In early eighteenth-century Ireland, there were few restrictions on commercial distilling and this encouraged the growth of a patchwork of small rural and urban distillers in County Donegal. A 1731 law that forbade distilling except within the environs of a market down ended this loose arrangement. Legal distilling in rural areas stopped and, as there were few market towns in the county, opportunity arose for those individuals willing to operate outside the law to cater to a thirsty population. Illicit distilling quickly flourished and, in many parts of the county, the price of barley and tenants' ability to pay the rent came to rely entirely on the continuation of the practice.

For the next century and a quarter, large groups of poitin makers used the mountains, the many islands, the plentiful streams and abundant peat to supply most of whiskey consumed in County Donegal and such neighbouring towns as Strabane and Derry. The revenue department exacerbated the problem by further restrictive legislation and by requiring that the few remaining legal distillers manufacture a hurried, ill-tasting, raw-corn-based spirit that contrasted starkly with the mellow, barley-malt-based poitin.

Over the years, the government used revenue officers, soldiers, local thugs, militia, yeomanry, coastguard, and finally the revenue police in futile attempts to put down Donegal poitin making. Scores of people were killed and hundreds injured in clashes that grew more violent as the decades passed and illicit spirits flowed as freely as ever. This book details that brutal period in Donegal history.

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