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Irn Bru & Falkirk

Irn Bru is a national favourite, but where did it come from? According to Barr’s official website, Robert F. Barr left his father’s aerated water works in Falkirk to establish a business in Glasgow in 1887. He then developed new flavours and launched the famous “Clyde Built” Irn Bru in 1901.

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But is this the whole story? Robert Barr senior left the family cork cutting business to establish the original Barr’s aerated water (soft drink) company in Falkirk in 1875. Aerated water, which was considered healthy, was in high demand among foundry workers, miners, and brick workers in Falkirk.

There drinks were created by adding a flavoured syrup, which came from “essences” such as fruit oils, to carbonated water. With increased competition in and around Falkirk, Barr experimented with flavour, creating unique essences, recorded in his 1887 journal. 

Irn Bru was officially launched in Glasgow and Falkirk on April 15th 1901, featuring famous athlete Adam Brown on the label design. You might assume this was the first time it was advertised or sold, yet an advert in the Falkirk Cookery Book, from October 1900, suggests otherwise. The advert states that Irn Bru was “only to be had in Scotland from R. Barr, Falkirk” and features the Adam Brown graphics.

This advert predates Barr’s official advertising campaign by five years. So is Irn Bru completely Glaswegian? The unique flavour may come from Robert Barr’s early experiments. Perhaps, after some success in Falkirk, he gave the recipe to his son to launch his Glasgow business. The evidence suggests that Falkirk should receive recognition for its role in creating Irn Bru, but what do you think?

By Steffany McGeachin

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  • References & Bibliography
  • “Irn Bru Logo.” Date unknown. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.
  • Painting. “Robert Barr.” 1898. 2007-019-002. James Scott Stewart. From Falkirk Council, collection managed by Falkirk Community Trust.  
  • Photograph: “Barr’s horse and cart beside Gentleman Fountain.” 1900. P16214. Thomas Craig. From Falkirk Council, collection managed by Falkirk Community Trust.  
  • Photograph: “Barr’s aerated water works in Burnfoot Lane, Falkirk.” 1970. P06131. Falkirk Town Council. From Falkirk Council, collection managed by Falkirk Community Trust.  
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