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In the 1180s advancing Normans led by Barry Fitz Gerald established an abbey at a weir on the river to be populated by Cistercian Monks from Burgundy. The abbey became known as “Chore Abbey” and “Castrum Chor”, taking its name from the Irish word cora (weir), although some say that “Chor” comes from “Choir” or “Choral”. The abbey is commemorated in the Irish name for Midleton, Mainistir na Corann, or “Monastery at the Weir”, and of the local river Owenacurra or Abhainn na Cora meaning “River of the Weirs”. St John the Baptist’s Church, belonging to the Church of Ireland was erected in 1825 and today still stands on the site of the abbey.
Captain Walter Raleigh (later Sir Walter) had an association with Midleton, living for periods in nearby Youghal between 1585 and 1602. His presence came about due to a distribution of land in reward for helping suppress the Second Desmond Rebellion of 1579–1583. As part of this suppression he was ordered to seize Barry’s Castle at nearby Cahermore. The Desmond FitzGerald Seneschal, or steward of Imokilly, on being expelled from the castle, took refuge in the Abbey, but was again forced to flee by Raleigh.
Raleigh is credited with planting the first potatoes in Europe, also at Youghal.
The town gained the name Midleton or “Middle Town” as the main midway town, 10 miles between Cork and Youghal. It was incorporated as a market town and postal depot in 1670, receiving its charter from Charles II, as the “borough and town of Midleton”. Later it would become a post town of the Great Southern and Western Railway.
Alan Brodrick, Speaker of the Irish House of Commons and Lord Chancellor of Ireland was made the first Baron and Viscount Midleton in 1715 and 1717, respectively. He is commemorated by Broderick St in the town.
The town is the site of Cork Distilleries, formed in 1825, merged into Irish Distillers in 1967, and as of 2011 owned by French spirits group Pernod Ricard. Distilling of whiskey, vodka and gin now takes place at the new Midleton distillery complex opened in 1975. The Old Midleton Distillery which boasts the world’s largest pot still – a copper vessel with a capacity of 140,000 litres – has been restored as a visitor-centre and hosts a number of attractions, including Ireland’s largest working water-wheel (with a diameter of 7m). Paddy Whiskey, produced in the town, takes its name from Patrick J Flaherty, a salesman for Cork Distilleries in the 1920s. The world-famous Jameson Whiskey is produced in the town.