The Mills of Killimor

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The parish had two watermills in the nineteenth century, Ballycahill and Meagheramore, or Slateford as the latter was sometimes known. It may well have had mills at an earlier date. The town land name Kilnamullen (the Church of the Mill) implies that there was a mill in the area in the medieval period or indeed an earlier time. Since Kilnamullen has only some small streams running through it any such mill would have been a horizontal one. In this type of mill the waterwheel rotates parallel to the surface of the stream, as opposed to the conventional vertical wheeled mills that people are familiar with. Some future detailed archaeological investigation of the townland will, in all probability, identify the site.

image002The Valuation House Books, dating from the period 1832 – 1840,[i] show that Bryan McDermott, miller, had a corn and tuck mill at Ballycahill. Each mill had its own separate waterwheel indicating that both mills were operated independently of each other. The wheel for the corn mill was twelve feet in diameter whilst that for the tuck mill was slightly smaller at eleven feet. Both wheels were two feet wide and were driven by a two foot fall of water.

The old eel-weir

The corn mill had one pair of stones for grinding oats, and had a valuation of £3 which was based on a working period of 12 hours a day over a four month span. The tuck mill, which didn’t need to be attended to once it was set in motion, had a working time of 22 hours a day over a three month period, and had a valuation of £1.5s 0d. These low valuations are hardly surprising as the mill complex did not have a proper weir to regulate the flow of water, – an eel weir, with a flood gate or sluice being utilised for this purpose. The mills benefited considerably from the first Killimor Drainage Works. The river and tail-race (which takes away the spent water from the wheel) were deepened, giving a better working head for the mill wheels. The old eel-weir was replaced by a masonry one running diagonally upstream and across, what is now the main branch of the river. These improvements led to an increase in working horse-power available to the miller. This resulted in the increased valuation applied to the concerns by Griffith’s Valuation in 1855. The mills were valued at £10. Griffith names Martin McDermott as the miller, leasing the property from John Connolly. Both the first edition Ordnance Survey maps and Griffith’s Valuation describe the premises as a corn mill, implying that the tucking or fulling cloth had finished here by 1840. This is not the case however.

The old eel-weir

Tuck or Fulling mills were introduced into Ireland in the thirteenth century, possibly as early as 1211-12. Whilst the earliest reference to such mills in County Galway dates from the period 1591-92,[ii] it is quite possible that the use of such mills in the county predates this by many years. These mills were used for scouring and felting (milling) woollen cloth to cleanse it of oil and grease, and to promote the maximum degree of shrinkage to render the cloth fit for market. Many of the smaller tucking mills, like Ballylee, (adjacent to Yeats Tower), were The old eel-weir after it was scoured and washed elsewhere In these mills the cloth was folded and laid out on a platform and “paddled” by cams on the wheel axle. Ballycahill was a larger operation where it would appear that raw wool was cleaned and scoured, as well as woven cloth. The mention that the mill was equipped with two combs indicates that raw wool was processed through to woollen thread for the manufacture of worsteds. This added to the income of the miller who was able to supply thread to local weavers and cloth mills, like that at nearby Leitrim More.

Improvement in water power

In 1864, the sale of the premises through The Landed Estates Court was advertised in The Western Star newspaper.[iii] The sale was as a result of a petition from Michael Cooke for recovery of debts from Martin McDermott. The advertisement gives some details concerning the mills. They were occupied on a lease dating from September 7th 1824, and were described as an oatmeal mill with three pairs of stones, a fan, the usual driving gear, waterwheel etc. and a tuck mill in good working order. The increase in grinding stones was, no doubt, due to the improvement in water power made available by the drainage works of the previous decade. The sale notice indicated that the mills were “well suited for Flax Mills”. Flax growing in County Galway was on the increase as a result of a revival in the linen industry in the west of Ireland. Ballycahill was, in fact, converted into a flax mill as The Western Star of November 19th 1864 recorded:

The machinery of this concern will, we understand, be started on Monday, the 21st inst., by Mr. George Ledlie, the Company’s Manager and Superintendent. This will be the seventh Scutch Mill in this county, and – no less than five having been erected in connection with the Flax movement alone! Mr. Ledlie was one of the first who gave an impetus to the flax movement, and we, therefore trust his present speculation may prove successful.

