Cape Clear came together and invested their money, time and skills to construct a distillery of their own. They managed to re-purpose a fish farm warehouse where they currently produce the Award winning 3 SQ. Miles Gin.

3 SQ. Miles gin has won numerous awards since being launched to market in 2019. The gin has won Gold at the Bartender Spirits Awards and Silver at both the London Spirits Competition and San Francisco World Spirits Competition. The team really wanted to reflect the beauty of Cape Clear in both the taste and the branding of 3 SQ. Miles. Terry Green developed the impressive branding for the gin, coming up with the name 3 SQ. Miles which reflects the size of the island.

Ruth Court helped the distillery to come up with the unique recipe. Niamh says “The main botanical ingredients of the gin are Fuchsia flower, Honeysuckle and laminaria digitata (species of seaweed found in Cape Clear). Ger, Debbie and I spent 6 months with Ruth perfecting this recipe. Debbie came up with the idea of introducing the seaweed and that really perfected the unique taste and essence.”

They launched the gin on Cape Clear first and then The Kinglsey Hotel in Cork. A year on and sales have skyrocketed. Niamh shared a great story with me about the kindness of people and how the gin has brought together communities from completely different areas. Niamh tells me “The product launch was in The Kingsley Hotel and we had anticipated people would want to buy the bottles at the launch but the hotel only had a bar license. Séamus rang the owner of the nearest off license and asked could we start selling the bottles from his shop. Noel, the owner of the "Carry Out" off license on Gillabbey Street, Cork agreed to sell the bottles from his premises and we have a great friendship with him today.”

(Noel the owner of the Carry Out)

Life on Cape Clear

This example of friendship and community embodies what Cape Clear Distillery stands for. I wanted to know what it was like growing up on Cape Clear. Niamh who is currently a secondary school teacher in Ballincollig describes her youth as “Magical”. There is a primary school on the island and Niamh credits the high standard of education she received as a child. Niamh also mentions the caring community that “always checks in with one another”. From Niamh’s group of friends that grew up on the island many have went on to become doctors, engineers, nurses and teachers. A lot of people would make the assumption that living on Cape Clear would be isolating but Niamh explained that this couldn’t be further from the truth, “I moved up to the city to start teaching and in the three years I lived in my first house I saw both my neighbours who lived either side of me about five times in that timespan, that is isolation. You can be surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people in the city but you won’t have the same community feeling that you get on Oileán Chléire.”

Readers Questions:

1. How many Bottles have ye sold since launching? “Not enough!”

2. Where is the distillery located on the island? “As you approach Cape Clear on the ferry you will see it right next to the seashore. Just above that is where we plan to build the new distillery and tourism centre”

3. How many employees do ye have? “Séamus and Corantine work there full time and we employ more people when orders get busy. We hope to create more permanent jobs in the next couple of years”

4. Is Cape Clear Irish speaking? “Yes, the island is a Gaeltacht area and we are proud of our native language. There is an Irish college run every summer on the island. Everybody speaks both Irish and English”

Coast Road

Cape Clear Distillery have teamed up with three other distilleries on the Wild Atlantic Way. The 100ml bottles of gin included in the gift set are from distillers Sliabh Liag (Donegal), Micil (Galway), Skellig Six 18 (Kerry) and 3 SQ. Miles (Cape Clear). The gift set launched earlier this week and is a perfect gift for someone this Christmas. All distilleries are along the Wild Atlantic Way and share the same passion for the Irish language. Definitely something to add to the list this Christmas.

(The Coast Road gift set)

Where can I buy it?

You can purchase the Coast Road gift pack in selected stores around Ireland, you can find your nearest shop via their website . The 3 SQ. Miles Gin can be purchased online on the Celtic Whiskey Shop’s website and in the selected stores. The 3 SQ. Miles bottles can also be engraved and personalized for any occasion or engraved with a local landmark e.g. The Fastnet Rock. Within the next couple of months they hope to be stocked in stores nationwide.

(Shipping off the new product from Cape Clear last Friday morning)

(Pictured is Séamus Ó Dhrisceoil who is the Co-Founder (Front) and John Leonard, Crewman on Cape Clear Ferry (Back))

Whiskey Plans

The original plan for the distillery was to one day produce Whiskey and that’s exactly what is happening next year. The name of the Whiskey will be “Dún an Óir”. This translates to Fort of Gold which is named after the O’Driscoll castle on Cape Clear. This Whiskey will undoubtedly be of the highest quality and everyone will be looking forward to the release date.

Appreciation of local support

Niamh wanted to express Cape Clear Distillery’s appreciation to all the local businesses that have stocked their product and given them a chance. Some of the local shops stocking 3 SQ. Miles gin are Brosnan’s Centra (Schull) and Fields SuperValu (Skibbereen) to name but a few. Niamh expressed her appreciation to these businesses through an Irish Seanfhocal they use on the island “ Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine”. This translates to “In the shadow of each other, we live” and Niamh mentioned “The Seanfocal means we all need each other to survive and on behalf of all of us at Cape Clear Distillery we can’t thank enough the businesses and customers that have helped us along our journey.”

Cape Clear Distillery epitomizes what is to be Irish. Hard working, resilient and the ability to face challenges together when the odds are against us. This distillery is a great West Cork business that has limitless potential. I’ve no doubt that they will be successful in creating employment that will benefit future generations on the island.

Míle buíochas do Niamh agus do gach duine ag Drioglann Oileán Chléire as an agallamh seo a dhéanamh. Go n-éirí libh sa todhchaí.- West Talk

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