The Ghost of Watt’s Distillery
Watt’s Distillery located in the Abbey Street area of Derry was one of the largest in Ireland and produced the famous ‘Tyrconnell Whiskey’ (named after a 100-to-1 outsider that won the Irish Classic in 1876). It was built on the site of an old monastery and started distilling in the 1700’s. In the mid 1800’s it was highly successful under the management of David Watt. The buildings alone covered eight acres extending beyond Abbey Street into William Street, Fahan Street and other Bogside Streets.
They bought a mansion named Thornhill on the banks of the Foyle. They were known as a ‘feisty’ bunch, especially when protecting what they saw as their interests. Through boycotting and suing other distillers then amalgamating with Belfast Distillers their output reached a staggering six million proof gallons of grain whiskey. However, they were not model employers and when the British Government under Lloyd-George brought in an Act in 1915 demanding that grain whiskey had to be laid down for three years it created difficult trading conditions which led to cutbacks, strikes and lockouts.
The company took shortcuts in safety maintenance and with a volatile liquid like whiskey it was a hazardous place to work. During the First World War there was a bad fire and men were burnt to death. Between that time and its closure there were several reports of screaming heard coming from the area that had suffered the fire. One elderly man from Rosemount who worked there said that the ghost of a young boy who had been killed appeared several times when there was imminent danger. These warnings saved others from death or injury including him.
It closed in 1925. The William Street Swimming Pool and the Derry Credit Union now stand where the Distillery once stood. Nothing is left of the original buildings.
(As told by Bobby Morrison)
Bobby Morrison’s father was one of the managers in Watts Distillery. As soon as Bobby left school he was apprenticed to the plumber in the distillery.
One morning after his mother called him for breakfast, he was just about to get out of bed when he saw someone standing very still at the bottom of the bed.
To his amazement, it was himself whom he saw. It stayed for a moment or two then disappeared. Frightened, he ran downstairs to his mother and told her what he had just seen. Much to his father’s annoyance his mother refused to let him go to work that day.
Their home was on Laburnum Terrace, just a short walk to the distillery. It was routine for the father to come home for dinner. He arrived home that day in great distress. He told the family that there had been a terrible accident. A boiler had exploded and the plumber had been killed outright. There was no doubt whatsoever that if Bobby had been there he too would have been killed. His mother firmly believed that seeing his own wraith that morning had saved his life.
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