Ledlie had for many years been a judge of root crops for the Ballinasloe Agricultural Show and in this context had travelled extensively around East Galway. Following a two week tour of the area in August 1863, he wrote to the Galway Express lamenting the lack of flax growing in the region and promoting the establishment of scutching mills.[iv]

The Western Star and Weekly Examiner of November 26th 1864 reported on the grand opening as follows:

On Monday last the Mills of Ballycahill near Killimore, now owned by Messrs. Friedlander & Co. were opened by Mr. George Ledlie for Flax Scutching purposes. There was a very large attendance of all classes on the occasion, and great interest was felt in the proceedings. About forty persons sat down to a sumptuous dinner which was presided over by the Rev. Father Coghlan, P.P., who delivered a most eloquent and spirited address. Several interesting speeches were delivered and toasts proposed. In the evening the female portion of the population, numbering over 200,     were handsomely feted, there being several musicians present, and dancing was kept up to five o’clock next morning. The whole proceedings reflected great credit on Mr. Ledlie, the Company’s active and efficient manager.

Joseph Friedlander held patent rights on various machines used in flax scutching and had his own mill at Knockloughrin, County Derry. Whilst it was in his interest to promote the construction of linen mills, Friedlander was conscious of worker health and safety issues as can be seen from his letter of August 29th 1865 to Robert Baker, factory inspector. Friedlander maintained that the scutching of flax in a mill was an industrial, as opposed to an agricultural, process. He was very critical of many mill owners who paid piece-work rates, particularly those who operated water powered mills, as he claimed they tried to maximise the working hours thereby enhancing their profits. He applied factory regulation hours except on Saturdays.

Scant regard to ventilation

Employees at his mill worked the 60 hour rule: quitting time was 6 p.m. on weekdays and 4 p.m. on Saturdays. He also claimed that scutching mills were prone to go on fire, and as a result were constructed as inexpensively as possible with scant regard to ventilation. He maintained that flax dust was harmful to the workers and stated that steps should be taken to improve ventilation in this type of mill.[v] George Ledlie had a petition of bankruptcy filed against him in 1869.[vi] Patrick Shanry Meara was named as the creditors’ assignee; his function was to gather together Leslie’s assets and hold them in trust until they could be divided out amongst the creditors. In the legal notices Meara was described as the ‘mill manager, and land steward, of Killimor, shopkeeper, now out of business’. It is unclear, at this point in time, whether Leslie bought out Friedlander or not, but it is obvious that the speculation failed.

The linen industry had all but disappeared

The attempted revival in the linen industry in the western parts of the country was on too small a scale to compete with the much more organised northern mills, and the lack of markets led to a reduction in the acreage of flax grown. By the late 1860s the linen industry had all but disappeared in South East Galway. In 1879, John Flynn was in occupation of Ballycahill, which was described as a woollen mill in his advertisement in the Western Star and Weekly Advertiser of August 30th of that year. He had installed ‘the best description of NEW CARDS’ and was able to ‘execute all orders sent to him.’ Obviously he had been in business for some time with machines that for were somewhat defective, and had lost some custom. He advertised that his agents, Mrs. John Walsh of Society Street, Ballinasloe, and Edmond Morrisey of Dunkellin Street, Loughrea, would receive wool carding into rolls and friezes, and also blankets for tucking. l Mill had turned full circle in its operations. A fishery court case, from the same year, makes it clear that both waterwheels were still working, so it appears that oatmeal production, as well as processing wool, were being carried on. Flynn was prosecuted for blocking the Queen’s Gap – an opening in the weir at the top of the fish pass that had been installed during the drainage works. Flynn claimed that he could not work one of the wheels due to lack of water, and had blocked the gap with some planks. He claimed the right to do this through regular custom and practice. Captain Mansfield and James McDermott J.P. were not impressed, and quoting the relevant section of the Act, fined him £1.[vii] Under Flynn’s occupation the woollen side of the business had been enhanced. In the 1840s, the tuck, or fulling mill, were fitted with two combs for the production of thread. Flynn installed a carding machine to prepare the wool for the manufacture of cloth.


Since both raw wool was scoured and cloth tucked (or fulled), the apparatus used was suitable for use as the wash mill which was required by the Friedlander flax mill. This would have reduced the cost of converting the mills and would have greatly facilitated the subsequent reversion to a woollen mill. The wool or cloth was placed in the “box” of the machine against the curved wooden breast, and was pounded by two hammers which were lifted and released alternately by tappits on the side of the waterwheel, or cams on the wheel shaft. The feet of the hammers were shaped so that the material was turned constantly, and alternately soaked and squeezed to wash out dirt and impurities. Initial scouring was often carried out using heated stale urine. Subsequent treatment in the fulling stocks or wash mill then cleansed the wool or cloth. It is not known when the woollen mill ceased operating. The County Council Rateable Valuation books, covering the period 1895 to 1915, named James Nolan as occupier of the mills which are described as a corn mill.

