Kate was featured in The Sunday Times Business section talking about our initial inspiration for starting a meadery in Ireland – it really was on the Hill of Tara in the footprint of the Great Mead Hall back in the summer of 2016. It was an incredibly hectic and rollercoaster first year, making the decision to up roots and head south to Kinsale. Into our ninth year and nine meads later, there’s been no let up in keeping the business going and the mead flowing.

Kate dempsey in the meadery
Photograph: Conor Mulhern

Thanks to all of you for your continued support.

We realised Ireland’s link to mead and became a hive of activity

Kate Dempsey and her husband, Denis, were inspired to open Kinsale Mead Co, Ireland’s first new meadery in 200 years, while standing on the Hill of Tara.

As origin stories go, it’s a good one for a business that brought a medieval staple back to life.

The couple were entertaining a visitor on a day out, only to discover they were standing in the imprint of a mighty mead hall where thousands gathered for royal celebrations that lasted days at a time. High kings indeed.

Dempsey, who is English, studied physics at Oxford and started out as an IT programmer. She worked in the Netherlands for a number of years, where she met Denis, a fellow technologist, who is from Cork.

They married in Kinsale in 1988 and moved to the US, where they worked for Intel, before coming back to work at its plant in Leixlip. She then left to work at AIG, the insurance giant, for three years before working full time in the home for eight years, raising the couple’s two children.

By 2007 she was ready to get back into the paid workforce, but the recession was just taking hold and she struggled to get back into IT.

Instead she became a technical writer for a biotech company, then a data analyst in reinsurance. Throughout all this time she wrote poetry and founded a collective, Poetry Divas, which performed all over the country.

In 2016 the couple were starting to think about what they might like to do next with their lives when they ended up on the Hill of Tara.

The idea hit like a thunderbolt. “We were there in July 2016 and by August we had registered the business.”

Kate and denis read sunday times interview

The couple had enjoyed mead in the US but discovered none was being made commercially in Ireland. They began visiting meaderies in Europe and the US, “asking nerdy questions about things like sanitation and floor drains, all the sexy stuff”.

While Dempsey trained as a certified mead judge, her husband signed up for a mead-making course at University of California, Davis. All the while they perfected their craft, making mead in their kitchen.

Mead is made from “good honey”, water and sugar in a process similar to winemaking. It’s not sweet but similar to an off-dry wine, like a riesling, and is served in a stemless wine glass. At 12 per cent ABV, the drink is like wine in alcohol content too.

The couple found a premises in Kinsale, chosen for the town’s foodie reputation, and took advantage of Revenue’s start-up relief for entrepreneurs scheme that let them reclaim their PAYE tax from the previous six years.

An Alaskan mead maker, whom they met on their study tours, offered to come over to help them get started. They also took part in SuperValu’s Food Academy programme, which guided them through all the requirements they needed for retail.

Being with a network of fellow foodie entrepreneurs also provided moral support. “I remember telling people I was leaving my paid job to do this; they said, ‘You’re very brave.’ I hadn’t felt nervous until then,” she says.

The couple got their first order from the Celtic Whiskey Shop before going on to sell through supermarkets, gift stores, off-licences and restaurants, as well as online.

Today the business employs four full-time and three part-time staff. The tours are one of her favourite parts of the job. “I love doing the tours. Everybody is on holiday and in a good mood.”

What tickles her most, however, is how all the experience picked up along her varied career path has poured into mead-making, such as the writing skills now applied to the website and labels, while performing poetry to large audiences has made her comfortable speaking in public.

“It’s amazing how all the specialisms from your past lives help with your current one,” she says. As with mead-making and the Hill of Tara, the past inspires the present.