Irish Coffee… The Rest of the Story
Let's see, Irish whiskey, good strong black coffee, a bit of sugar, then nice thick cream, poured over the back of a spoon, so that it sits on top of the coffee, whiskey, and sugar mixture; what's not to love. When made right with good ingredients Irish Coffee is the perfect restorative. Last summer on my travels in Ireland I came upon the real story of Irish Coffee, in Ballybofey, County Donegal.
There is a common and widely held myth that Irish Coffee, that most wonderful of elixirs, was first created in the bar in Shannon Airport. It is true this luscious, Gaelic concoction, was served there at a very early date. But… it wasn’t the first place to serve this wonderful drink, it actually originated in County Donegal at Jackson’s Hotel, in Ballybofey.
There was a seaman named Joe Jackson, a Derry man, who served in the Merchant Navy during World War II. It was his misfortune to be on a ship that was torpedoed in the north Atlantic. When he was rescued he was suffering from exposure and was revived with a high proof drink made from coffee and rum, which was a Navy practice of the day. The rest of Joe Jackson’s service was in the eastern Mediterranean and there he was exposed to drinks containing cream, sugar, and spirits.
With the war over Joe returned home to Ireland and married a woman in the catering business in Ballybofey. Joe purchased a hotel in Ballybofey and calling upon his experiences during the war, began to experiment with new drinks. One of the specialties of the house was an ‘Irish Coffee’ which was made of strong black coffee, sugar, Irish whiskey, and then a layer of cream on top. This was circa late 1940s.
In the early 1950s a Scottish motoring magazine published an account of Joe Jackson’s Irish Coffee. The drink was replicated, according to lore, on 10 November 1952, in the bar of Shannon airport, but this was several years after Jackson’s Hotel served the drink. Perhaps it was a public relations coup or perhaps Donegal was in those days too distant and away, for whatever reason, the Shannon airport origin for Irish Coffee began to take root.
The real story is Irish Coffee is the creation of Mr Joe Jackson and was first served at Jackson’s Hotel in Ballybofey, County Donegal, where they still serve it today, exactly as it was created by Joe Jackson in the late 1940s.
Barry R McCain ©2017