The rateable valuation had been reduced to £6 which indicates that the tuck mill was no longer in use. According to the 1901 census returns Nolan was a fifty five year old bachelor living in house number three, Ballycahill.

Turf burning heater

The 1911 census lists only three households in the townland as opposed to five in 1901. Nolan is not listed but seemingly was still in occupation of the mill until 1914 when he was succeeded by Francis W. Lynch as occupier who, in turn, was succeeded by Michael Dillon in 1915. The mills are now owned by the D’Arcy family who have converted it to run as a hydro – electric station supplying the family home, farm and a workshop with power. Most of the internal machinery has been dismantled but is stored on the premises. The vertical grain drier with its turf burning heater, installed in the latter stages of the mills working life, is still in situ as are the upper reaches of the sack hoist and the grain hoppers (on the upper floors). Of particular interest are the three warning signs that greet people as they enter the building. They all relate to particular hazards of milling and are a stark reminder of accidents that have occurred at mills all over Ireland and, indeed, further afield. The rope referred to was the sack hoist and the unwary could get pulled upwards off their feet and suffer severe injury. The No Smoking sign was an essential warning as mills, due to their dusty atmosphere, were prone to go on fire. Mill fires were a frequent occurrence and usually led to the total destruction of the building and its contents. The stark warning about children was necessary as they invariably found the working machinery fascinating. There are numerous published accounts of fatal and serious injury accidents occurring to people who became entangled in the machinery.


Hardy’s Mill

Whilst there is considerable information available about Ballycahill Mill the same cannot be said about Hardy’s Mill, Meagheramore, which was also known as Slateford Mill. The Valuation House Books (1832 – 1840) show Joseph Hardy in occupation of a corn mill here. The waterwheel was fourteen feet in diameter, four feet wide and was powered by a three foot fall of water. The wheel was an undershot one, driven by the flowing water striking the lower section of the float boards, and drove one pair of millstones. The valuation of the premises was £6.16s. based on a working cycle of fourteen hours per day over a seven month period during the year.[viii] The first edition Ordnance Survey map shows the mill with an eel weir running diagonally upstream which was similar to the arrangement at Ballycahill. This created a slight fall for the mill. The power potential was enhanced by the installation of a raked sluice gate to control the flow of water to the wheel. The groove for the sluice can be clearly identified in the surviving lower courses of the riverside gable. This ensured that when the river was low water could be jetted onto the wheel using a very narrow opening of the sluice.

A fish pass was

The eel weir was replaced by a masonry one in the first Killimor Drainage scheme and, just as at Ballycahill, a fish pass was subsequently added.   Hardy subsequently moved to Dartfield, Loughrea. It is possible that this migration was due to the destruction of the mill by fire. It is claimed by some that the fire was started maliciously.[ix] The mill was, obviously, a ruin by the late nineteenth century. The Galway County Council Valuation Books, covering the period 1895 – 1907, make no mention of it. Had it ceased to be used but was still intact, the mill would, as was practice, be described as “at rest.” The fact that the mill was no longer a working one, but still had water power rights attached to the site, with an intact mill weir to control water flow, made it a very attractive site for the proposed woollen mill for Killimor in 1920.

Local Industrial Association

Darrell Figgis, from the Commission of Inquiry into the Resources and Industries of Ireland, stated himself to have been very impressed with the potential of the location of the proposed mill, and suggested that a local Industrial Association be formed to promote the idea. This was duly done on Sunday, May 2nd 1920, a committee formed, and subscriptions taken up to go towards the costs of having an engineering assessment undertaken of the viability of the project.[x] Some time later an article on the costs associated with the erection and equipping of a yarn mill appeared in The Galway Express, August 14th 1920. Whilst it does not specifically refer to Hardy’s Mill, there can be little doubt but that its author, M. Sweeney, had it in mind as a suitable site for just such an enterprise. Unfortunately, the project never got off the ground. Little remains today to show that a substantial mill existed on the site, except a portion of the riverside gable wall and the stank or wire (a training wall to direct water to the wheel). The weir, described in April 1945 as derelict but apparently a well built cut stone structure,[xi] was removed in the second Killimor Drainage Scheme. If one stands on the stank one has a view of the wheel pit, the axle opening, the trash screen which prevented debris from fouling the water wheel, and the tail race with its access bridge.


