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ANYTHING BUT RUN-OF-THE-MILL

IN a quiet corner of Kilcoo sits a 500-year-old building that many in the area may not even realise exists. Yet this building was once the most important structure in the area, a lifechanging piece of technology that helped to feed the people who lived in the locality, as well as providing a social hub. The building is Maginn’s Cornmill, and it will open its doors to the public this Saturday and Sunday as part of the European Heritage Open Days.

James Brennan is the man who is currently taking care of the mill, which has been in his family for generations, and he explained why it is so important. “It was the original technology. You could have grown all the corn you liked – it would have been corn, not wheat or barley – if you weren’t able to get it milled into flour then it wasn’t much use to you,” he said. “I stand in it [the mill] sometimes and I think it is hard to believe what it was like back then. “The mill was not just a mill, it was providing a service to the public and people.” In the past few years, the mill has become better known and historians and experts have been stunned by a piece of architecture that has lasted so long. James said: “The thing that gets them is that the stonework still exists, 99 per cent of it. “It survived through the centuries. Even though it had been fiercely flooded.” He added that it was incredible to think that a structure from all those centuries ago was constructed to withstand great force but without having the advantages of any modern-day technology. “Historians told me about the pressure that it took to start the wheel off. “They point out that the original stonework, there would have been nothing in the way of mortar that could have withstood the pressure of the water.”

Historians have pinpointed the dates that the mill was built as being between 1553 and 1558, during the reign of Mary I or Mary Tudor. But he said that the site has an even earlier history for milling. “One girl reckoned that there was a strong possibility, looking at the stonework, that there was a mill here as far back as the 12th century. It would not have been a water mill. It would have been a stone and they would have ground by hand.” The mill sits on the banks of the Muddock River, where a mill race was created to take water from the river which would power the mill wheel, which would, in turn, grind corn into flour. James went on to say: “The thing that gets them (the historians) is the old ancient mill race which picks up from a quarter of a mile upstream on the Muddock River and brought it through the mill race. Now that would be 10 or 12 feet, at least, below the Mill Road. “The mill race is still there. People can’t believe it. “To walk up it in dry weather is the nicest nature walk you could be in. But at the minute it wants to draw water from wherever it can so there will still be water in it, just surface water.”

The wheel and the inner workings of the mill are gone. The wheel was 13 and a half foot high and two and a half foot wide and may have rotted away, while the cast iron machinery that the mill would have used would have been taken during the war. “I am happy that the building is intact,” he added. “The pit for the mill wheel still exists so I will put a wheel back on to it. If we can get help, then all the better.” The mill came into the ownership of the Maginn family many years ago, at the point, James believes, when men were allowed to purchase land. Throughout the time they have owned it, the Maginns and their forebears have taken care of the mill. “We are so happy that it is in such good condition. “All credit to my ancestors for keeping it in such good state and I will certainly do my best to do the same, and my daughter and granddaughter have an equal interest as well, and I am happy about that.”

As well as maintaining the building, James wants to make sure many more people know about it. He explained a little about how the mill worked. “Going by what my ancestor told me, people would have brought the grain to them. “It was probably in wheelbarrows. “The grain would have been dried for a couple of days in the kiln. “When it was dry enough and the husks were off it, it would probably have been tarred by turf and the husks then it was taken and milled. “They would get it back again and I was told by my great-aunt, that as there was no money back then so they would have weighed off, did all the work, milled the grain, and they (the millers) would have taken a couple of pound of flour, and they would have to barter that in the local towns. The onus was on them to try to get the cost of the milling process back.”

He went on to explain how the life of a miller was spent focused on the job at hand. “Once the mill started to work during the winter months, it didn’t stop. It couldn’t, it was a 24/7 operation. In the kiln house there would have been what they called a saddle bed, where the miller who was on duty could put his head down. “It had its own garden for potatoes, heat and a well for water. A self-contained operation. For them that is the way it was.” Since the mill has been opened to the public, more people have visited and cast more light on how the mill worked. James said: “A man and his son had visited. “The man was a professor but the knowledge that the son had, at 19 or 20 years of age, absolutely blew me away. “There was a thing I noticed all my life sitting up in the rafters, it was six to eight inches long and an inch-and-a-half deep, wedged at both sides. “As soon as the boy saw it he said that was what the millwright used for the stone. “The two stones are not there anymore. But that is what they used to get the right tracking across the stone, depending on how fine the flour had to be.” And another story was imparted to James by another historian. “He said that the dust that used to form from the milling process was good flour. “The local people would have come in with a tin or a bucket and would have scraped that flour off (the machinery and walls). They mixed it with buttermilk. “It was good wholesome food. Children could take it morning and night when there was little else. It was much sought after. “The family didn’t scrape it off themselves, they would have given it to the local people.”

The mill cannot grind anything at the moment because there is no wheel or mechanics within it. But James has a great ambition to address that. “My dream for it would be to put a good wheel back on to it and have it able to turn. “My intention after that would be to generate hydroelectricity. “That could go back into the grid and help everyone. “There would be no windmills or anything like that.”

For now, they are just keen for people to come along on European Heritage Open Days to see the mill. There is already a mill in Annalong, but that was constructed much more recently than the Maginn mill so it is a must-see for anyone interested in the history of the area. “For years the mill was there, though only the locals would have known about it. “But in this last while, I can see it myself, people are hankering back to the past. “I think this mill is the only building left. “You can see the structure and you can see the loft. “The trap doors are still there. “You can see where the chains would have been through the ages, where they winched the bags back up. “It has chewed into the timber it has The view from the first floor of the Mill. CH03-060923 added to the patina of the place.” He added that the chance to show off the building is a way to protect its future. “I feel a responsibility very strongly. I am pleased to say that most of the neighbours care about it being protected. “It can be protected and maybe developed in some way. “Something will be done with it, and by doing something with it you are further protecting it. “All that will have to be done in conjunction with the local authorities.”

The Kilcoo Mill will be open on Saturday September 9 and Sunday September 10 as part of European Heritage Open Days. Tours can be booked at Eventbrite. James and his family have asked anyone hoping to come and see the mill to wear wellington boots or waterproof shoes as the ground around the mill is wet from the recent poor weather.

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