Delahunty’s Mill, Halfway House

For some reason, I have had, for as long as I can remember, this idyllic notion of the workings of a watermill. It includes a gushing stream of water, the clanking of gears turning in a fine stone building, the dust escaping from corn sacks as they are spilled into a hopper and the coming and going of horse drawn carts in country lanes.
Delahunty’s Mill
That idyll was fueled by passing Delahunty’s mill at Halfway House. The rushing stream, especially in times of flood. The network of roads thereabouts, leading off towards even smaller country lanes. Fine solid gate posts on the left hand side of the road, marking the mill site as you come under the bridge on the way towards town. All in all it’s location is a classic in terms of mill sites.
“Tailrace” from the mill wheel, note stream on left. 
Today however its a crumbling ruin, but the old mill and the many outbuildings are still in evidence, Gone is the busy coming and goings of carts, farm labourers and workers, replaced now by motorists hurrying along the roads.  The mill is slowly fading back into the earth, being swallowed by trees and ivy, nature reclaiming her wealth.
Nature has every reason to flex her might.  As the mill itself required a legion of men at some point in the past to tame nature and through sheer might and engineering skills to create the mill in the location it’s in.  The stream that flows past the mill, didn’t actually power the mill you see.
Although the mill wheel was driven from the stream, it was actually impounded by a dam about 300 yards upstream in a man made pond on the Brook Lodge estate.  To get the water to the mill, which is located on ground above the natural stream, a “leat” or “headrace” was constructed by embanking stone and clay in a winding channel. Builders preferred to cut into an existing incline which automatically created one boundary, the other constructed out of the clay and stone that was excavated.  The present stream is fed by a spillway of the dam, to release the excess water.

“Brook Lodge” mill with man made pond
and headrace marked in blue
dam on the stream and pond
The much overgrown headrace, easily mistaken as a country path
Once a head of water was built up, it was released into the headrace and it coursed down to the mill and was directed over the wheel to drive the gears and belts that milled the corn.  Wheels which were fed by water from atop (overshot), were much more economical to run, perhaps 3 times more efficient than undershot wheels.  Another particular feature of the mill was that the mill wheel was actually contained within the Mill, not on the side. The water then ebbed away down the tailrace and rejoined the stream close by the bridge.
how the water was guided onto the wheel, walls about 4ft high
the entrance and where the wheel once turned
Unlike Ballycanavan tidal Mill with it’s many negative running features, Delahunty’s mill had a longer spell of life. Some months back I called to Eddie Delahunty in Kilcullen Lower to see if he had any memories of the mill.  I had mistakenly assumed that it was Eddie’s family who had last owned the mill, but was corrected on this. However Eddie did recall as a youngster being at the mill and remembered the clanking of the machinery and the hauling away of bags of milled corn by horse and cart. Eddie was of the opinion that the mill had ceased working in the 1930s but reopened for a short time during the “emergency” or second world war.
Liam Hartley of Jack Meades could tell me that as youngsters he remembered the wheel still in place but in a poor state of repair.  He also reminded me that it was only part of a very industrious location in the past that included the pub, shop, post, blacksmith and the mill.  His understanding was that it was all part of the Ballycanavan estate at one time, another feature of the Bolton legacy.

Although the mill still stands, it is crumbling and in a poor state of repair.  It wont be long I fear before photographs, some written accounts and old maps will be all that we have of much of  our early industrial and engineering past.

Thanks to Eddie Delahunty and Liam Hartley for information in writing this piece.

Watts. M.  Watermills.  2012.  Shire Publications. Oxford.

Ballycanvan tidal “salt” Mill

Last summer whilst out kayaking on the river I chanced a trip up Ballycanvan stream, which leads up to the ever popular Jack Meads 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 weeks 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.

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.