You’ve probably already heard the story about how Irish coffee was invented in the west of Ireland during the middle of the 20th Century.
But did you know that the origin story is actually a load of pish-posh – and the internationally famed cocktail in fact originated right here in the capital?
I’m skeptical. But tell me, what’s the traditional story?
It all comes down to this dude called Joe Sheridan. He worked behind the bar at a restaurant in Foynes – near Shannon Airport. This town was a bit of a hub for the fancy American tourists of the 1940s who used to fly across the Atlantic, which was a pretty big deal at the time.
During the winter of 1943 an American Airlines flight bound for New York returned to the base at Foynes owing to dodgy weather and even dodgier flying conditions. The passengers were pretty freaked, and very cold, and wanted something to pick them up – step forward Joe Sheridan, who served up this peculiar coffee-based cocktail to the stricken passengers.
When one passenger queried: “Is this Brazilian Coffee?”, Joe is reputed to have replied: “No, this is Irish Coffee.”
Fair enough. So he just came up with that on the spot, yeah?
Well, here’s the thing: no, he actually did not.
Oh. So, where did he come up with it then?
Well let’s start with a bit of info about Joe. He came to Dublin from Tyrone with his mother, father and his five siblings in 1928, when he was 19 years of age.
He soon secured work as a trainee chef in Pims Department Store, 72-75 South Great Georges St, the gigantic five-storey building on the site now occupied by DBS and Yamamori.
It was at Pims Department Store that Joe learned the elementary skills of culinary cuisine – but his real flourish came thanks to a man named Michael Nugent.
Michael Nugent (that's him above) was the man behind The Dolphin Hotel and Bad Bob’s – located on Essex Street in Temple Bar, and still there to this day.
It was one of the most popular spots in the city, and attracted the cream of Dublin’s high society as well as the burgeoning middle classes of the day. It was also the best place to go if you wanted to nab yourself one of the fancy cocktails emerging from post-prohibition USA.
But not only was Mr Nugent a character, a trader, an early-day foodie and an all-round legend – he was also quite the aficionado behind the bar himself, and loved to experiment with new cocktails using ingredients from the cellars underneath Bad Bob’s.
One of these? A drink known as Michael Nugent’s Whiskey Coffee.
Ludicrous! Where are you getting all this LUDICROUS information?
A gentleman named John V Kelleher. He spent more than 30 years as professor of Irish studies at a little-known US university called… Harvard.
Oh. I’ve heard of that place.
Yeah, I figured you might have.
After a visit to Ireland shortly after World War II, he wrote: “The Dolphin, I was told, was where Irish coffee had been invented. The proprietor, Michael Nugent, had concocted it during the war as a way of disguising what was then called coffee. In 1946 its chief merit was the interesting difficulty of floating the cream onto but not into the liquid."
Whatever. Smartase. But what’s all that got to do with anything?
Well, after having worked with Mr Nugent in Bad Bob’s, Joe Sheridan later moved westwards to Foynes – and so we’re back to where we started.
But you may be asking: why didn’t he just add in a drop of whiskey and a bit of sugar, if he wanted to sweeten it all up? Why all the artistic flair?
I was wondering about that, actually.
Well, because that was the Michael Nugent way, wasn’t it? Why have cotton when you can have silk, and all that.
The other thing was that this was right in the middle of the War – or The Emergency as we called it here – so international trade was limited, rations were in place, and coffee imports were restricted. Meaning he’d have been dealing with pure muck, so he probably needed to mask the taste a bit.
So, the drink isn’t really from Foynes. It’s from Dublin.
Sure aren’t all the best things in life?