Last week, the Irish Times carried a feature on how an old mill complex at Kilmainham, Dublin was to be restored and given new life as a ‘major tourist attraction.’ (see The former Dublin mill set to become the city’s next major tourist attraction – The Irish Times). There is always an element of surprise about such articles, as though the existence of such a site would be unknown to readers, and so information about it would come as a revelation. In fact, Kilmainham Mill, which in its present form dates from c.1800 but may have been the site of much older buildings serving the same purpose, has been in and out of the news for many years. The mill ceased to function in 2000 and three years later a development company called Charona Ltd applied for permission to convert the place into 48 one, two and three-bedroom apartments in a mixture of new and refurbished buildings. When Dublin City Council approved the scheme, the decision was appealed by a number of local residents and the director of Kilmainham Gaol to the planning authority, An Bord Pleanála. The latter body gave its assent to the developers’ proposals in February 2005, subject to some modifications, but then nothing happened, the economic recession came and the buildings, subject to the inevitable assaults by vandals, were left to fall into dereliction. Finally and following a long campaign by the aforementioned local residents, in December 2018, the site was purchased by the Dublin City Council, and in March 2021, the Irish Times carried a lengthy article announcing that building work would soon commence on the mill buildings: the authority’s project manager declaring that the restoration would be “a game changer in terms of visitor attractions.’ Presumably in another couple of years, the same newspaper will carry another piece announcing the mill’s imminent refurbishment as a major tourist attraction, especially since last week’s article noted that Dublin City Council did not at present have the funds required to carry out the job and would need to turn to central government for assistance. The price tag for this work? Presently estimated to be between €25 million and €30 million.
An admirable website run by Mills and Millers of Ireland (www.millsofireland.org) lists more than thirty mill sites across the country which are at present open to the public. One of these is Fancroft Mill which literally straddles Counties Tipperary and Offaly since the Little Brosna river, which runs right through the property, marks the dividing line between the two counties. The present complex was constructed over a number of different periods but originally dated back to the late 18th century when owned by the Pims, a Quaker family from Mountmellick, County Laois. The mill was re-equipped and enlarged from 1883 onwards, with further extensions added later. It remained in use well into the second half of the 19th century, but then fell into disrepair until the place was bought by the present owners, Marcus and Irene Sweeney.
Beginning in 2006, the Sweeneys embarked on an extensive and thorough restoration of the Fancroft Mill complex. The stone work was cleaned, conserved and repaired, 90 new sash windows installed, the four-storey bay re-roofed and ogee details over the doors enhanced. Internally, repairs to floors and the installation of new stairs permitted safe access to virtually all areas for visitors on guided tours. The water wheel, still for more than 60 years, revolved once more in 2009 and the following year a set of new mill stones was installed, permitting milling capability to be restored for domestic purposes: more recently, a generator was installed and contributes to the household heating system. A tea room and lecture/performance space have also been created inside the complex, a section of the space set aside to house the archives of Mills and Millers of Ireland. Acknowledgement of the work undertaken here was made in 2017 when the Irish Georgian Society awarded the Sweeneys with a Conservation Awards; two years later, Fancroft Mill won the Norman Campion Award Best Museum/Industrial Heritage Site presented by the Industrial Heritage Association of Ireland. Dublin City Council should have a word with the plucky owners of this property. They have shown what can be achieved without a series of headlines in the Irish Times – and for considerably less than €25-€30 million.
Fancroft Mill is open at certain times to the public. For information, please see: Fancroft Mill