Ballycanvan tidal “salt” Mill

Last summer whilst out kayaking on the river I chanced a trip up the Ballycanvan stream, which leads up to the ever-popular Jack Meades at Halfway House.  I made the trip in an effort to track the route of the Lighters that would have supplied the Kilns at Jack Meades with limestone rock to burn.
Ballycanavan mill site
Not long into the trip, however, I came across a curious narrowing of the stream which was obviously man-made as it was achieved with cut stone.  On getting out to investigate I realised I was looking at an elaborate structure, with, at its centre, an old watermill.  What I found most intriguing was that it was in design, very similar to the Saltmills at Dunbrody, as described briefly in last week’s introduction to the mills of the area.
The sluice and the mill pond bottom rt
I’ve sketched the scene in an effort to try explain it better, and hopefully the photos, above and below, may assist too.  Essentially at the high water, two sluice gates were closed to effectively dam the stream and hold the water back. But here is a video I later shot of the site.
1 the Mill, 2 Kiln, 3 Store/office, 4 store? 5 uncovered storage area
Ballycanavan Stream on old OSI map
close up of a remaining wooden pillar on the sluice
The stream was held back or “impounded” until the tide had ebbed away below the dam, and then the water was released under the vertical mill wheel, which turned the wheels to grind the corn.  The water passed under the wheel (undershot wheel) and would disappear down a “tailrace” to return to the stream.  You might note a smaller sluice or “spillway” about 2 1/2 feet wide on the sketch which was in place to safely release the water if required, for example in times of spate/flooding or when repair works were taking place.
Now visiting the mill is problematic for two reasons.  One its in an extremely bad state of repair, with a lot of fallen stone.  Secondly its currently overgrown and on private property, the site being owned by Dr Robin Kane.  I met Robin recently and he happily showed me round the site.  Not alone was I thankful for access, but I was also thankful for the mine of information he had about the mill.
Arch from kiln area into the mill
Kiln area
The mill itself is a fabulous old building, whatever it’s state of decline.  Some sections were actually built on bedrock which rises to over 6 feet in parts.  We could count three floors and we speculated that a loft space possibly made it four floors.  The floors were traditionally called from the ground; Meal floor, Stone floor, Bin floor & loft.  The windows are falling in so counting the floors required looking at the spaces for rafters in the walls.  Getting the corn into the mill was probably helped by the roadway that ran to the rear of the building, which was effectively two floors at least above the ground floor.
There were several other parts to the mill site, the two sections beside the mill were obviously built at different stages as the stone work is different and none are keyed into the other.  Beside the mill is what looks like a kiln area for drying corn and beside that was another large building perhaps a store and/or office space.  Another two storey two roomed building was built less than 50 yards from the mill further up the stream on the roadway that used in the past stretch to Halfway House.  Another structure apparently hewn from rock was to the rear, now overgrown and which we thought another storage area, perhaps for coal as fuel in the kiln.
Robin showing me round the mill site – Mill wheel was on the outside,
the wheelshaft and gearing , belts would have beenin front of where
we were standing. The milling stones were on the floor above
Robin understood that the three sections had been built at different times, confirmed really when looking at the construction from the stream side.  His information suggested dating from Cromwellian times.  Although Captain William Bolton took the area from the Aylwards he did not have a reputation for investment in the property, although that certainly changed with his Grandson Cornelius Bolton, the elder, who I would suspect may have been the builder, but perhaps I am wrong.
Three stages of building
Having never actually heard of the mill previously, I speculated that it must have been abandoned many years ago. Again Robin’s information was that due to siltation from the river, note the mud is some photos, that it was abandoned in the mid to late 19th Century as it continually clogged up the wheel.*  Interestingly, there was no sign of a “tailrace” where the used water flowed back to the stream below.  It’s hard to say if there was a pipe now buried with silt or whether it was an open cut which over time was backfilled, but I tend towards the former.
Robin had also heard that when corn was plentiful, or perhaps if the mill wasn’t operational, corn was taken upriver to be milled elsewhere in Waterford and indeed up the Barrow.  I could imagine that at times of neap tides, sufficient water might be hard to store up in the mill pond. Perhaps another reason for it’s early demise.
A final negative factor was that undershot water wheels were notoriously less efficient to run than overshot wheels (where the water was fed over the top of the wheel).  And there was an overshot fed wheel in the area.  It was just upstream from Ballycanavan and we will pay a visit to this next week.
Thanks to Robin Kane for allowing me visit the site and for the information he supplied to me in writing the piece
Information on mills taken from Watts M.  Watermills.  2012.  Shire publications.  Oxford.

