The River Swilly in County Donegal is not a very large river at all, more of a stream in fact. It begins its path to the sea some 24 miles inland and flows into Lough Swilly at Letterkenny. Driving along the leafy Swilly Valley it’s hard to imagine that hundreds of men were slaughtered here at the Battle of Farsetmore in 1567 in an engagement between the O’Neill and the O’Donnell clans.
Just a little further along the valley the mental image of a bloody battlefield changes to one of absolute tranquility, for it is here at Newmills that there are Corn and Flax mills, powered by the waters of the Swilly. This very attractive complex of industrial buildings, the oldest of which is said to be 400 years old, are beautifully preserved as National Monuments by the Office of Public Works.
The Flax and Corn were grown locally and I love to imagine great fields of blue flowered flax waving in the breeze. Flax is the raw material for linen and the process of turning it from a tall grass type plant into beautiful fabric is explained at the centre. Flax has been processed at this site since the 17th Century and a Corn mill has been here since the 18th Century. There was a revival in Flax production in World War 2 when the British Government offered grants to producers to supply linen for the war effort.
At the Corn Mill, Oats and Barley were milled. Both the Flax Mill and the corn mill are powered by the water of the River Swilly flowing over a 25 foot water wheel, one of the largest working water wheels in Ireland.
The large water wheel, furthest away in this image, dates from 1867.
There is something very therapeutic and relaxing about watching these wheels in action.
New Mills Flax and Corn Mills are fine examples of industrial archaeology, beautifully restored to tell a tale of industry in times gone by.