Locke, John (1807–68), distiller, was the only son of John Locke (d. 1849) of Monasterevin, Co. Kildare, distiller, and his wife Jane (née Smithwick) (d. 1848) of the Kilkenny brewing family. His father was originally a merchant in Monasterevin but later moved the family to Tullamore, King's Co., to run a small distillery (1839–43). In 1843 the Lockes finally moved to Kilbeggan, Co. Westmeath, where John Locke senior took a 999-year lease on a distillery by the banks of the River Brusna. When the family arrived in Kilbeggan, taking up residence at 57 Main St., the market for whiskey was beginning to show some recovery after a downturn caused by the temperance movement during the late 1830s and early 1840s. As well as assisting his father in developing the distillery as a going concern, Locke also helped to farm sixty acres of land that the family rented around the adjoining areas of Aghamore, Camagh, and Meeniska.
Following the death of his father (1849) he took charge of the distillery and its adjoining mills. At this time the market for Locke's pure pot-still whiskey was restricted to the surrounding areas of Westmeath, King's Co., and Roscommon. However, during his tenure he helped the distillery to extend its market base by taking advantage of the transport revolution. A new canal branch linking Kilbeggan to the Grand Canal, combined with access to both the Midland & Great Western Railway and the Great Southern & Western Railway, enabled the distillery to supply the whole of Leinster as well as towns such as Liverpool, Bradford, and Manchester in Britain. This increase in demand led him to make a significant capital investment in new plant and machinery. As a result of market expansion and improvements, the sales of Locke's whiskey increased from 23,500 gallons in 1861 to 59,469 gallons just after his death (1868).
In addition to his position as proprietor of the distillery Locke played a significant role within the local community as chairman of the Kilbeggan dispensary committee during the 1850s and 1860s. Like his father he was also involved in the organisation of the annual Kilbeggan Challenge Cup horse race. He died 13 August 1868.
He married (1850) Mary Anne Theresa Devereux. From the time of the marriage (1850) they lived at Brusna House beside the distillery. They had three sons, the first of whom died in infancy, and a daughter who also died in infancy.
His wife, Mary Anne Theresa Locke (1831–89), distiller and philanthropist, was born 24 September 1831 in Wexford town, daughter of Nicholas Devereux , proprietor of Bishop's Water Distillery, Wexford. Her uncle John Thomas Devereux (qv) was MP for Wexford town (1847–59). After the death of her husband she ran the distillery (1868–c.1880) and added a retail spirit store (1868) situated in the yard beside Brusna House. Her time in charge was largely successful, as was evidenced by the doubling of the distillery's throughput (1868–70) and continued capital investment in buildings and machinery. She also oversaw an increase in the cost efficiency of the business by extending the distilling season and doubling the number of distilling periods in each season. By 1875 output had risen to 78,000 gallons. She retired from the distillery (c.1880) when her eldest son was old enough to manage the business. With the help of her father and following the example of her uncle, Richard Devereux (qv), who used part of his shipping and malting fortune to build and endow a convent, she helped to establish the Convent of Mercy at Kilbeggan (1879). Initially providing a grant of land and £1,000 toward the costs of construction, she later endowed the convent with a further £6,000. After the death of her husband she moved the family from Brusna House to Ardnaglue House near Kilbeggan. She died in 1889 at Ardnaglue.
The second and eldest surviving son, John Edward Locke (1854–1920), distiller, was born in Kilbeggan. He began working in the distillery under his mother (1873) and was managing the business by 1880. Under his management, and later under joint management with his younger brother James Harvey Locke (see below), the company continued to expand and had its most prosperous years. Locke's pure pot-still whiskey was renowned for its distinctive mild flavour, which was achieved by using high-quality barley and storing the ground malt and grist for longer than was standard practice. The need for high-quality barley led to John Edward Locke's involvement with the Seed Barley Association, through which he assisted farmers in improving the quality of their produce. Having two mills at the distillery also allowed him to produce Locke's Patent Oatmeal. The latter was discontinued in 1886 because of the need for increased storage facilities brought about by a rise in demand for the firm's whiskey. By 1886 the distillery was selling 150,000 gallons of whiskey a year. Locke also continued to invest capital in machinery in order to cope with increased demand. Thus in 1887 a horizontal cross compound mill engine was purchased from the Scottish engineering firm of Turnbull, Grant & Jack.