Lisduff Mill      

Lisduff Mill, although located just outside the parish boundaries, has strong links to Killimor.Not only did many residents of the parish have their corn ground there but it was run for many years by members of the Winters family from Kilnamullen. The Valuation House Books (1832 – 1840) list Patrick Kirwan as the miller. The wheel was twelve feet in diameter, two feet wide and driven by a fall of three feet. The mill had four pairs of stones and had a valuation of £3.7s.0d., based on a working cycle of a twelve hour day, over a six month period of the year.[xii] The County Council Valuation Books, for the period 1894 – 1929, give details of the change in ownership and occupation of the mills. In 1894 John Abbott was the occupier in fee of the mill (rateable valuation £25) and considerable land holdings. He was succeeded by Patrick G. Darcy in 1896, who, in turn, was succeeded by H. D. M. Barton. In 1909 Barton leased the mill to Patrick Winters. The valuation was reduced to £13. Patrick Winters was in occupation of the mills until 1918 when William Glynn became the occupier in fee. The 1901 census returns for Kilnamullen lists a Michael Winters, aged 38, as a miller. In the 1911 returns his brother Patrick, aged 44, is listed as a farmer and mill owner, even though the Valuation Book for that period shows him as leasing the property. Michael Winters obviously worked the mill for Barton and, possibly, for Darcy. There may well have been a previous generation of the Winters family involved in milling.


Because the bed level of the Lisduff River was lowered during the drainage works of the 1850s, the head and tail races for the mill had to be altered. This, in turn, led to other alterations to the mill. According to the Final Award for the Drainage District of Killimor the alterations were as follows: ‘The construction of a weir and sluice gate, together with the deepening of the head and tail races, and the excavation of the mill pond; also the alteration and lowering of the water – wheel and machinery, re-building the gable, and giving an increased fall to the water – power of said mill.’[xiii]

Worked by a tractor

The opportunity was taken to reconstruct the entire mill as the plaque on the façade attests, “Lisduff Mill Rebuilt 1855”. The water–wheel was replaced with a composite one, axle and arms of cast iron and the floats of timber. The new wheel was increased in size to fifteen feet diameter and three feet six inches width. It was an undershot wheel with a raked sluice to regulate water flow. This type of arrangement ensured that the maximum power was abstracted from the least possible amount of water. The mill gearing was linked to work three pairs of millstones, two pairs for crushing and grinding oats, and one pair for wheat meal. The mill in later years was occasionally worked by a tractor positioned at the rear of the mill building. A belt drive connected the tractor to a spur wheel fixed on the outside wall of the building. This was connected to an iron countershaft which carried the drive into the mill and could be connected to either the main mill gearing, or just the wheat stone gearing alone. This allowed one or two pairs of mill stones to be worked in a dry season. The mill stones have been disused since 1971 but the drive was used to work a roller mill and a crusher for some years after this. The mill is now rapidly decaying.[xiv]


[i] William E. Hogg, The Millers and The Mills of Ireland of About 1850, Dublin 1998, gives details abstracted from Valuation House Books. Ballycahill is listed on p.51.

[ii] A. T. Lucas, ‘Cloth Finishing in Ireland’, Folk Life Journal, Vol. VI, pp. 18 – 67 at pp.19–21 & 65. A useful publication for background information on this type of mill is R.A. Pelham Fulling Mills n.d. Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, booklet no.5.

[iii] June 11th 1864.

[iv] Reprinted in The Tuam Herald, September 5th 1863.

[v] See Report of Robert Baker at p.18 in Reports of Inspectors of Factories for the Half-Year ending 30 April 1865, H.M.S.O. London, 1865.

[vi] Irish Law Times, July 17th 1869, p.508. The Solicitors & Law Times for August 21st 1869 lists the proceedings as being against Meara who was appointed creditors’ assignee on July 23rd.

[vii] Western News & Western Examiner, Dec. 13th 1879. I am grateful to Ann Ridge for bringing this notice to my attention.

[viii] Hogg op. cit. p.55.

[ix] Christy Cunniffe, pers. comm. with author.

[x] Galway Express for May 1st and also May 8th ,1920. I am indebted to Ann Ridge for bringing the references to the proposed woollen mill to my attention.

[xi] O’Kelly & Shiel op. cit. p.2.

[xii] Hogg op. cit. p. 55.

[xiii] Schedule D of Final Award on p.15.

[xiv] Gavin Bowie, The Watermills of County Galway, Tuam 1983, at p.23.

This page was added on 03/04/2017.

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