Ireland is known for its beer and whiskey, but Irish soldiers, emigrants, refugees and deportees played an important role in the world wine market far beyond the Emerald Coast.

The Irish flight and the search for a seat in Bordeaux

The country’s modern viticulture began with the Williamite-Jacobean War, fought in Ireland from 1688 to 1691. Irish Catholics fought alongside the French King Louis XIV to restore the deposed Catholic King James II to the throne of Britain.

Irish Catholics hope to end brutal British religious persecution. Irish Protestants joined William of Orange, the usurper of James, and Dutch and Danish allies to keep England, Scotland, and Ireland under Protestant rule. It reached its peak in 1690 at the Battle of the Boyne, where the Catholic coalition was defeated.

The defeated soldiers and their families fled to mainland Europe and were nicknamed wild geese, leading to a migration of Irish political dissidents trying to escape centuries of strict British rule.

They joined the armies of France and Spain, and then the shipping companies across the continent. Their success prompted other Irish families, displaced by British fines, to turn to French shipping.

Many educated and knowledgeable Irish merchant families settled in Bordeaux. First he was attracted by the flourishing wine trade, then by the production itself.


Two Irish houses were included in the prestigious 1855 classification list: Château Léoville Barton and Château Lynch-Bages. Thomas Lynch, whose father had immigrated from Galway, inherited the estate with his wife Elizabeth in 1749. The family eventually sold it, but the name stuck.

James Concannon opened the Concannon Vineyard in California in 1883 with cuttings from the first Bordeaux growth / Photo courtesy of Concannon Vineyard.

The Bartons kept their property. Lillian Barton Sartorius is the current owner of Leoville Barton Castle, as well as Langoa Barton Castle and Movesen Barton Castle. According to Sartorius, the family’s path to viticulture in Bordeaux began when Irishman Thomas Barton shipped insensitive wool one way and wine the other.

Around 1722 Barton settled in France and founded a dynasty that owned two historic castles until 1826.

Nine generations later, she says, they still have Irish passports.

Irish family that conquered Cognac.

In the modern era, Hennessy is a global powerhouse, selling millions of cases of cognac around the world. But in 1765 it was only the name of the last cognac house opened in France by an Irish emigrant.

Richard Hennessy grew up in Ireland, where the Criminal Code of 1695 imposed severe restrictions. As a Catholic, the law threatened to deprive his family of the country and British citizenship. Hennessy is said to have left Ireland at the age of 19 and joined the army of the French King Louis XV as a mercenary.

He served 12 years and was granted French citizenship. Hennessy took his profits and tried, unsuccessfully at first, to invest in the cognac trade. He learned the trade from his uncle in Belgium and returned to Cognac in 1765. This time, it got traction.

The Hennessy building in Cognac, France / Getty

Hennessy produced and supplied cognac to London and Ireland, but also delivered to clients of the French royal court. But the most important breakthrough in our country took place during the French Revolution. While the battle lines divided France, Hennessy remained neutral and traded with the revolutionaries and London. It even opened trade with the emerging market, the newly independent United States.

In 1813, Hennessy’s son, James, took over Jas Hennessy & Co, the official name of the brand. This would consolidate the brand globally. He produced special cognacs for the Prince of Wales and the Empress of Russia and also supplied India.

Hennessy now represents half of the world’s supply of cognac.

Creating a new home and wine on the other side of the world

Clonakilla. O’Shea. McGuigan. Tul. Just shut up. Barry. McLaren Vale. Valley of Clare. Irish names abound, both for brands and for Australian wine regions.

Many Irish immigrants came to Australia as contract workers, and the first British fleet of convicts sailed for Australia in 1787, arriving eight months later.

Not everyone who was transported to Australia in the next 70 years was Irish. And not all Irish immigrants came against their will. Some sought political and religious freedom or fled persecution and poverty. In addition, girls orphaned by the Irish famine were sent as maids to Australia in 1848-51.

Not surprisingly, Irish descendants, like Owen McGuigan, worked the land and entered the growing wine industry. Mr. McGuigan started one of Hunter Valley’s vineyards in 1880 as an adjunct to his dairy business. McGuigan Winery is a four-time winner of the International Wine and Spirits Winemaker of the Year competition.

Other brands created by Irish immigrants contribute to the success of Australian wines. For example, Jim Barry’s Armagh Shiraz is 90 points higher than the previous film.

James Concannon, who would have left the Irish Aran Islands in 1865 and founded Concannon Vineyard in California / photo courtesy of Concannon Vineyard

Surviving the potato famine and building the wine industry in California

Irish immigrants arrived in the American colonies long before the nation was born. They fought in disproportionate numbers in the War of Independence. They formed almost half of the Continental Army, which caused a British official to complain that the Irish were as numerous in the ranks as the English.

After the victory, they were among the settlers who participated in the further westward expansion of the country. But the biggest wave of Irish immigration began in the late 1840s, when a famine devastated Ireland. The country’s main crop, potatoes, had been decimated by the disease and British aid to the starving tenant farmers was woefully inadequate. An estimated one million people died and about one million left Ireland, most of whom never returned.

Many young Irish people have gone abroad in search of opportunity and prosperity. A young man opened the oldest winery in the United States and was one of the first to introduce Bordeaux wines to the California valleys.

James Concannon, born on St. Patrick’s Day at the height of the famine, is said to have left the famous Irish Isles with a golden guinea in 1865, at the age of 18. Originally from Ireland, he learned English and became a salesman. He traveled from Canada to Mexico before settling with his family in California.

According to family stories, his wife and pastor persuaded him to start a store and produce sacramental wine, a decision that would keep the business open decades after Prohibition. Others say he saw the potential of Bordeaux in the Livermore Valley.

Nevertheless, in 1883 he founded Concannon Vineyard and declared himself a founding member of the California wine industry. An estimated 80% of California’s Cabernet Sauvignon comes from Concannon clones. It is one of the many successful global legacies of the 17th century Irish wild goose.

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