Up until about twenty-five years ago, the mill was a prominent feature in the life of this area of the Middle Glens. Since that time when the last mill ceased to function, they have gradually disappeared. The purpose of this article is to identify and record what information is known about these mills before the memory and knowledge of them is completely forgotten. Already, in some cases, there is such little evidence left that only the name of a place – as in Milltown, Mill Brae or Mill Hollow—tells us that there was a mill there at one time.
This area was well provided with mills. The Ordnance Survey Memoirs, 1834,1 state that in the parish of Layde there were six mills, three for grinding corn, three flax mills and one tuck mill. Some of these were to disappear but were replaced by others during the course of the last century.
The corn mill was a very important part of life in a district. In early times the landlord provided the mill, and his tenants were obliged to have their grain ground there and to provide labour for the operation of the mill. This was known as ‘succon’ or ‘socage’. A proportion of the meal was kept by the miller as payment for the grinding; this was referred to as ‘multure’ and varied between one-sixteenth and one-third of the grain brought. In later years, when the landlord no longer functioned as such or the manor mill had ceased to operate, the miller charged for the service, about 2/6 per cwt. The person having his corn ground had to provide turf to heat the mill kilns, as the corn had to be dried before being ground.
The succon and multure were looked upon as valuable assets by the landlords. Evidence of this is seen in Francis Turnly’s attempt to lease the succon of Lord Mark Kerr’s property in the Glens in 1817 2. Turnly offered £16 per year for the toll and multure of the townlands of Knocknacarry, Timpan, Sevagh, Glenann, Ashery, Layd, Cloughs, Ballynahaville, Knockans, Kilmore, Glassmullin, Carrievemurphy, Ardclinis and part of Galbolly. The offer was accepted for a trial period of a few years. At this time the Antrim family had no mill in the Glens. Formerly they had owned the Cushendall mill, but it was included in the estate granted by the third Earl to his illegitimate son, Daniel McDonnell and forfeited in 1688 because Daniel fought for James II. In the Book of Postings, 1701, a description of this estate is given and Cushendall had “a good corn mill, four farm houses and nine cabins.”
The corn mills, which reached their peak production around 1850, began to decline as the population in the country decreased and the opening of new roads and railways meant that meal and flour from the towns became more available 3. There were never more than two corn mills operating in the Middle Glens in the early part of this century, and these gradually ceased to function with the passing of the years.
The flax mills suffered somewhat similar variations of fortune. Grants amounting to one-sixth or one-third of the erection costs of new scutch mills were provided by the Irish Linen Board in the early part of the last century. In 1830 there were 630 scutch mills in the province of Ulster, and by 1852 there were 900. The outbreak of the American Civil War (1860 – 1865) caused a scarcity of cotton and consequently an increased demand for linen. By 1868 there were 1,420 flax scutch mills in Ulster 4.This, however, represented the peak of flax production. From that date its cultivation gradually declined, although the World Wars gave it temporary reprieves. The last scutching in the Glens took place in 1950.
DETAILS OF MILLS IN THE MIDDLE GLENS
Ballindam Mill: A typical landlord mill was the Ballyteerim Estate corn mill, situated at the Milltown, Cushendun. It was in the townland of Ballindam, in the civil parish of Culfeightrin. It was a long-established mill, for it is referred to in a lease of Ballyteerim by the first Marquis of Antrim to John McCollum of Clogher (Bushmills) and dated 25th October,1678 “By these presents the said Randall Lord Marquis of Antrim doth bargain sell demise grant and to farme lett the lands heretofore ensueing that is to say the Six Quarters of Land of Ballyteerim and the mill now in possession of the said John McCollum.“ 5
The McCollums were in possession of this estate until 1793, when, on the death of the sole surviving member, Hugh McCollum of Lemnalary, it passed to the White family. In an indenture dated November, 1793, between Hugh Lecky of Agivy and James White of Whitehall, when they agreed to divide the McCollum estate, the mill is referred to again : “And the said Hugh McCollum at the time of making said will and at his death seized and possessed of the Six Quarters of Ballyterim with the Succon,Thirl ,Grist and Moulture thereunto belonging” 6 In 1833 the tenant in this mill was John McNeill and its valuation was £6-17-0. McNeill was probably the last tenant, for the Whites decided to build a new mill shortly after this.
The Ballindam mill is now a dwelling-house occupied by Mr. John McKay. (see The Glynns, Vol III, page 36). Water to drive the wheel came from the Brablagh burn, and it was collected in a dam above the mill. As happened with many of the older mills the water supply was insufficient. In dry weather the mill must have stood idle on many occasions. This may have been the reason why the Whites decided to replace it.
Whitehouse Mill: The new mill was situated about half a mile from the Ballindam mill, in the townland of Whitehouse, and the date of its erection was 1847. James R. White, father of the famous Field Marshall Sir George White, owned the estate at this time: his name is inscribed above one of the mill doors. Undoubtedly this mill, which was the last corn mill to be built in the Glens, was by far the finest of them all. There are two ranges of buildings, one of three storeys and one of two storeys, containing a kiln house, stores, machinery for grinding, shelling and winnowing, and all in an excellent state of preservation today. The water supply to drive it came from the river Dun, on which a carey (weir) was built about a quarter of a mile upstream and carried to the mill by a new laid (sluice).
James White brought a family from near his own home in Broughshane to operate the Whitehouse mill. This family was called McGregor and was to have associations with three of the mills in the area over the next sixty five years.
