In the centre of Navan, County Meath and on the banks of the river Blackwater, the unsalubrious remains of a mid-19th century mill that once helped bring prosperity to the town. The building dates back to 1851 when erected by William Morgan to provide flour for his bakery elsewhere in Navan. It continued to serve this purpose until early in the last century when converted into a sawmill, remaining in operation until 1999 when the enterprise closed down. Since then the property has stood empty, being seriously damaged by arsonists in July 2007. Two years ago the local authority turned down the planning application from a local developer to demolish the mill, and erect on the five-acre site a 186-bedroom nursing home and 40 apartments.
The roofless remains of Woods Mill, County Offaly, so named because when described in the 1840s it was operated by one Thomas Woods. Dating from the late 18th/early 19th century, a time when increasing numbers of these commercial complexes were being constructed throughout the country, the building is of five storeys and six storeys. It operated as both a flour mill (water-powered thanks to the adjacent Little Brosna river) and a kiln. Converted to a saw mill at the end of the 19th century, it now stands empty, another mute witness to our increasingly lost industrial heritage.
‘GOLDEN, a village and post town, in the parish of Relickmurry, barony of Clanwilliam, county of Tipperary, and province of’ Munster, 3½ miles (W.) from Cashel (to which it has a sub post-office), and 82 (S.) from Dublin, on the road from Cashel to Tipperary. containing 114 houses and 648 inhabitants. It is a neat and improving village, situated in what is called “the Golden Vale,” and is divided into two parts by the river Suir, over which is a stone bridge. on which King William signed the Charter of Cashel, and near it is an old circular stone tower. Here are flour and oat meal-mills, and constabulary police station fair are held on May 18th, Aug. 26th, Oct. 26th, and Dre. 15th, and petty sessions once a fortnight The parochial church was erected here in 1808, and a tower was added by aid of a loan of £700 from the late Board of First Fruits, in 1812. There is also a large R.C. chapel.’
From Samuel Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837)
In the last census (taken April 2016) the village of Golden, County Tipperary had a population of 267, a drop of some 9 per cent on what it had been a quarter of a century earlier, and barely 40 per cent of the figure given by Lewis 180 years ago. The ongoing and seemingly unstoppable decline of Ireland’s rural towns and villages has been the subject of much debate in recent years. At least part of the explanation for this phenomenon lies in the fact that these smaller urban centres now rarely generate much economic activity and employment, Golden appearing typical in this respect. Such was not always the case: the buildings shown here are what remain of a larger mill complex, dating from the early 19th century when a considerable number of these industrial complexes were developed in response to improved agricultural practices, and increased demand for corn and other grains. The majority of these mills closed fifty or more years ago because they were no longer economically viable, but the evidence of their presence – and the important role they once played in the commercial prosperity of a village like Golden – remain, at least for the moment. In the middle of last month, a large and splendid mill complex in the heart of Drogheda, County Louth was gutted by fire. It had been allowed to stand empty and neglected for many years, and accordingly the building’s eventual destruction was entirely predictable. The loss is considerable and unnecessary, and means that part of Drogheda’s history has disappeared. Looking around the detritus in Golden’s old mill, it would seem a similar fate awaits here, even though the building is (like that recently burnt in Drogheda) listed by the relevant local authority as a Protected Structure. When that happens part of the area’s collective memory will be forever lost.
The former flour mill located on the north bank of the river Boyne at Slane, County Meath. A joint enterprise between three parties, Blayney Townley Balfour I of Townley Hall, William Burton Conyngham who lived at Slane Castle, and David Jebb, a local miller and engineer, it was constructed 1763-66 at a cost of £19,187 (including the erection of a fine miller’s house). When the English agronomist Arthur Young visited the site in 1776 he described it as ‘138ft long, the breath 54ft and the height to the cornice 42ft, being a large and handsome edifice, such as no mill I have seen in England can compare with it.’ He recorded the mill’s output as being upwards of 17,000 barrels of flour (20 stone each) per annum and the granaries capable of holding 5,000 barrels, making it one of the largest such operations in Europe at the time. The mill was operated by only 10-12 people despite then being the largest of its kind in Europe.
Tomorrow the Industrial Heritage Association of Ireland is hosting a one-day conference on the operation, presentation and promotion of industrial sites (see http://ihai.ie/calendar-of-events): seemingly some 100 of these around the country are open to the public. Lacking the necessary mineral wealth, Ireland never experienced an industrial revolution similar to that of our nearest neighbour. However, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, large mills were erected harnessing the power of water (of which we have a great deal) to engage in activities such as milling. The legacy of that enterprise can still be found in sites across the entire island. Many of them are in various states of disrepair, such as this complex on the banks of the Shannon in Banagher, County Offaly.
An advantageous position on the south-eastern side of the Shannon helped Banagher to thrive from an early period: pilgrims visiting the monastic sites at Clonfert and Clonmacnoise would pass this way and it appears the first bridge across the river at this point was built around the middle of the 11th century. While there was long a military presence in the town, its economic development was initially dependent on the wool trade. Major expansion occurred from the late 1700s onwards, thanks to the development of the Grand Canal, providing this part of the country with access to the ports of Dublin and Limerick. Banagher now became a major centre for the grain trade. A boom followed and around the onset of the Great Famine in the mid-1840s the town’s population was some 3,000 (today it is a little over half that figure). Decline followed in the second half of the century, not least owing to the abolition of the Corn Laws which allowed for the importation of cheap grain from abroad, with inevitable consequences for the domestic trade. The mill by the Shannon offers evidence of the town’s rise and fall.
