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McConnell’s opens Belfast whiskey distillery

Irish whiskey brand McConnell’s has opened its £12 million (US$14.9m) distillery and visitor centre in Belfast after three years of development.

McConnell's distillery
L-R: John Kelly (Belfast Distillery Company CEO), first minister Michelle O’Neill, deputy first minister Emma Little-Pengelly and US special economic envoy Joe Kennedy

Belfast Distillery Company (BDC) received planning approval in March 2021 to build a whiskey distillery on the site of the former Crumlin Road Gaol jail in Northern Ireland’s capital.

The £12m project is part of a total £30m (US$37m) investment in the company. BDC has received funding from the government’s Department for Communities and Invest Northern Ireland (Invest NI).

The new site is expected to attract 100,000 visitors each year and produce 500,000 litres of pure alcohol annually.

Located in a Grade A-listed building, the McConnell’s Distillery and Visitor Experience currently employs 34 people.

The McConnell’s Irish whiskey brand was resurrected in 2020 after more than nine decades.

BDC chief executive John Kelly said: “We have worked towards this day for the last number of years and now this project has gone from being a shared, ambitious vision to a working reality.

“We are all very proud of what has been achieved here thanks to our investors, partners and team. Working with Invest NI and the local government departments, we have turned an empty wing of an historic gaol into a place of investment, employment and opportunity, and it is now the home of the famous McConnell’s Irish Whisky which was originally born in Belfast in 1776.”

The long-delayed project was first announced in 2012 by businessman Peter Lavery and was due to be completed in 2016.

A group of American investors took over the project, acquiring the assets of BDC, which included the McConnell’s Irish Whiskey brand name.

The site’s official opening yesterday (18 April) was attended by first minister Michelle O’Neil, deputy first minister Emma Little-Pengelly and US special economic envoy Joe Kennedy.

Little-Pengelly added: “The state-of-art distillery in this unique location will make a significant contribution to the local community here in North Belfast and beyond.

“The scale of investment in this project, the creation of a world-class visitor experience and the employment opportunities created are all particularly welcome.”

The opening of McConnell’s also marks the 50th distillery to join the Irish Whiskey Association. In 2010, there were just four working distilleries in Ireland, the trade body said.

It is the second distillery to open in Northern Ireland’s capital in the past 12 months, following Titanic Distillers in August 2023, which became the first working whiskey distillery in Belfast in almost 90 years.

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