The ‘genuine’ beer of Ireland

by Alessandro Brizi 04/22/16
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La “birra genuina” d’Irlanda

“The inhabitants of Carlow are nicknamed scallion eaters. The name probably derives from the fact that during the years of famine, scallions, parsnips and other vegetables were grown in the town and sent by train to markets in Dublin”. This according to the book Carlow Folk Tales by Aideen McBride and Jack Sheehan, one of the most fascinating publications of Irish fairy tales available. At the center of many of the tales is the city and country of Carlow, the Celtic heart of rural Ireland located some 80km south of Dublin, bordered to the east by the Wicklow Mountains and open to the west towards the rolling hills of Kilkenny and Tipperary counties and to the south closed ‘mountains’ (in Ireland anything over 700m) of Leinster and Blackstairs, the natural border with the country of Wexford.


Scallions are not Carlow’s only ‘attraction’ and, in fact, are not even it best known, above all for foreign visitors. This town of some 25,000 souls, including the surrounding county, is one of the riches areas for Celtic history and culture in all Ireland. Of course, this means it is obviously one of the places most inhabited by fairies, gnomes, leprechauns and beer drinkers. Then again, anywhere you go in Ireland they will say the same thing. Beer, much more famous than scallions, is the golden lifeblood of the land and in Carlow the local beer is O’Hara. It is no longer produced in the city but ten miles or so to the south, inside the Muine Bheag Business Park in Bagenalstown.

The O’Hara family founded the Carlow Brewing Company in 1996 inside a 20th century structure near the Carlow railway station. The 1990s were not a favorable time to produce craft beer in Ireland because the market was dominated by multinational brands that left little room for small producers and made it difficult to win over customers, leprechauns included. But the obstinacy of Seamus O’Hara, 52 years of age and from the beginning the head of the company, won out and already by the first years of the new millennium his brews, many of which won awards and recognitions, were bring exported from the island to quench the thirst of other countries, starting with neighboring Britain. Growing demand forced production to be transferred in 2006 to its current brewery in Bagenalstown. The Carlow Brewing Company today produces a line of well-made beers distinguished by their style and price, pleasing craft beers with an unmistakable Irish soul and that can be found in 150 pubs and 25 countries around the world, Italy included.

Seamus O’Hara is a patriot of Irish beer and an important member of the Independent CraftBrewers of Ireland association. He produces a vast array of brews: Irish Red, Stout, Irish Pale Ale, special reserves, seasonal brews and Leann Folláin, a Dry Stout and icon of the brewery’s production. The name is Celtic for ‘genuine beer’ and this stout was first produced in 2009. It is without a doubt a healthy, full-bodied and dense version of this variety. Dark and distinguished by hops from Northdown and Fuggie, Leann Folláin is a concentration of personality, conviviality and free Irish spirit: a standard bearer of that idea of identity, in some ways irredentist, and absolute quality that is well summed up by Seamus O’Hara when he states that “independent breweries are run by people only interested in beer and the focus is on beer; the beer conglomerates are run by accountants”.

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