Foynes and the Origin of Irish Coffee

On November 7, 2013 by Oren and Cassie

We’d been traveling the Irish countryside for a week and a half, drinking in the sights nearly as often as we soaked in the rain. I spotted the flyer at a Tourist Information Center – the kind liberally sprinkled in small towns to give you a place to purchase souvenirs and ask questions, in that order. Foynes Flying Boat Museum. I had to visit.

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Foynes Flying Boat Museum

TOUGH DECISIONS

When we decided to travel for a year, I stepped away from flying and the homebuilt airplane my father knocked up in our basement, delivering it out of our garage after 11 years of gestation. It wasn’t an easy decision, since I love the freedom flying offers, but my RV-6A, with a range of about 500 miles, was not going to allow me to see the world. Flying would have to wait.

But here, an aviation museum in western Ireland’s County Limerick, was too much to pass up. We passed a few Medieval castles on the way to Foynes. Only hours earlier, they were high on my priority list. Now they barely registered, forced down the list now that aviation was in sight.

FOYNES FLYING BOAT MUSEUM

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At the controls of a replica Boeing 314

The museum is interesting, although a bit pricey for only a few exhibits. Foynes was one of the main ports in Europe for seaplanes crossing the Atlantic Ocean before World War 2. Its location on an estuary in western Ireland means it is both one of the closest spots to North America and it is protected from the vicious wind and rain that whips across the west coast of the Emerald Isle. The museum also offers a full-scale replica of a Boeing 314 flying boat.

Too often though these flying boats would leave Foynes and encounter strong headwinds. Too strong. They would have to turn back and wait for better weather. Seaplanes didn’t have the necessary range to cross the Atlantic reliably, so passengers were ready for an abbreviated round trip.

THE ORIGIN OF IRISH COFFEE

On one night in the winter of 1942, a flight left Foynes heading for Botwood, Newfoundland, then on to New York City. But Irish weather is dubious during the best of times. During winter, it is downright awful. A few hours into the flight, battling a storm somewhere over the North Atlantic, the pilot (whose name has long since been forgotten in the turning pages of history) decided to turn back. The flying boat returned to Foynes, the passengers nearly as wet and miserable as the weather.

Chef Joe Sheridan was in charge of the Foynes restaurant that night, and he got the unfortunate job of providing food to the passengers forced to disembark on the wrong side of the Atlantic. He brewed a batch of coffee, but decided it needed something a bit extra. He added a bit of whiskey, some brown sugar, and floated cream on top.

Legend has it that one passenger, sipping the new drink for the first time, asked Sheridan, “Is this Brazilian coffee?” Sheridan replied, “No, this is Irish Coffee.” A new drink was born.

IRISH COFFEE COMES TO AMERICA

It would take 10 more years before Irish Coffee arrived in the States. By this time, World War 2 had ended. Conventional airlines replaced flying boats. Without the constant traffic of seaplanes, Foynes became a shipping port. In 1952, Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco offered Joe Sheridan a job. Those passengers who turned back because of bad weather in 1942 could now get their Irish Coffee on the right side of the Atlantic.

AN AUTHENTIC IRISH COFFEE RECIPE

Fill a mug 3/4 of the way with hot black coffee. Add a tablespoon of brown sugar and stir until it is fully dissolved. Pour in a jigger of Irish whiskey. Top with lightly whipped heavy cream, pouring it over the back of a spoon so it floats on top. Enjoy!

-O.L.

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