Newmills Corn and Flax Mills – Newmills Corn and Flax Mills has been named Best Presented Heritage Site in Ireland for 2010. At this wonderful heritage site 5km outside Letterkenny visitors can get an insight into the County Donegal’s industrial history.
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The award for the Best Site/ Museum resulted from the Mill being nominated by the Industrial Heritage Association of Ireland. The Mill is one of the few monuments to industrial archaeology in state care.
Newmills Corn and Flax Mills is a complex of industrial buildings the oldest of which dates back over 400 years. It has one of the largest waterwheels in Ireland, which is powered by the River Swilly. There are actually two mills on the site, one for grinding flax and the other for oats and barley, the second was made in 1867. The millrace of 1km is also an impressive sight. The mills are owned by Ireland’s heritage agency, which organizes regular tours with demonstrations of the mill machinery at work. Visitors can also watch a video about the history of the mill complex.
The entire Mill Complex is a fascinating example of an economic activity, which once was commonplace throughout rural Ireland, but is now sadly almost unique. It is a joy to wander through, an experience which evokes in the visitor a strong sense of connection with a past. The place tells of a society, when life was both hard and uncompromising, but also contained a certain richness and which in its own way was meaningful and rewarding.
Corn and flax mills have been located in Newmills since the early 1800s when it was established by Joseph Hunter. This combination of corn and flax mills is found mainly in Ulster where both types of mill were intimately linked to the surrounding farming economy. In 1861, Joseph Hunter sold the mills to John Devine and when Patrick Gallagher moved to Newmills in 1892, he bought the complex from William Devine, John’s son.
In addition to the mills, Gallagher purchased a residence, public house, grocery and ancillary buildings, including a scutcher’s cottage This was located in a field beside the mill pond. The complex also included a forge on the opposite side of the road as well as a sizable farm of land. The business at Newmills was continued by his son, P.F. Gallagher until his death in 1980.
In 1892 the buildings were in a very poor state of repair and, according to the Valuation Office, the corn mills were disused and had been converted to use as farm buildings. Patrick Gallagher made extensive improvements to the corn mill around 1907 when he fitted the waterwheel present today as well as improving the machinery within the mill. During the WW2 P.F. Gallagher took advantage of the revival of the flax industry when the British Government offered grants to increase the production of flax to guarantee the supply of linen for the war effort.
He demolished a small single-storey flax mill in the early 1940s to make way for the relatively modern looking building. The public house and grocery were an important part of the whole enterprise and proved quite successful in the early years of the 20th century. Indeed, a lively export trade developed and when Sir Thomas Lipton started his grocery business in Glasgow, he received his first consignment of butter, bacon, eggs from Newmills.
The importance of Newmills was recognised in a 1978 An Foras Forbatha inventory of industrial archaeological monuments which identified it as by far the best example of a mill complex in County Donegal. In 1986, the mills were purchased by the state for preservation as a national.
The Office of Public Works has this year purchased the mill owner’s residence, bar/grocery store and out offices at the Newmills Complex, thereby completing ownership of the full site. Grainne Shaffrey, the well known conservation architecht, has been commissioned to research the history and development of the mill and buildings and provide a comprehensive report on its condition. She will then outline a restoration plan
Location of Newmills Corn and Flax Mills