Shandon Sweets – Ireland’s Last Producer Of Handmade Sweets?

Tony and Dan Linehan

Tony and Dan Linehan © Roger Overall 2012

Do you know what children want from their boiled sweets today?

Standing in his small workshop, just yards from Cork’s iconic Church of St Anne in Shandon, sweet maker Dan Linehan doesn’t hesitate when asked the question. “Sour,” he says.

These days, children are looking for a big sour hit. And it seems it can’t be sour enough.

Dan’s son Tony, who works with him to produce a range of hard and soft sweets by hand, tells of modern sweets so sour they would make your jaw lock up and your tongue bleed. “It’s the truth,” he emphasizes when my eyebrows raise.

That’s not the kind of experience Dan and Tony want to sell. They are all about subtlety and flavour.

The last one

Shandon Sweets has been going in one form or another since 1928, when Dan’s father established the shop and workspace in the same building it’s in today. At the time, sweet making was relatively new to Cork. Dan’s father learned from a Scotsman who was working for local retailer Musgrave.

At one time, there were over a half a dozen small companies making sweets by hand in the city. Now, there is possibly only one left – in the whole of Ireland.

“Other Irish companies do make sweets,” Dan says, “but nobody does it by hand.”

Rubber gloves

The handmade aspect cost Dan business at one stage. He remembers how for a period customers went on a hygiene trip. Handmade suggested touched by the hand of man. Consumers didn’t like that. Sales dropped for a while.

He chuckles as he remembers a visit by a food standards official who suggested that he and Tony wear rubber gloves throughout production. Impractical given the temperature of the mixture that forms the basis of their boiled sweets. It comes out of the pot at 300 degrees Fahrenheit, which is very nearly 150 degrees Celsius. Dan shows me what are essentially welder’s gloves used for holding the copper pot while pouring out the mixture, which stays very hot for most of the production process.

The future

The days of handmade sweet production in Cork may be numbered.

It is physical work (between them Tony and Dan knead and mold 15 kilogram batches of melted glucose and sugar at a time) and the pay can’t compete with that in other sectors. “You’re never short of money, but you won’t have a lot of it either,” Dan says.

The good news is that Tony, who has already spent close to 30 years at his father’s side making sweets, likely has another 30 left in him.

Sweet process

Glucose Being Added To Sugar

The basis of a boiled sweet is a mixture of sugar and glucose. If you only used sugar, the sweets would crumble to pieces within 24 hours. Glucouse acts as a binding agent. In this photograph, glucose is being added to boiling sugar. As it is very viscose at room temperature, pouring takes time. On cold days, it can be a frustratingly long time © Roger Overall 2012

Boiling glucose and sugar mixture

The glucose and sugar mixture is heated to near 150 degrees Celsius © Roger Overall 2012

Boild Sweet Mixture Being Poured

The mixture is then poured out on to a heated inch-thick steel plate © Roger Overall 2012

Colouring Being Added To Sugar And Glucose

Dan adds colour to the mixture once it has cooled down a bit © Roger Overall 2012

Colour Being Kneaded Into Sugar And Glucose Mixture

The colour additive is kneaded into the mixture on the hotplate © Roger Overall 2012

Shandon Sweets Mixture Being Cut With Scissors

As the mixture cools, it is cut into segments with a pair of scissors © Roger Overall 2012

Shandon Sweets Mixing Together Red And Green Colours

The cooling mixtures are combined by kneading them together © Roger Overall 2012

Boiled Sweet Mixture Being Passed Through A Press

The ever-cooling mixture then goes through a hand-cranked press. Much of the machinery used by Dan and Tony has been in the business since the beginning. “They are older than me!” Dan says © Roger Overall 2012

Strips Of Pressed Boiled Sweets

The strips of boiled sweets cool quickly, becoming hard © Roger Overall 2012

Strips Of Boiled Sweets Being Broken Up By Hand

The strips are crumbled by hand and individual boiled sweets appear © Roger Overall 2012

Shandon Sweets
37a John Redmond Street
Cork
Ireland
+353 (0)21 4507791

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14 thoughts on “Shandon Sweets – Ireland’s Last Producer Of Handmade Sweets?

  1. Caroline@Bibliocook

    When I was selling advertising as a college student, Shandon Sweets was a little hit of sweetness in an otherwise frustrating day. I’d be in no hurry to get served. I loved to wait and watch – and smell! – what was going on in there. Love your pictures of the molten sweets.

    Reply
  2. Catherine

    I had No idea that old-fashioned sweets were made like this. It’s like time travel and your beautiful photos and captions take me right there.
    Wafts of nostalgia going on! Thanks

    Reply
  3. Tyrone Twomey

    Ol dannys a great buddy of mine eating brusk and other sweets made in the factory has become a huge hit in work everyone loves it they dont make sweets like this anymore and they really should because everyone loves them, i will be buying a lot for work collegues in future 🙂

    Reply
  4. steven Linehan

    Excellent article- photos super. I was doing some research for a business venture & found Shandon sweets. Fanstatic just what I’m looking for. Going to make contact on Monday. Great to see this alive – keep it up. Also my surname is Linehan- my family originally hail from Kerry- suppose we must be related in some way, not many Linehan’s in Ireland. This is what Irish food is all about & we should not let is disappear.

    Well to all.

    Reply
  5. Liam

    I was just at the Shandon church recently and took a couple of photos of the Linehan shopfront. After reading this, I’m sorry I didn’t stop in for a look. Great job of photo-documenting the process from start to finish. I’ll post my pictures to my blog soon, and link to this post.
    Liam

    Reply
    1. Roger Post author

      @ Liam – Thank you for reading and commenting Liam.

      Dan and Tony are two great guys, friendly and generous with their time. Full of stories too. Everyone should drop in. Mind you, if they did the boys wouldn’t have time for sweet making.

      Reply
  6. Pingback: Linehan’s Hand-Made Shandon Sweets, Cork City | GotIreland

  7. Kelly Slavin

    my husband and i were visiting from Canada June 11. We were in your store and I was talking to a really nice lady who had plans on visiting canada in a couple of weeks since our visit. I know she was planning on visiting Calgary, go through the Rockies, and on to Victoria. I hope she enjoyed her visit, as Calgary had a huge flood and I had thought of her. We still have some of your sweets as I sit here and type I am enjoying one.

    Reply
  8. Pingback: Shandon Sweets – Ireland’s Last Producer of Handmade Sweets? | Bent Fork

  9. Trish

    This has to be the best sweets I have ever eaten. Such a friendly man I learned about how sweets are made and enjoyed some amazing sweets

    Reply
  10. Deborah McCarthy

    I’m enjoying a Shandon Sweets cough drop right now, so delicious and helps with my post cold cough! Bought from a little convenience store in Kilkenny, only wish I’d gotten more. I’ll be sad when I run out. Does anyone know if they’re available online?

    Reply

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