Category Archives: Irish Culture

Postcards from Ardagh, County Limerick – a hidden Ireland

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Ardagh Main Street (Image thesilvervoice)

For over 35  years I lived adjacent to the small village of Ardagh in rural west County Limerick. We came here from London in 1981, back to the parish where my late husband was born and grew up. It is astonishing to think that I have lived here much longer than he did and this opens up interesting questions about where ‘home’ is. Is it where we grew up? Is it where we lived longest? Is it where we have best memories? A debate for another day, but Ardagh is the place that was ‘home’ to me for longer than anyplace else, in fact for almost half of my life!

At first sight Ardagh is a low key unremarkable place. The village has suffered from the general decline in the towns and villages of rural Ireland, having seen the closure of  general stores, petrol stations, a number of pubs and more recently, the Post Office. It is not on any tourist route, and but for GPS systems routing vehicles (and inappropriately heavy commercial traffic at that, on our twisting narrow access roads) through the village on shortcuts to and from Listowel, Limerick and Foynes, we would probably see relatively little traffic. The village street dominated by a Catholic Church, in all honesty  has little to commend it. It has a few commercial properties including a butcher shop, and a couple of pubs. It has many traces of better times, throwbacks to times of more commercial activity in the village, such as closed and abandoned public houses, a closed timber factory, and several houses with very large front windows, indicators that once upon a time shops traded from these premises. A road leads off the main street towards the local school that caters for pupils up to age 11 or 12, a school attended by my own children. The village ‘ends’ at the junction of the Main Street with the busy Newcastle West/ Foynes Road, for many years a dangerous junction that is thankfully now marked by traffic lights.

But there is more to Ardagh than the very unremarkable village street. It is in fact a shining example of a ‘Hidden Ireland’, an Ireland that has to be sought out and explored and when that surface is scratched there is real treasure to be found! The Ardagh locality has a number of historic features and a very rich late prehistoric and early medieval heritage, making it unique among the villages of Ireland.

A glance back at the 1901 and 1911 census for Ardagh reveals that not much has changed in the village over the past century. The census returns show a small number of grocers and publicans and a number of  servants, farm labourers, railway workers, coopers, blacksmiths etc such as would be found in a small rural community. The hinterland is lush farmland at the edge of the Golden Vale  which provided employment for farm and agricultural workers.

The name Ardagh is derived from the Irish word, Ardachadh, which means ‘High Field’. The Ardagh area has been inhabited for aeons, and there is evidence for such all about the place. The area has a high concentration of ‘Ringforts’, which are fortified dwellings dating back to the first millennium. There are quite noticeable Ringforts at several townlands near the village including  at The Commons in Ardagh, at Dunganville, at Rathronan and at Reerasta with their earthworks quite evident to this day.

Rathronan Ring Fort (Image thesilvervoice)

In 1981 a very large Hill Fort, covering over 50 acres and dating back possibly 3,000 years to the late bronze age, was identified during an aerial survey of the area. The climb to the top is worthwhile, and will be rewarded with stunning views of  five counties – Limerick, Clare, Tipperary, Cork and Kerry. This Hill Fort at Ballylin, known locally as The Black Hill, is one of the largest ever discovered in Ireland, yet it remains relatively unknown.

The Black Hill Hill Fort

The Black Hill Hill Fort seen from the Foynes Road.

Just across the road from our house was the Ringfort at The Commons with a beautiful view of thousands of years of heritage!

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The Ringfort at The Commons, with the Hillfort at Ballylin in the background (Image Damian Shiels)

Ringforts are often associated with fairies!  My mother in law used tell tales of cattle straying into Dunganville Fort (which was near her home ) and people trying to round them up unable to find their way out again sometimes for hours on end!

There is a ‘Holy Well’ dedicated to St. Molua, the Patron Saint of the catholic parish adjacent to the graveyard in the village. St Molua died in 629. It is not really known whether or not he lived in Ardagh as there is no written evidence of any direct connection with him, and it is thought that there were dozens of St Moluas in Ireland. So which one was he? Mary Kuiry local historian is an authority on the St Molua associated with Ardagh and an interview with her can be heard here.

The ivy clad ruins of an old church in the graveyard date to about the 15th Century and it is believed that there was an earlier church on this site. According to Lewis Topographical Dictionary of Ireland the church ‘was destroyed in the insurrection of 1641, and has not been rebuilt’. Among the burials in the ruins are those of a Bishop of Limerick, Robert De Lacy.  He was made bishop by Pope Clement XII in 1737 and died on August 4th 1759.  He chose to be interred in the family vault in Ardagh rather in more sophisticated surroundings!

