A brand of absinthe, McDonnells Absinthe Tonic, was commercially distilled in the townland of Rossinver in north Leitrim between 1847 and 1914 by a family who were also the local landlords of the area. It was started at the height of the famine to employ at least a few more local people.
The herbs needed for its ingredients, such as anise, fennel and wormwood are all easily grown there in addition to some secret local herbs which were said to be added as well. Reportedly it was an extremely potent and hallucination inducing version of the drink. It was recommended that the Bohemian Method be used for its preparation. This entailed the use of fire instead of water to dilute the absinth soaked sugar cube with a shot of water being added only to douse the flames. One of its advertising slogans was The Original Green Fairy and I even found a picture of their red haired fairy online.
Irish absinthe would turn out to be largely for the export market although it is said to have had a dedicated local following in Co. Leitrim. It also found lasting favour with WB Yeats and some of the leading figures of the Irish literary revival and could even have been the main fuel behind it! It is said to have been introduced to that circle by Susan L. Mitchell, a poet from Carrick-on-Shannon and close friend of George ‘AE’ Russell. A few Dublin pubs and wine merchants did stock it or would order it for a customer. Surprisingly it was a hit in the Irish Parliament as it was known to be served in what would become known as the Dail bar after independence. A rare unopened bottle was reportedly found in the 1980’s, which is thought to be the last one in existence and is said to be held in a storeroom of the National Museum. The market for the product dried up at the outbreak of the Great War and sadly production of it then ceased for good. (Stephen Rennicks)