|Approaching the 'Small' Windmill at Skerries.|
The 'Great' Windmill can be seen here, but comes into full view a little further up the road.
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.
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'.|
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.|
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.
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.