Yes, apparently you have to go to Ireland to get the real deal. The difference is in the cream: over there, they layer on thick cream that doesn't dissolve like the sprayed-from-a-can whipped cream with which it's served in the States. Powers is the whisky of choice.
I had one at Tigh Ned's ("Tigh," pronounced like tea, appropriately enough for this blog; it basically means pub) on Inis Óirr (i.e, Inisheer), one of the Aran Islands, while waiting out some rain and the arrival of a pony trap for a tour of some of the island. This came with sugar already in it, just not so much that the primary taste sensation was sweetness. It was a good cup of coffee in which I could taste the whisky, and the thick cream made it smoother.
The next day, I had this one at the
Roundstone Cafe in the village of Roundstone in Connemara. The lady at
the cafe served it without sugar so I could add to taste ... and the
Demarara crystals were lovely. Fortunately, I think us kids can try this at home!
We were on a short meal and leg-stretching break, and I chose to have an Irish coffee then nosh on a Clif Bar back on the bus.
It was just as good as the one at Tigh Ned's. There's a new Irish restaurant in Oakland near Jack London Square, called Slainte, and I'll have to see if they make them like Mam used to, won't I?
BTW, one of our day trip guides mentioned the Irish sitcom "Father Ted," in the context of acceptable Irish alternatives to actual naughty words. The opening helicopter shot sequence is up on YouTube, and the chopper flies over Inis Óirr. The dead giveaway is the old shipwrecked tanker on the southern shore; the sea heaved it up in a winter storm in 1960 and there it's sat ever since. Lovely little island. It's in the Gaeltacht, but apparently people speak Irish at home and among their friends and English in public, so I didn't have a chance to look like an amateur.