Now derelict, the core of the complex is a five-storey, twelve-bay grain mill and malting works. Seemingly there was a mill on the site by the late 1700s (shown with an external waterwheel on its north gable on an engraving of c.1800). This was presumably used as a flour and corn mill and parts of it remain incorporated into the present, much-enlarged block. On Ordnance Survey maps of 1838 and 1884 the building is described as being ‘Haughtons Mills.’ Initially it took advantage of water channelled through the arches of a bridge spanning the river at this point but later a steam engine was installed, making the use of water redundant. Around 1880 the buildings were taken over by F.A. Waller and thereafter used for malting. It only ceased to be operational in the 1970s when Waller amalgamated with D.E. Williams of Tullamore and the Banagher buildings were no longer needed. Since then the main block, together with ancillary offices and out-houses, has fallen into ruin. Can the site hope to have a viable future? Perhaps tomorrow’s conference might produce some answers.
Following Monday’s account of Belview, County Offaly, here are some views of the building which provided the funds to build a fine house. Ballycahan Mill (located in County Westmeath, although only a few hundred yards distant) is believed to date from the late 18th century, the main structure being a three-storey block used for the bleaching and scutching of linen. On a map of 1838 the field to the southwest of the mill is described as the ‘old bleach green’ indicating that the surrounding land was also used as part of the industrial process. Like Belview, this building is now just a shell.
It is often forgotten that the Penal Laws affected not just Roman Catholics but non-conformist sects such as Presbyterians and Quakers. Members of the Society of Friends (to give the latter their correct name) were unable to attend university, refused to join either the army or the Established Church, were excluded from any active role in politics and barred from many other areas of public life. As a result of these exclusions, many Quakers went into business, where they became known and respected for their probity. Certain industries attracted them, among these brewing, cotton manufacture and, in particular, milling. Driving across Ireland, one often sights large, now-abandoned mill buildings, many of which were developed by Quakers. Today’s pictures illustrate the interior of one such complex outside Clogheen, County Tipperary.
In his still-invaluable Topographical Dictionary of Ireland published in 1837, Samuel Lewis notes ‘An extensive flour-mill, employing from 30 to 40 persons, the erection of which is supposed to have cost £6000, has lately been built at Castle-Grace by Sam. Grubb, Esq., of Clogheen.’ There were already a number of similar ventures in the vicinity, one of which Samuel Grubb had acquired in 1798. The family, like many others, arrived in this country in the middle of the 17th century and settled in the south-east region. Samuel Grubb was originally a merchant in Clonmel before he started to buy and develop mills around Clogheen some fifteen miles away. The late 18th/early 19th century was an especially prosperous time for Ireland, especially prior to the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. Grain was in great demand throughout these islands and in consequence a large number of grain mills were constructed. That erected by Samuel Grubb on this site is no less than five storeys tall and runs to twenty bays.
The Parliamentary Gazeteer of Ireland published in 1846 reports that in Clogheen ‘a large trade in agricultural produce is carried on, chiefly for exportation, and more than 80,000 barrels of wheat are annually purchased in its market and in the neighbourhood. which is made into flour of very superior quality and sent by land to Clonmel, whence it is conveyed down the [river] Suir: For this purpose there are seven flour mills in the town and neighbourhood, which are worked by fourteen water-wheels. There is also an extensive brewery.’ Slater’s Commercial Directory of Ireland, which appeared in the same year, also observes, ‘The corn-mills of Messrs. Grubb are very extensive, employing great power and a considerable number of hands.’ Nevertheless circumstances were about to change: the Corn Laws first introduced in 1815 to stimulate domestic production by imposing tariffs on grain imported into the United Kingdom were repealed in 1846, in large part due to famine in Ireland and the urgent need for more and cheaper foodstuffs. With the abolition of tariffs, the way was open for cheaper grain from the central plains of the United States to enter the market, with inevitable consequences. By 1880 all but one of the seven mills seen by Samuel Lewis less than half a century earlier had closed down and before the 19th century closed grain milling had ceased altogether in the Clogheen area.
This particular mill had a second life when in 1939 a later generation of the Grubb family used it as operation centre for the newly-established Tipperary Products Ltd. A huge variety of foodstuffs were processed and prepared in the old mill, not just diverse sorts of fowl but also rabbits (formerly widespread in the Irish countryside and much in demand especially during the years of the Second World War). A similarly wide range of fruit passed through the building, both wild (blackberries, sloes and so forth) and orchard grown, all to be used in the manufacture of jams and juices. This operation continued until only a few decades ago but eventually it too ceased and since then the building has sat empty. Today its interior contains ample evidence of former activity, successive floors heaped with bottles and jars, wooden boxes and woven baskets. Currently only occupied by pigeons, even after almost two hundred years the premises remains remarkably well-preserved and serves as testament both to Ireland’s manufacturing history and to the industry of the Quakers. Given that the mill has already enjoyed one resurrection, perhaps another could yet lie ahead?