Haunted Distillery Series: Watts Distillery

21-11-2016 By Emily Stockden

Home of Tyrconnell Whiskey, Watts Distillery is in Derry. Ripe as a site for hauntings, it was built on the site of an old monastery and started distilling in the 1700s.

The Watts were a colourful group and jealously protected their interests, boycotting, suing and ultimately merging with Belfast Distillers to produce six million gallons of grain whiskey by the mid-1800s. Located at Abbey Street in the Bogside, Watts Distillery produced famous brands such as The Tyrconnell and Inishowen and made a fortune for the family.

Watts distillery coopers at cooperage

Watts Distillery coopers making the casks for Tyrconnell whiskey

Watts most well-known whiskey is named after a horse named Tyrconnell that the family entered into the Irish Classic horse race ‘The National Produce Stakes’ in Dublin in 1986 - it won at odds of 100 to 1.

National Produce Stakes Horserace poster

A poster advertising Tyrconnell picturing the National Produce Stakes horserace

Watts Distillery's downward spiral began in 1915 when it was declared that grain whisky had to be laid down for a minimum of 3 years, wreaking havoc on trading conditions. It all culminated in 1921, when Andrew Alexander Watt (or A.A. Watt as he was know), a dapper, man who dressed beautifully and prided himself on his moustache, faced a crowd of angry, striking workers who refused to let him into the distillery which they'd locked. No-one knows why - perhaps it was a moment of rage that resulted in a poor decision of this magnitude - but A.A. Watts retorted by simply closing the distillery. Three hundred jobs were lost and to this day it remains one of the worst decisions in the history of Irish Whiskey distilling, given the sheer magnitude of the business the Watts had built over the years: there were two sites in Derry, one at Abbey St and the other at Spencer Road in Waterside. The city side distillery made grain whiskey, while single malt pot still whiskey was produced at the Waterside premises. It has been estimated that 2 000 000 gallons of whiskey were being produced between the two plants in 1900. It was later to rise to 6 000 000 gallons when other distilleries were brought on board.

It's no wonder then that an elderly gentleman who worked there reported being warned several times of imminent danger by the ghost of a young boy who had been killed, saving him and others on many occasions.

Another silly story or not? Incidentally, nothing is left of the original buildings. The William Street Swimming Pool and the Derry Credit Union are now built where the Distillery once stood. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who would rather skip a midnight dip, even if the pool was heated!

William Street Baths

The William Street Baths today, built where Watts Distillery once stood