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.