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.

Reference:

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.

20 comments:

  1. What a great post about the wind mills and the watermill...and I agree, thinking about your ancestors in that place does make it even better!

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    1. Barbara, thanks very much for your comments. Indeed it makes me happy to walk on the grounds that they may once have walked on.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  2. These are fine windmills (and watermills). The Small Mill reminds me of our mills here in Lanzarote. Here is a link to one in the famous Cactus Gardens so that you can see what I mean. http://www.lanzaroteinformation.com/content/windmill-cactus-gardens-lanzarote

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    1. Little Nell, thanks very much for your comments. That's a lovely windmill in Lanzarote; it looks similar to the ones at Rosslare and Tacumshane in Ireland.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  3. Beautiful, serene photographs. Watermills of all sizes are delightful.

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    1. Colleen, thanks very much for your comments. I agree they are delightful.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  4. Jennifer, Lovely windmills and beautiful photographs! They remind me of way back in the 80s when I attended the wedding of a close friend in Holland. Windmills were everywhere. Very serene just like Colleen says. Catherine.

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    1. Catherine, thanks very much for your comments. I'm glad they've elicited what sounds like lovely memories.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  5. Wonderful pictures. I love the old stone buildings of yesteryear. I notice the small older mill is still stone clad. I wonder - was the newer Great Mill built of stone originally & plastered over, do you know?

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    1. La Nightingail, thanks very much for your comments. I'm with you in the love of old stone buildings. I would guess that the Great Mill may have been stone as well, but don't know. I'll have to ask.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  6. gorgeous photos...another place to add to my bucket list :)

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    1. Pauleen, thanks very much your comments. Sounds like a good addition.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  7. I had not idea that there were windmills in Ireland. I intend on visiting next year and have put this on the list of places to visit.

    Thank you.

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    1. Sharon, thanks very much for your comments. I hope you have a wonderful time when you visit. Skerries is lovely, and if you take the train out of Dublin, it gives you a great view of the sea coast.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  8. Lots of great information here, and lovely photos.

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    1. Lorraine, thanks very much for your comments. I appreciate your appreciation of the information. There's so much history in north County Dublin.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  9. Absolutely a fascinating post. Dinna know that there were windmills such as these in Ireland. And I, like you, am given to imagining what it was like for ancestors to brig their grain to the local mill. Reminds me of my gggrandfather's diary and descriptions of thrashing grain and taking it to the local mill. Hardy folk, those ancestors of ours.;

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    1. Joan, thanks very much for your lovely comments. Hardy folk indeed! How wonderful that you have the diary of your gggrandfather. I'm many shades of green with envy.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  10. Wow, who knew? You did. I had no idea Ireland had windmills. Your photos are fantastic, and lots of info. Now I want to go there too.

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    1. Charlotte, thanks very much for your comments. I hope you do go. Skerries is a lovely town, and there's a great pub on Skerries Bay that I think you'd love; it serves excellent seafood. It's called 'Stoop Your Head'.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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Cheers, Jennifer

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