08/12/2020 0 Comments
John Booth - Brewer & Excise Man
Described by Prof G.T Stokes as a " stiff old puritan of the Baptist persuasion from Kilbeggan or thereabouts, gifted with a good deal of that strong facility of hatred which puritans at times could display" John Booth was indeed a very interesting and prominent business man in Athlone.
We first learned about Mr Booth during our research into the old distilleries and breweries around Athlone where he was a major player in the industry. Responsible for the naming of "Excise Street" he was also a ruthless business man and involved in a major quarrel with other local business owners that rumbled on for years.
Prior to the Shannon Navigation works in the early part of the 19th century, full navigation through Athlone was impossible. A hundred years prior to this a bypass canal was constructed on the west side of the town. All goods coming into Athlone by barge were brought ashore at St Peter's Port, very close to the rear entrance to Sean's Bar. It was here where tax or excise duty was paid, thus giving Excise Street its name. A deed of 1801 in the name of John Booth describes St Peter's port plot with the "ancient mansion house thereon, with out-houses, stables, gardens, water-courses nd fishings". On the eastern end of this site, John Booth erected a brewery (known as Booths brewery from 1801 - 1817. In business with his brother William, John Booth levied a charge of 2d on every boatload that was brought through the post, and for the vehemence with which he collected this tax from everyone he was nicknamed "Copper - Fisted Jack".
John Booth had a dispute with two fellow townsmen, William Sproule and James Potts concerning the coveted right of way to the port. The case went to the courts and Booth won, but rather than being content with his victory, he perpetuated his bitter feelings by erecting stones on either side of the gate at St Peter's Port. Engraved on the stone was "Wil o' Wisp' and 'Jack the Printer' which referred to William Sproule and James Potts respectively. It is even said that Booth left instruction in his will that if ever any of his descendants should remove these stones from the gateway that the property should pass out of their hands!