The present Roman Catholic church dates from 1814. I found this very surprising as both inside and out, it looks very modern. A 20th Century renovation seems to have removed every vestige of an earlier building .

The interior of the church is very pleasant and bright and visitors are welcome.

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Interior of the catholic church (Image thesilvervoice)

There are two other churches in the vicinity – the ruined  Church of Ireland at Kilscannel  which dates from 1822 and is interesting as there are both catholic and and protestant burials in the grounds. The oldest headstone in this graveyard dates to 1795. This church is located adjacent to a sharp bend in the road, where motorists must slow down. A local story tells of car doors mysteriously opening and closing again at this spot, souls apparently getting a lift to someplace. Of course you do not believe these tall tales, but you cannot help but wonder when you pass by late at night!

The other church is the Kilronan Church of Ireland and is also in ruins. Dating from 1820, this little church is accessible by means of a narrow lane. I find that there is something very serene and magical about it. Attached is a small graveyard with about 40 or fifty headstones and two mausoleums.

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Rathronan Church of Ireland in ruins (Image thesilvervoice).

I was fortunate enough to get to see inside this church a few years ago. It has some nice windows and the pulpit stands abandoned.

This beautiful spot is the final resting place of William Smith O’Brien, Irish Nationalist, Member of Parliament and leader of the Young Ireland Movement. See an earlier post about him here.

The road to the little graveyard where Smith O’Brien rests is accessed from the Foynes road.

His family worshiped at this church as they lived nearby in Cahermoyle House. He died in 1864. His funeral was attended by crowds of people who lined the route between his home and the graveyard. It is fascinating to walk up the quiet narrow laneway in the footsteps of such a famous funeral cortege.  This site is of national importance because of his sacrifice for the people of Ireland and really deserves to be better known as indeed does this beautiful site.

Just three years after the death of William Smith O’Brien, on March 5 1867, about 40 men attacked the police barracks in Ardagh. This was part of a general national rebellion against British Rule in Ireland, organized by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and known as the Fenian Rising. I think Smith O’Brien would have been proud that the small village near his home put up such a show of strength with their pikes and muskets marching on the police barracks! The insurrection was unsuccessful, due mainly to lack of planning and coordination, but nevertheless it set the scene for the 1916 rising in Ireland.

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One year later again, Ardagh was back in the news. This time it was because of the discovery of one of the most wonderful treasures ever found in Ireland!

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While digging potatoes in a field at Reerasta Ringfort, two local men, Jimmy Quin and Paddy Flanagan, unearthed the treasure. This hoard of magnificent objects included the very distinctive 8th Century Ardagh Chalice, fashioned from silver, bronze and gold. The chalice and the rest of the hoard are in the National Museum of Ireland where they have pride of place. The Sam Maguire Cup, awarded to winners of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, is modelled on the Ardagh Chalice. Our home was for many years the only house in Reerasta South in modern times, a fact that filled us with pride. Our site was at the edge of the farm on which the Ardagh Hoard was discovered.

There is a very nice new monument in the grounds of the Catholic church in Ardagh marking the discovery of the hoard in the parish. It would be wonderful if there were some decent replicas in the village as it would certainly be a tourist attraction for the thousands of tourists who pass within a few miles of it on their way to Kerry!

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The very attractive commemorative monument, with carved representations of the Ardagh Hoard.

The Great Southern Trail, an off-road walking and cycling greenway passes through by the disused Ardagh Railway station. For delightful traffic free walks and spins in all seasons this amazing amenity is  second to none and in my opinion is one of the highlights of West Limerick.

Located in a beautiful part of West Limerick, with lovely views across the rich farmland, Ardagh deserves to be ‘on the map’ and explored and is a perfect day tripper destination.

You will be very welcome!

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Ardagh  Signage

 

*I am much obliged to Skyview Photography for permission to use the wonderful aerial footage  of the village. See more awesome footage and images at their website http://skyviewphotography.ie/

Further information.

http://www.southerntrail.net/

https://westlimerickheritage.wordpress.com/

http://skyviewphotography.ie/

 

 

 

 

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Games children played

Hurley burley trumpa trush
The cows are in the market place
Míle muc, Mála muc
How many horns stand up?

