Irish Whiskey: A 1000 Year Tradition, which is no longer in print but still available. It was originally published in 1980 and most recently reprinted in 1998. A lot has happened since then, but this book has some good historical information.
Here are some facts and assertions from the book.
As in Scotland, oppressive laws and taxation drove many people into illicit distilling. "In 1806, out of 11,400,000 gallons of spirits made in Ireland, 3,800,000 of these were produced by illicit manufacturers. In the years 1811 to 1813 almost 20,000 ilegal stills were destroyed by the revenue authorities and the military."
In the earlier 1800s, scotch whisky was heavy in flavor profile and the English didn't prefer it. Irish whiskey, which used malted and unmalted barley, was both lighter and more consistent.
When column distillation was invented, Irish whiskey makers were very reluctant to use it to water down their whiskey. They argued against it and refused to use it, while the Scots took to it to dilute their strongly flavored spirit. The lighter flavor profile was more popular both in England and America.
The Irish whiskey industry was further harmed by world war rationing, independence from England, and American Prohibition.
The last remaining Irish whiskey distillers banded together in the 1960s to form Irish Distillers. They were the sole producers of Irish whiskey, which was made both at the Old Bushmills distillery and down at Cooley.
I'll have some of the more modern history and production of Irish whiskey in a forthcoming story in the San Francisco Chronicle.