* More recently I discovered a new article from the 1850s describing how the former mill was being used to recycle rags.  Apparently the mill wheel was used to crush and rip material, the strands of which was subsequently rolled into  balls and sold on.

Mills of the area

In years gone by, rural communities depended much more on local resources to sustain themselves and in agricultural terms mills highlight how important grain was as a crop.  At home my grandmother told me they had a hand turned mill, the base of which is still in the garden.  But commercially larger mills were a requirement.

Growing up around the river, one of the many interesting placenames was glasshouse Mill.  Often whilst waiting a drift for Salmon on the ebb tide from the Binglidies we would take a walk in around the ivy clad structure and marvel at the scale of the building.  But in recent years I’ve come to realise there were many such structures locally and some very old, which are worthy of recording.

Now although Glasshouse Mill was on the Kilkenny side of the river, in days gone by, boundaries were not as big a factor when determined by the river, because the river was the route by which the locals travelled.  Therefore although I will also mention Wexford in this piece, its because of their closeness and accessibility via boat that they deserve to be included.

Glasshouse mill, Co Kilkenny

For example, the oldest known mill in the area was at Kilmokea on Great Island.  Kilmokea was a early Christian monastic site and a horizontal mill driven by water was known to exist there. (Colfer p.26)  The monks were also skilled in the making of millstones, which were hewn from suitable rock in Ballyhack, Drumdowney and I imagine it was quite possibly they who tried to extract a millstone on the Minuan, the stone where we as children played the knights of the round table.  A fascinating excerpt on the mill from Horseswood National School is here.

The Knights Templars received grants of land in the area after the Norman conquest.  (Byrne pp 101-107)  The Templars came into being during the crusades and brought many new ideas and products including building techniques and technology back from the east.  These technologies included improvements in milling and windmills.

Interestingly though, Niall Byrne states that the Templars were granted an existing water mill in Waterford (on Johns Pill) and Jim Hegarty in his own publication states that they inherited a windmill on the hill of Passage East at Cuoc-a-Cheannaig and that this would later be known as Nicholsons Mill. (Hegarty p.7)  I remember either reading or hearing of the Aylwards having a Mill in the area, I presume this it is the Passage windmill they refer to, which they possibly “fell in for” following the suppression of the Templar order.

Remains of Nicolson’s windmill, Passage East

The Templars used the Mills as a means of generating income, as did those who followed them.  Essentially the peasants working the land paid for the right to live there, to grow crops and also paid for the milling of their corn.  I’ve also read somewhere that they paid a fine, if they did not have grain to mill.  Talk about a double bind!

Other mills were located at Dunbrody Abbey, on the Campile pill.  Known as Salt mills they used the power of the tide to drive the vertical mill wheel (Colfer pp 62-64).  The process was relatively simple.  When the tide was at high water, the water was held back by a dam, and when the tide went out it was released into a millrace which drove the wheel and which ground the corn.

Watermill (Saltmill) at Dunbrody from Billy Colfer’s book

The two other mills that we know of come from the Bolton era I would imagine.  One was at Ballycanavan and was driven in a way similar to the Saltmill described above.  The other was at Half Way House, take a look to the left as you come under the bridge heading towards town.  Both these mills were facinating in terms of their operation and over the next two weeks I will describe each.

Byrne. N.  The Irish Crusades.  2007.  Linden publishing.  Dublin

Colfer. B. The Hook Peninsula.  2004.  Cork University Press.  Cork.

Hegarty. J.  Time & Tide.  Self published history of the Passage and Crooke Area.

“wearing the green” on St Patricks morn

With St
Patricks weekend coming up, my thoughts turned to that “wearing of the Green” day
of my childhood, and particularly the 9am mass at Faithlegg Church. On reflection I guess the mass stands out, as in those days before it became a “festival” it was much simpler of an affair.  We also didn’t have a car, so no parade.  It was a day off, which like so many others we spent out rambling, and if unlucky and it rained we probably had to re-sit a of Darby O Gill and the little people or Quiet Man re-run.   