For decades I have been trying to trace the origins of this rhyme recited by our father to his small children and grandchildren. Perched on his knee he would drum out the rhythm on their backs; he would raise a  number of fingers behind their back and they had to guess the number. If they guessed incorrectly, he would say ‘five (or whatever number) you said, but three it was’ and off he would go again. If they guessed correctly the game was ended with ‘Two (or whatever number) you said, and two it was’. How the children loved it, even though neither they nor our father really understood what they were saying!! I asked him once what it meant and where he got it and he said he thought it came from Fanad, in County Donegal where he and his siblings spent much time visiting Aunts and cousins during their childhood. He never knew the meaning of it and he may well have been reciting it phonetically. There was always a plentiful supply of children about so perhaps he picked the verse up by watching adults acting it out with smaller children. Whatever the origins, I remember him playing this game with younger siblings and later with my own children and their cousins, his grandchildren. Interesting too to see that the next generation has continued the tradition! My own daughter set me straight on the wording as she remembers it, and she in turn has played it with her own children.

Maurice Leyden's Book 'Boys and Girls Come out to Play'

Maurice Leyden’s Book ‘Boys and Girls Come out to Play’ (Image thesilvervoice)

It was very exciting to find reference to a similar rhyme in a book I recently discovered called ‘Boys and Girls Come Out To Play. A collection of Irish Singing Games’ by Maurice Leyden. This book traces the origin of the rhyme to the 1790s. It was associated with an outdoor  game for several children. One is blindfolded while another ‘thumps’ out the rhyme on his back while reciting
“Hurly burly Trump the trace
The cows ran through the market place
Simon alley hunt the buck
How many horns stand up?”
The ‘thumper’ then holds up several fingers while the blindfolded child has to guess the number. A correct guess means the blindfolded child becomes the thumper, while an incorrect guess means that another child continues the thumping. All of this sounds potentially violent, but the version used by our father was gentle and fun for the child who insisted on having more!

I got to thinking about children’s singing games generally and wonder how long they have been in use and how they are faring in the 21st century electronic world. We did not learn these from books, this was oral tradition that had in the main, been passed down from older children to younger children, often over hundreds of years. Rhyming and singing games were and are an important part of childhood. Nursery rhymes remain popular but I wonder if the ‘playing’ element surv?

Most parents would probably still play singing  games with small babies. I remember our mother bouncing babies while reciting:

Gun Jack, Gun Jack
Who’ll buy fish?
Out with the money
In the wee wooden dish.
At which point the child,facing the mother and being securely held by the hands, is dropped through the mother’s knees! The resulting giggles were a thing to behold! I have not been able to find reference to this game anywhere and would be interested if any readers have heard of it?

After our ‘knee bouncing ‘ days we went on to use rhymes for our everyday street and schoolyard games. Everyone knows of ‘Ring a ring a roses’ recited by a group of children in a circle holding hands. For a number of decades we were led to believe that it was a shout back to the days of the plague when a rosey rash appeared on the face and by ‘ all falling down’ was meant all dead! (This theory is nowadays contested by folklorists)

Ring-a-ring o’ roses,
A pocket full of posies,
A-tishoo! A-tishoo!
We all fall down.

This game can be dated back to the 1790s and was extensively recorded in the mid 19th century so it has been passed on by word of mouth for a long time.

We enjoyed singing games in large groups such as ‘Nuts in May’ and ‘The farmer’s in his den’.  Both these games  required an outer moving ring of children holding hands,and someone in the middle of the circle who selects another person to join them in the centre, while the circle sang and danced around.

Nuts in May

Here we go gathering nuts in May,
Nuts in May, nuts in May,
Here we go gathering nuts in May,
On a cold and frosty morning.

Who will we have for nuts in May,
Nuts in May, nuts in May,
Who will we have for nuts in May,
On a cold and frosty morning.

We’ll have [name] for nuts in May,
Nuts in May, nuts in May,
We’ll have [name] for nuts in May,
On a cold and frosty morning.

Who will we have to take her/him away,
Take him/her away, take him/her away,
Who will we have to take him/her away,
On a cold and frosty morning.

We’ll have [name] to take him/her away,
Take him/her away, take him/her away,
We’ll have [name] to take him/her away,
On a cold and frosty morning.

This rhyme was first recorded by Alice Gomme in The Traditional Games of England, Scotland and Ireland (1894-8). It is a variant of “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”, with which it shares a tune and closing line. (Wikipedia)

The ‘Farmer’s in his den’ was similar in format.

The farmer’s in his Den, the farmer’s in his Den,

Heigh ho, the derry-o, the farmer’s in his Den.

