Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wordless Wednesday, almost: Through the Mourne Mountains to Belfast

The Mourne mountains bear a mantle of the most wonderful amalgam of colours: tawny gold and burnt umber, ivory white and slate gray, and layers of every imaginable shade and shadow of green. Rubble stone fences weave through the natural spaces, and hedges mark out the fallow fields as they wait for spring. Ancient bridges arch over icy streams and rivers. Sheep graze on lower hills, their heavy woollen coats protecting them from the frosty weather. Smudges of white clouds speed across a smoky sky, coaxed by the same wind that gently rocks the train as it rumbles on the tracks toward Belfast.

My paternal 2nd great-grandfather Francis Magee may have travelled this same route on the Dublin and Belfast Junction Railway, as it was then known, moving from Drogheda to Belfast for work. With him in the move was his wife Elizabeth McNally and their two small children, Mary and Michael. It was in Belfast that my great-grandfather Patrick Magee was born in 1866. The family later returned south, moving back first to Drogheda, where their son John Francis was born in 1869, and then to Dublin by at least October of 1870, when their son Francis Joseph was born. As I travel this route I wonder what such a trip was like for the family. Did they see the same beauty in the mountains that I see? Was it a trip of joy and anticipation, or one of trepidation?


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Sepia Saturday #267: 'Great & Small': The Windmills of Skerries

Approaching the 'Small' Windmill at Skerries.
The 'Great' Windmill can be seen here, but comes into full view a little further up the road.
The inspiration image for today’s Sepia Saturday features a number of elements, including the contrasting sizes of the vehicles pictured, so for my contribution I have decided to go with large and small, or more specifically 'great' and small, as this post visits one of my favourite places in north county Dublin with 'Great and Small': The Windmills of Skerries. The images are in colour again this week, but hopefully the ocher and umber colours of the rubble stone mills, the wheaten shade of the grain fields, and a 490 year old windmill, along with its younger mate, a 265 year old windmill, will make up for the lack of sepia.

Windmills first appeared in Western Europe in the late 12th century, and although there are many windmills in countries such as France and the Netherlands, it may be less likely that people associate windmills with Ireland. The earliest known windmill in Ireland is believed to have been in existence in County Wexford around the mid-13th century.

According to Lieutenant Joseph Archer, writing in 1801, there were once windmills on the lands across north county Dublin — where ancestors on my maternal tree farmed for generations — in Donabate in the Barony of Balrothery, and in Balheary in the Barony of Nethercross. Windmills could also be found on farms in the areas of Garristown, Rush, Stephenstown, and Skerries.

There are a number of windmills, and ruins of windmills, around the entire island of Ireland, including some which still have their sails, such as the Ballycopeland windmill in Millisle, County Down, the Blennerville windmill in Tralee, County Kerry, and two windmills in County Wexford: the Tagoat windmill at Rosslare Harbour, and the windmill at Tacumshane Village.

The 'Great Mill'
Notice the 'tail pole' at the rear of the windmill.
In county Dublin, windmills are said to have been in use since at least the early 16th century. While land in the area might very well hold the ruins and rubble of windmills that once were, the only windmills which remain standing in full form in north county Dublin are those at Skerries.

Both of the windmills at Skerries are tower mills, and are referred to as the ‘Great Mill’ and the ‘Small Mill’. The arms of the mills — called sails — are attached to a moveable cap. When the mills were in use, the wooden cap on the Great Mill was moved by the ‘tail pole’ which extends from the rear of the windmill. The thatched cap on the Small Mill rests on hardwood bearings and it would be turned to the wind by virtue of a hand winch cranked from inside the mill. The turning caps ensured that the sails of both mills would always face into the wind. I find myself in awe of the ingenuity of the persons who conceived of such clever contraptions.

A couple of elements distinguish the Great Mill from the Small Mill. At 490 years old, the Small Mill dates from 1525, has four sails, crafted of wood and canvas, and is just over 12 meters high (about 40 ft.). It stands on the highest natural point in the town, and is said to have been built on the site of a prehistoric fort. At 265 years old, the Great Mill has five sails which hold rows of shutters — a 'modern' invention — is 15 meters high (about 49 ft.), and dates to 1750. By 1840, the Small Mill was a ruin, but it was restored in 1995, and now both mills are regularly maintained.

