Portmagee is a picturesque fishing village in the very South West corner of County Kerry, Ireland. The village is located on the Iveragh peninsula and is the gateway to Valentia Island, The name Portmagee (Port Magee) comes from the exploits of Captain Theobald Magee, a notorious 18th-century smuggler. Having served in the army of King James II as an officer, Captain Magee ‘retired’ to a life of merchant shipping between France, Spain, Portugal and Ireland.
Thanks to the many inlets around the South West coast, his trade in contraband spirits, textiles, tea and tobacco was hard to police and therefore very profitable. He married Bridget Morgell, the widow of a rich Dingle merchant and also the daughter of the then representative for Dingle, Thomas Crosbie. Following Captain Magees death, Bridget and her sons continued the family business of smuggling and Portmagee itself developed into the fishing village as we know it today.
Captain Theobald Magee
Despite his local prominence, little is known about Captain Theobald Magee, (1666 to 1727) - after all, he did make most of his fortune through illegal trading of sought after goods. With his wealth, he bought large amounts of property across Cork and Kerry and married Bridget Morgell, the widow of a rich merchant from Dingle. Together they created a family and a powerful trade partnership. It was this partnership, however, that may have been the death of the Captain.
One local rumour suggests that Captain Magee was exiled abroad by Bridget’s father - a powerful man who was a Member of Parliament for County Kerry and ashamed of the family connection to the smuggler. It is said that the Captain went to a Portuguese monastery for three years, where he died in 1727 by poisoning - never to return to Ireland. In his will, he gave farmland to his three sons and the smuggling business continued with Bridget at the helm. Even after his death, Captain Magee was still the ultimate lawbreaker.
Seine boats are part and parcel of South Kerry history and tradition. The tradition of coastal rowing races dates back to the late 1800’s in South Kerry and every coastal locality in the region hosts its own Regatta during the summer. One of the favourite events is the Seine Boat race which is in fact the highlight of each Regatta. Seine boats are timber built boats that hold 12 oarsmen and a coxswain and were commonly used in the last century by fisherman in the Iveragh Peninsula. The origins of the Seine Boat tradition go back into history and since long ago they were used to haul fish captured in floating nets. This type of boat race is unique to South Kerry.
The Traditional Regattas in South Kerry are held in Callinafercy, Cromane, Kells, Cahersiveen, Over the Water, Valentia, Ballinskelligs, Waterville, Caherdaniel, Sneem, Templenoe and the final race of the season is always held in Portmagee.
All the races are a true test of strength, endurance and team work and are a great attraction for crowds of supporters and spectators who come every year to watch the races and enjoy the festival in each location. It’s an exciting day out for all the family and a great gathering of coastal rowing enthusiasts.
Every generation of the Murphy family that has grown up on Barrack Hill has found a place on an oar of a Seine Boat crew and this tradition is a proud one for the family. It is fitting that Portmagee Whiskey takes inspiration from the single biggest sporting event of the calendar in Portmagee and honours the mixture of wooden boat and wild Atlantic water with its own combination of oak wood and ‘Usice Beatha’, Irish Gaelic meaning the ‘Water of Life’.
Portmagee Distilling and Brewing Company was founded in early 2017 by two brothers John and James Murphy who are from Portmagee, Co. Kerry. John and James Murphy have a site in Portmagee that used to be the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Barracks until it was burned down during the Irish War of Independence. The building subsequently belonged to the Murphy family and has been passed down from generation to generation with six generations of the Murphy family calling Barrack Hill home to this day.
The building and location is so synonymous with the Murphy family that locally they are known as the “Barrack” Murphy’s, a family name they are proud to own. It was the home of our grandfather and his parents before him, before changing use in the late 1950’s. It was last used as a cow shed up until 1999 before falling into a state of disrepair. The Murphy brothers are now in the process of restoring the building as part of the Portmagee Whiskey Experience where it will become the Irish Whiskey Tasting bar.
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