The farmer wants a wife; the farmer wants a wife,
Heigh ho, the derry-o, the farmer wants a wife
(The ‘farmer’ picks a girl who joins him in the circle). The game goes on with
The wife wants a child; the wife wants a child,
Heigh ho, the derry-o the wife wants a child

(The wife chooses a child to join them inside the circle) The game continues

The child wants a nurse, the child wants a nurse

Heigh ho, the derry-o the child wants a nurse

( A nurse is chosen and goes into the centre group). The game continues with the nurse choosing a dog, and the dog choosing a bone. At the end everyone sings

We all pat the bone, we all pat the bone

Heigh ho, the derry-o, we all pat the bone

while patting the ‘bone’ on the back, (hopefully as gently as possible) and the bone then becomes the farmer and the game begins over again. Interestingly Leyden suggest that this rhyming game is of much more recent origin dating probably from the beginning of the 20th Century.

We also had chants – our sister believes solely for mocking people, such as

Skinny Malink Malodoen,
Big Banana Feet
Went to the pictures and couldn’t find a seat
When he found a seat, he soon began to eat
Skinny Malink Malodeon
Big Banana Feet!

Name-calling at its worst!

When we children’s were not at school we were  OUT, meaning we were away playing. In our case this could  mean that we were riding a bike or tricycle on the street, playing cowboys and Indians in the planting, away in a field hiding in corn, down by the shore looking for Fluke (a flat fish), playing shop in someone’s shed with old empty bean and pea tins, chasing Mrs Duffy’s hens; or playing marbles or horseshoes in the back lane.

Playing marbles

Playing Marbles. All we needed was a bag of marbles and a hole in the ground!  (Image: Manchester Daily Express)

Burling hoops, was another favourite. For this we had to commandeer an old bicycle wheel and a stick to have hours of fun and exercise trying to keep the wheel upright.

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Playing Hoops. Image Wikipedia

Often we would find a plank of wood and throw it across an old barrel or a stone and we had an instant see saw, with no thought of health or safety!

children playing seesaw

An improvised see saw (Image Wikipedia)

See-saw, Margery Daw,
Johnny shall have a new master,
He shall have but a penny a day,
Because he won’t work any faster.

This rhyme is said to date from the 1700s and is thought have origins in sawyers cutting wood and using the verse to keep a rhythm.The ryhme and the game have survived as children enjoy modern see saws in playgrounds and backyards.

Boys tended to play football while girls would play hopscotch, skipping or ball games. My favourite ball game required a smooth gable end and a small ball. Every time the ball was thrown against the wall an activity had to be performed before it was caught again.

To the best of my recollection (and happy to be corrected) it went something like this:

Plainey- ball thrown against wall and caught again

Clappy- clap hands before catching ball

Roley – Roll hands and arms forward before catching ball

Poley- Roll hands and arms backwards before catching ball

Backey – Hands are clapped behind the back before catching ball

Right Hand – Ball caught in right hand

Left Hand – Ball caught in left hand

Sugar Bowl- catch returning ball in open hands with fingers entwined

Basket – Catch the ball with fingers locked together and hands facing oncoming ball

Under the arch – the ball is thrown under the right leg

Round the back – the ball is thrown from behind the back

Tip the ground- the ground is touched before catching the ball

Burley round – the player spins around in a circle before catching the ball.

My grandchildren are not familiar with this simple and interesting game, so my next project is to show them how it goes and I am sure they will have lots of fun perfecting their skills!

How magical to think that these small girls have benefited from the ‘Hurly Burly Trumpa Trish’ Oral tradition that has spanned centuries and the miles from Fanad to Australia!  I like to think that they will check back with their Mother when they try to recall our father’s special bouncing game to share with their own children! What a fascinating link back to their past.

Do you have any favourite street singing games? I would be very interested to hear from anyone who has special recollections of them, so do please get in touch!

References

Boys and Girls Come out to Play.  A collection of Irish Singing Games. Maurice Leyden Appletree Press. 1993

Wikipedia.org

In researching this post I discovered a great website that deserves a look!

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Schools Folklore Collection – A treasure trove for family historians?

Between 1937 and 1939, the Irish Folklore Commission set up a scheme in which over 100,000 schoolchildren collected local lore and history from older generations in their locality. Most of the topics are to do with local history, folktales, legends, proverbs, songs, customs and beliefs, games and pastimes, crafts and local monuments. These stories were collated by the local National School teachers in 5,000 schools across all 26 counties in what was then the Irish Free State. This material forms part of one of the largest Folklore Collections in the world, which is in the care of University College Dublin. The Schools Collection is now being digitized by Dúchas.ie and is being rolled out online. Although not all of it has been transcribed, it is searchable by place, family name, school, topic. Many of the entries are in Irish. (I hope that these can be translated in due course so that overseas researchers may reach the wealth of information on the heritage, culture and way of life in the parishes of their ancestors.)