In 1893 he oversaw the incorporation of the business as a limited liability company with a nominal capital of £40,000 made up of 4,000 shares of £10 each. He and his brother both became directors and held all the shares. The company initially did well after incorporation, paying out dividends of 10 per cent in 1895 and 1896 and 15 per cent in 1897. However, the rise of patent still production (a quicker and more efficient means of producing whiskey) eroded Locke's market and sales steadily declined from 1897. A fire that destroyed one of the mills in 1901 further compounded the problems of the company. By 1909 sales had dropped to 50,000 gallons. At the time of John Edward's death he had been retired for several years and the company was under the management of his brother.
Apart from his career in distilling John Edward was a founder member of Kilbeggan cricket club. After the death of his father he lived with his mother and younger brother at Ardnaglue House and farm. After his marriage (1881) to Mary (‘Muds’) Edwards, with whom he had two daughters, he moved to Brusna House beside the distillery. He died in January 1920.
John Edward's wife, Mary (‘Muds’) Locke (1863–1943), was one of ten children. After the death of her father, an engineer working under William Dargan (qv), while working on the railways at Mullingar, the family were left in financial difficulties. She therefore married John Edward Locke at the age of seventeen. A keen huntswoman, she earned the nickname ‘Muds’ due to her fondness for hunting with the Westmeath Hunt. Lively, vivacious, and unfaithful, she had a number of extramarital affairs with gentlemen in the surrounding area. As a result John Edward forced her to leave Brusna House in 1895. Given the social standing of the Locke family in Kilbeggan and its association with the local convent, the divorce proceedings that followed (February 1896) attracted much attention within the community and the local press. She received an allowance of £600 a year. Despite the reduction in her fortunes she continued to follow the Westmeath Hunt and was one of the first women to drive a car in Westmeath.
After the outbreak of the first world war she travelled to France, and worked with the Red Cross in various hospitals. Before the end of the war she returned to Ireland to work in the Westmeath Auxiliary Red Cross Hospital in Mullingar. She later received medals from the French government in recognition of her efforts. Although a shareholder in the company since the death of her former husband, she did not become a director of the company until after the death (1927) of her brother-in-law, James Harvey Locke, who had been managing the distillery. However, despite the fact that she held the post until her death, she played a limited role in the company. She lived at Brusna House from the time of her marriage until the year of her divorce, when she moved to a house near Kilbeggan called Ballinagore. She died at a nursing home in Dublin in 1943.
John Locke's youngest son, James Harvey Locke (1860–1927) began working in the distillery when it was under the management of his mother, Mary Anne, and later managed the distillery jointly with his brother, John Edward. He subsequently became a director and large shareholder of the company on its incorporation (1893). While the main concern of his brother was the running of the distillery, James Harvey took more interest in sporting pursuits. Having started hunting from the age of seven, he kept his own pack of harriers as well as riding out with the Westmeath Hunt. He was also an avid horseracing enthusiast and kept a large racing stables at the Curragh as a young man. An annual challenge race had taken place at Kilbeggan since 1840. However, it was not until the Locke family offered the use of a field at Ballard that the Kilbeggan races were formally instituted (17 April 1879). The races were discontinued in 1885 and subsequently revived (1901) with the help of James Harvey. Apart from the many horses that won in his colours he personally rode several winners.
In addition to his involvement with the Kilbeggan races he was a keen polo player and a founder of Kilbeggan cricket club with his brother. Interested in politics, the Lockes supported C. S. Parnell (qv) in the 1880s but, bowing to clerical pressure, opposed him after the Irish parliamentary party split in 1890. In 1899 James Harvey stood as a candidate for Westmeath county council on a platform of economic nationalism and support for a catholic university, and was accordingly elected as a member for the Kilbeggan rural district council. His brother having retired several years before his death, James Harvey assumed management of the company until his own death. However, apart from a minor upturn during the first world war, sales of whiskey were at an all-time low and production at the distillery was suspended in 1924. It did not resume until 1931, four years after his death.
After the death of his father, James Harvey moved with his mother and brother from Brusna House to Ardnaglue House. When his mother died (1889) he inherited the house and lived there for the remainder of his life. He never married but had a long-standing affair with Mrs Florence Savage (née Edwards; sister of his brother's wife), who had previously been married and for whom he built a cottage called the Glebe on the lands of Ardnaglue. He died in November 1927. As well as inheriting Ardnaglue, Florence Savage received the largest bequest in his will.