My earliest
memories seem to be of coming home from school with a badge, hand made, and pin
stuck on the back with selotape and a drawing of a harp or St Patrick and
plenty of green white and gold.  I read recently that the badge went back to the Irish soldiers that fought in the trenches in World War I.  We cold look forward to a break from school, and also a break from lent.  Lent then generally meant no chocolate, or sweets, or one of my favourites; Tayto crisps.  I remember one Paddy’s day being almost sick after gorging myself on bags of Cheese & Onion.


mentioned before how important church was in our home, and Patricks morning was
no less an occasion.  The main difference
on this morning of course was the obligatory bit of shamrock, splashed across
the left lapel of the coat, and the sticking on of it, always happened just as
we were about to go out the door, in case t’wud wilt before we got to mass.

There were
mornings of course when the shamrock had not been sourced due to scarcity.  Those were even better, as we were dispatched
across the strand and up to Nanny’s in the Russianside.  Nanny, like many of the older citizens, took
a marked pride in the display of the trinity leaf.

Whereas at
home my mother or father first
dressed their own attire and we got the scraps, Nanny’s was different.  Nanny would
have a bowl, fully laden, and as we crashed in atop of her, she’s line us up
and fuss and bother (in a way my mother didn’t have the time to with five to
divide her time) by picking a nice piece, pin it on and then splay it across
the lapel with an eye to detail.

Her own
attire on the day always had a lot of green, and could include in part, and sometimes in total blouse, cardigan, head scarf
and coat.  The coat would have a spread
of Shamrock that would have fed a sheep. 
On then we went, up to the cross roads with her, to board the bus for
the trip around the village.

A borrowed photo from

The bus of
course was a trial.  The oul lads
blackguarding accusing your shamrock of all manner of insult, from wilting, to scrawny
to the worst of all “a bit of oul clover” At the church the unspoken competition would
be in full swing for the most impressive display, but I can never remember
anyone besting Matt “mucha” Doherty.  The
spray of shamrock would be emblazoned across the left side of his chest, like the mane
of a lion.  You could only marvel at how
he managed to keep it fresh looking.    

ceremony on that day always appealed to me. 
I loved the stories associated with Patrick, but most of all I loved the
singing, and in particular the singing of Hail, Glorious St Patrick.  Songs in the church were generally the preserve
of Jim “Lofty” Duffin. 
Jim would stand up in the centre
of the congregation and from his hymnbook, sing solo.  It didn’t feel right to accompany him, and
generally people didn’t.  But there were days during the church year that the congregation shook itself free and one of them was St
Patricks morn.

It’s as if
we dropped our reserve on those days, and, generally led off by Jim who was quickly joined by the women, we
all stood to make it a community event.  For me, I think the day meant a lot to us as a community in a nationalistic kind of way, a day that
celebrated something that made us proud to be Irish in a country that at the time, probably didn’t have a lot to be proud of. 
And in standing to sing, it was almost like singing the national anthem. For a few short years it was the central meaning of the day for me.  

After more than forty years, I can hear the singing yet.  Here’s the words if you want to sing along… oh and a beautiful organ accompaniment if you choose

Hail, Glorious St Patrick

Hail, glorious Saint Patrick, dear saint of
our Isle,
On us thy poor children bestow a sweet smile;
And now thou art high in the mansions above,
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.
On Erin’s green valleys, on Erin’s green
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.
Hail, glorious Saint Patrick, thy words were
once strong
Against Satan’s wiles and an infidel throng;
Not less is thy might where in heaven thou art;
O, come to our aid, in our battle take part.
On Erin’s green valleys, on Erin’s green
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.
In the war against sin, in the fight for the
Dear saint, may thy children resist unto death;
May their strength be in meekness, in penance, their prayer,
Their banner the cross which they glory to bear.
On Erin’s green valleys, on Erin’s green
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.
Thy people, now exiles on many a shore,
Shall love and revere thee till time be no more;
And the fire thou hast kindled shall ever burn bright,
Its warmth undiminished, undying its light.
On Erin’s green valleys, on Erin’s green
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.
Ever bless and defend the sweet land of our
Where the shamrock still blooms as when thou wert on earth,
And our hearts shall yet burn, wherever we roam,
For God and Saint Patrick, and our native home.
On Erin’s green valleys, on Erin’s green
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.

The selling of Faithlegg House March 1st 1816

In last weeks blog we met the Bolton family of Cornelius Bolton the elder, through the visits and writings of Arthur Young.  At this time the families activities were generally of a pastoral nature.  In a few short years however they would shift to an industrial focus, which would lead to a boom time for the area, but alas like all booms, there would also be a bust, and in it, this particular developer would lose all.  