I spend many hours idly browsing through this collection and recently was totally astonished to discover some members of our own family. Our uncle had gathered folklore and  his informants were none other than his parents, our maternal grandparents!

This was their story on Local Marriage Customs

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The original entry in the Dúchas.ie collection

Most marriages take place from Christmas to the beginning of Lent, which time is called Shrove. June was thought a lucky month for marrying in, and May, July and August were thought unlucky. Friday, Saturday and the 28th December were thought to be unlucky days.

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Seamus Heaney’s Flaggy Shore

image Seamus Heaney was one of Ireland’s best loved poets. His death came suddenly on August 30, 2013, leaving an entire nation bereaved. While his work and his words live on in bookshelves and on bedside tables across the land, he is greatly missed. He had such a way with words and such a mellow speaking voice that I for one could listen to him all day long.
imageOn my recent trip along the Wild Atlantic Way I happened upon The Flaggy Shore in County Clare on the shores of Galway Bay. So here in front of me was a seascape that inspired this great man. On a grey day the leaden sky hung over a silvery sea lapping a silvery grey shore. I could not help but wonder how such a scene could inspire anyone!  And therein is his greatness. I recall reading that Heaney said of his poem about the Flaggy Shore ‘we drove on into this glorious exultation of air and sea and swans.’ The swans were not on the lake beside the shore on the day of my visit but there certainly was an abundance of air and sea!

Perhaps it takes a man of Heaney’s caliber and talent to see such beauty in what could be considered a relatively mundane landscape! Many know of this poem as ‘The Flaggy Shore’ but the correct title is ‘Postscript’.

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Postscript

And some time make the time to drive out west

Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white

Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park or capture it

More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open. – Seamus Heaney
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Seamus Heaney, poet, playwright, translator and lecturer, and the recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature passed by this Flaggy Shore before me. I am so glad he did. He died three years ago. His legacy lives on.

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Postcards from the Wild Atlantic Way:Easkey County Sligo

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Postcards from the Wild Atlantic Way: Glencolmcille- a place apart

imageTucked away at the end of a valley in south Donegal is the unique and beautiful little village of Glencolmcille. It is easily missed by the tourist as the village is on a spur road that leads only to Glencolmcille. Apart from the scenic location, the village is renowned for the wealth of archaeological evidence of settlement dating from 3,000 B.C, a strong musical tradition, as well as being a haven of peace and tranquility.
The road into the village gives an idea of the remoteness of the village. I love these wild rugged empty spaces.

Then you see it way below where the land meets the sea…

Glencolmcille at the end of the valley

Glencolmcille at the edge of the sea

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The village is tucked under Glen Head with its Martello Tower and the church dominates the village

The world famous feature of Glencolmcille is ‘An Clachán’ cluster of replica buildings that depict life over about three centuries. This museum development was the brainchild of the local priest, James McDyer who spearheaded a campaign for the development of small community based industries and tourism  in a bid to stop the constant migration from the area. When he arrived in the area in 1951 there were no proper roads, no electricity service and no water supply. He was the champion of Glencolmcille and indeed a thorn in the side of officialdom as he relentlessly sought to improve the lot of the people in this deprived area.

Among the clusters of small buildings are a school, a grocery shop as well as a number of typical houses of times gone by. My favourite has to be the school as it so closely resembles the school I first attended in the 1950s at the age of 3, complete with slates for learning to write.

Outside there is a replica Sweat House..I am not sure of the purpose of this, possibly to cure ailments?

A Sweat House

A Sweat House

I loved the collections in the houses, all telling if times that were, long before the advent of electricity, when families had to be self sufficient.

Beds were usually placed near the fire for warmth.

The kitchen dresser held all the China and sugar bowls and jugs

And we had similar washstands to these, these were in use before running water became available.

There’s so much to see and to do at Glencolmcille, it is easy to see why people return time after time. For now though, I have to keep heading south along the Wild Atlantic Way, but I leave here promising that I will return one day.

 

 

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The Mill on the Swilly

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.

The Corn Mill at Newmills

The Corn Mill at Newmills

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.

Blue Flax

Blue Flax

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.image 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.

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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.

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