The 'Small Mill' looks as though it is being overtaken by suburban sprawl.
Just around the bend from the watermill you can spy the 'Great Mill'.
Although I know some of my ancestors and farming relatives in north county Dublin sold barley to Guinness Brewery and to Jameson Distillery, I do not know for certain if they had windmills on their properties. On the maps of Griffith's Valuation, there is evidence of a flour mill on one property, but was it wind or water driven? A search of the tomes in the Valuation office in Dublin brought me back as far as 1855, but I was able to find no evidence of any windmills on family property at that time, so the search continues.

According to the historian at the Skerries’ windmills, since my ancestors were doing business with Guinness and Jameson's, and would have wanted the best result in the quickest time, they may very well have been among those farmers from all across the area who came to Skerries to have their grain processed simply because the mills here were more efficient, given that they had two windmills and the watermill (from 1839) available for grinding grain.

The principle building of the Watermill.
The mill run leading to the water wheel of the watermill.
Dating from around 1839, the watermill is a relative stripling compared with the windmills. It is comprised of a number of stone buildings, including the four story watermill building, as well as a mill pond, a mill race (the channel which carries the water that drives the mill wheel), sluice gates (sliding gates for controlling the flow of water), and the mill water wheel.

One of the best things about visiting the windmills and the mill is imagining my ancestors possibly making the trek here to have the fruits of their labours processed, so that they might fetch the best price at market. It is perhaps fitting that on the winter day of this particular visit the wind began to whip up wildly and the threatening skies made good on their threat, dowsing me with a mix of freezing rain and ice pellets, extinguishing any romantic notions I might have ever entertained about my ancestors hauling their grain here. I am sure it was damned hard work. Still in all, I like to picture them standing atop the hill under a crisp blue sky looking out to the Irish sea, with the sails of the windmills sweeping past to the hum of the grinding stones working their magic on the grain.

The 'Great Mill' from another perspective.
Peering out through one of the old windows in the watermill,
looking toward the 'Small Mill', waiting for the rain to abate.
Be sure to stop by the Sepia Saturday blog to see how others have interpreted today's inspiration image, and perhaps you will be inspired too.


Archer, Joseph. The Statistical Survey of County Dublin. Graisberry & Campbell Printers, Dublin, 1801.
A free PDF of this book is available in the digital book collection of Ask About Ireland.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Tombstone Tuesday: 'Chaloner's Corner': the smallest cemetery in Dublin

The Campanile (Bell Tower) of Trinity College.
While people the world over may be familiar with the Campanile — the bell tower of Trinity College in Dublin City — many may not know that the Trinity campus is also home to Dublin's smallest cemetery. Tucked in behind the chapel at its north-east corner, next to the dining hall, you get to this small but lovely burial ground by following the path to the campus ATM and then going up the steps to the left of the machine.

The cemetery is named for Luke Chaloner (also spelled Challoner; the inscription on his tomb sets it as Chaloner), one of three founding Fellows of Trinity College in 1592. Since Luke Chaloner's interment in 1613, the families of deceased College provosts down through history have had the option of having their loved one interred here in the vault under the chapel. The box tomb which replaced Chaloner's original tomb in 1798 marks his place of interment. There are also more recent burials in this space, forever connecting those interred to the campus where they once held sway over generations of students.

Most of the markers are so weather-worn they have only the shadow of an inscription left. Also, although there is no sign of such, according to Provost John Pentland Mahaffy, writing in 1903, the foot of Chaloner's tomb once bore alabaster replicas of Chaloner's arms. That must have been an interesting and rather curious sight. The vault also holds an alabaster effigy of Chaloner which his daughter had commissioned for the original chapel upon her father's death. When a new chapel was constructed (1787-98) the effigy was moved outside, and left subject to the vagaries of the weather. Suffice to say, sea air and alabaster do not mix well, and over time the sculpture was damaged by the weather. Eventually it was cut into two pieces and deposited into the vault via a slide.

Chaloner's Corner
Cornered in from a different perspective.
Up the steps brings you to this special burial ground.

Mahaffy, John Pentland.An Epoch in Irish History: Trinity College, Dublin, its Foundation and early Fortunes, 1591–1660. London,1903.

Are there any Trinity College Graduates on your family tree? If so, then visit my Tuesday's Tips post The Alumni Dublinenses: Finding a well educated Irish ancestor.

To view another very small cemetery in Dublin City centre visit my post: In the midst of the metropolis, a Huguenot burial ground .

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