Cornelius the Elder was a progressive farmer
who died in 1779.  In succeeding his father, Cornelius the MP was to become a serious businessman.  He would also be an MP for Waterford on several occasions and would hold several other posts including Mayor and Sheriff.

In 1885 the Mail Packet station was moved to the village of Cheekpoint and it would appear this was to become a serious driver of the industrial plans.  This also coincided with government policy to diversify textile manufacture away from Dublin and substantial subsidies were provided by parliament to villages such as Balbriggen in Dublin, Prosperous  in Kildare and Cheekpoint and New Geneva in Waterford.1

Below is a brief list of the achievements of both Boltons, as I find it impossible to separate the activities of one from the other regarding the earlier developments.  This is also incomplete.  As two of the items were only added in the last few weeks.  I imagine it would take serious historical research to unearth all that the Bolton’s were involved in.

  • Ballycanavan House
  • Brooke Lodge
  • 300 Acres of woodland including the Oak woods around Faithlegg and the Glazing wood
  • Double Lime Kilns (2 at Jack Meades, 2 at Faithlegg and 1 at Cheekpoint) (that I know of)

  • Triple kiln at Ballycanavan

Triple kiln
  • Water Mill at Jack Meades

Old water mill, Jack Meades

  • Water Mill at Ballycanavan

  • Commercial Ice House at Jack Meades
  • Forge on Redmonds Hill
  • Draining of and reclaiming of Marshes including containing walls
  • Textile Industry at Cheekpoint – (Thirty stocking frames, 22 looms for linen and cotton2
  • Brick making factory
  • Rope walk in Cheekpoint

  • Daisybank house – Hotel for the mail packet

Daisybank House
  • Cheekpoint quay (replaced with the present quay circa 1870)
  • Realignment and improvement to main road to Waterford (including the mileposts)

  • Two slate quarries at the Barn Quay

  • Mining operations for cobalt
  • An interest in the plans for New Geneva project

  • Faithlegg House

Some of the above still exist.  However, others are just memories handed down
in the area or linked to placenames such as the rope walk at the Rookery and
the Village Green – most probably a blanching green where the cotton was spread
out to dry in the sun. Others such as the Mail Packet are survived by the milepost,
the house where the captain who ran it – Captain Owen, resided and his daughter
poetess Elisabeth Owen in Fairymount, or by the Hotel which was established to cater for
passengers, now Daisybank house. 
Perhaps Bolton’s lasting legacy was the
building of Faithlegg House.  It was
built in 1783 and the architect was believed to be John Roberts.  Roberts was responsible for some of the
finest buildings in Waterford at the time 
including the Bishop’s Palace, both cathedrals, City Hall,
Theatre Royal and my own favourite the Chamber of Commerce Building at the top
of Gladstone Street.  As Roberts had a country home in the Glen in Faithlegg, it would have been relatively easy
for him to oversee the work. There may be another connection, but one I only heard of, that Bolton paid for the spire on the protestant cathedral.
Although Cornelius would go on to try out
many initiatives to sustain his business ideas, none of his endeavours seems to
have paid off.  The slate quarries were
of poor quality, no Cobalt was found. The ending of the Napoleonic wars led to a slump in demand for textiles.  The 1798 uprising and the the act of Union must have also impacted. Perhaps the biggest impact was the shifting of the mail packet station downriver because of the delay in getting the ships to Cheeekpoint.

In a desperate attempt to stave off his creditors Bolton sold off parts of his operation and land, but ultimately he lost it all.  On March 1st 18163 he was forced to sell Faithlegg house
to repay part of his debts.  199 years ago this week.

He moved to Waterford and it was in the city that he died in 1829.  He is buried alongside his father and other members of the family in Old Faithlegg Church

Bolton’s plot and extended family, old Faithlegg Church

1  Ed Aalen FHA, Whelan K & Stout M.  Atlas of the Irish Rural Landscape. 2003.  Cork University Press p 189

2   Ed Fewer TN, I was a Day in Waterford 2001.  Ballylough Books.  pp 49-53 (excerpt from Julian Walton)

3 “Links and Landmarks being a calendar for the year 1900 recording curious and remarkable events in the history of Waterford city from the earliest times to the present day ” compiled by M. J. Hurley
courtesy of Micheal O Sullivan Waterford History Group, without whom I would not have known this specific detail and who I would like to thank for the title.

Various people will have helped me with information for this piece who I can no longer recollect, but most recently Gerry Boland gave me some info on the Faithlegg Kilns which I was not aware of.