Patrick Ahearne, His Majesty’s Inspector of Excise, has been sent to Ireland from HQ in London to investigate allegations of fraud at the Tullamore Distillery in his native Ireland.
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With his fellow inspector Whistler, he quickly decides that the local Excise man working at the distillery is honestly representing the position and that there is no fraud. However given HQ pressure from Chief Inspector Booth to find some transgression, and the ever lengthening and bizarre list of witnesses claiming there is fraud, it is clear that there is commercial competition and national discrimination at play in the system.
Ahearne, a career civil servant whose life has revolved around his work, is only too well aware of the nature of the Excise system where its corruption and manipulation have led to its reputation of being the most corrupt Department of Government. But throughout his career
Ahearne has tried to keep his head down and do an honest job as far as possible. This has been difficult given the manipulations and leverage regularly used by the Board to achieve their political masters’ whims and the wishes of their influential friends. Behind the scenes he has benefitted from this personally but not by his own instigation.
Now in his fifties and still single, he finds Tullamore and its community pulling at his heart both via his roots as an Irishman and his fundamental sense of fairness and what is right. His Tullamore landlady, Nell, proves irresistible and throughout his investigations around Ireland, Scotland and England he cannot wait to get back to Tullamore. His English colleague and friend Whistler also comes under Tullamore’s spell. So, with both of them having fallen for local women, they devise a way of exposing questionable evidence while managing an ever more high profile case as it comes under the spotlight of international press and an increasingly anxious Excise Board eager to serve their cronies.
This story is loosely based on true events recorded by the Excise under the report The Great Tullamore Whiskey Fraud. At the time questions were asked in Parliament and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Asquith, was forced to defend his local Excise officer in Tullamore. This officer was Mike O’Sullivan’s grandfather.