Despite the elaborate buildings and the most up to date machinery, the Whitehouse mill turned out to be something of a white elephant. The population of the area did not justify a mill of this size; there was a changeover about this time from tillage to pastoral farming, consequently less grain was being produced. William McGregor, who operated this mill at first, moved to the Glenann mill after about twenty years and finally to Cushendall. His sons, John and Archy, in the meantime operated the Whitehouse mill, but in the 1880’s it ceased production completely and lay derelict until 1918. In that year it was bought by Robert John Carey for £300.7
Mr.Carey, who was a native of Omerbane in the parish of Newtowncrommelin, was more interested in flax scutching than corn milling, and as flax was in demand at this time, he built an addition to the mill for scutching. This was driven by the same wheel as the corn mill. The addition was at best only a temporary structure, but it housed four berths and a set of rollers and did a good trade until the end of World War II. Corn was still ground on occasions, and in fact the last time this mill turned, in 1952, was to grind corn.
Cushendun Mill: On the property of Nicholas Crommelin, in the townland of Sleans, where the Cushendun Hotel now stands, a flax scutching mill was built in 1865. This mill was unique in the Glens in that it was powered by steam. Water for the boilers was collected in two dams on the hill above the mill, but the supply was insufficient, especially in the summer, and water had to be taken out of the river. A large iron cylinder was set along the bank, and the local children were paid sixpence per day for filling it when the tide was out -apparently salt water was not suitable – and the water was then pumped up to the mill. In conjunction with the scutching a rope-making enterprise was carried on, using the tow from this mill and others in the locality. The the roadway outside the hotel is still known as the Rope-walk.
John Finlay, who came from Belfast and resided in Glenmona, operated these mills. The scutch mill was 129’ x 36’ x 17’. When it was at peak production in 1879, it had twelve stocks and two rollers, but by 1882 only six stocks and one roller were worked and by 1884 it had ceased production altogether.8 This mill also lay abandoned for a long time. In the early years of this century, local vandals set fire to the felt roof and thereafter it remained an unsightly ruin until the late Mrs.McBride bought it in 1926 and built the hotel on the site. As well as the scutching and rope-making, another enterprise was tried in this area for a year or two. This was the making of starch from potatoes, but this business only lasted from 1866 to 1869.9 The man who operated the starch yard was Benjamin Maxwell. Nothing more of him is known, though he was probably brought here by Crommelin. The site of the starch yard was afterwards used as offices for the mill and as a store for linseed, which Finlay sold. Later on Maurice Finlay, son of John, bought the premises and started the Anchorage Hotel. This is now known as the Glendun Hotel. These enterprises must have provided a good deal of employment during the years that they operated and a number of houses were built to accommodate the workers. Most of these are still standing unoccupied. (see Glynns II page 59).
Calisnaugh Mill: The flax mill in Calisnaugh townland dates from the 1820’s. It is described in the Ordnance Survey Memoirs as “new and in good order. The wheel which is driven by break water is 13 feet in diameter by 2 feet broad.”10 . At that time the proprietors were Archibald McCambridge and Samuel Jameson. They are reported as having spent £200 on building the mill and making the mill race which is exactly one mile long. The carey on the River Dun is situated just below the Glendun Viaduct. General Cuppage of the family formerly of Mount Edwards, was the landlord and the rent was £5 per year for the mill and two acres of land 11 .
McCambridge and Jameson were succeeded as tenants in 1834 by James Blaney. In accordance with the general trend in the county the mill went out of production on occasions, but in 1866 it was taken over by John McVicar who repaired it. He replaced the thatched roof with one of corrugated iron, and started scutching again. One of his employees was a man from the Ballycastle area. Hugh Sharkey. He worked in the mill as a scutcher for a long time, eventually taking it over about 1900 When McVicar retired. It is still owned by the Sharkey family.
This mill was recognised as one of the best scutch mills in the Glens. It had six stocks and a set of rollers and was very conveniently situated, being close to the road. Two cottages were built beside it for the workers. In 1936 a new mill wheel, made by Moore of Coleraine, was installed, but only thirteen years later, in 1949, the wheel turned for the last time.
Tromra Mill: One of the ‘least known about’ mills in this area. was in the Townland of Tromra. No trace of it remains today, but until about ten years ago the path of the old mill race was evident. This mill was situated where the sewerage system for the Tromra cottages now stands. The local people who have heard of it, say it was a very small thatched building, housing two stocks for scutching. Water was collected in two dams just below the present main road. It came from the nearby Carnasheeran burn.
The man who built and operated this mill was James McAuley of Tromra. It lasted only about two years for McAuley got the opportunity of renting the Glenann mills and abandoned this one in Tromra.
Glenann Mills: These Glenann mills, situated in the townland of Tavnaghdrissy, were built about 1840 by the landlord, Cuppage. They contained a flaxmill, a corn mill and kiln and two dwelling houses. The flax mill was small at first containing two stocks, but with the increased demand for scutching facilities in 1865, the mill was improved. Six stocks and a set of rollers were installed. This set of metal rollers, which still lies rusting away in the ruins of the building, was supposed to be the first set of this type in Ireland. The same supply of water powered the two mills, as it was carried from the corn mill to the flax mill on an ingeniously constructed wooden trough, (see photograph).
One of the first tenants of these buildings was John Keenan from Glendun, who was miller during the period of the famine. I have been told by his grandson that during this distressed period the old man had three tons of oaten meal stored, which he provided for the people of Glendun. As a result of this no one is supposed to have died in Glendun from the effects of the famine.
William McGregor took over these mills in 1867. Only two stocks were worked in the flax mill at this time. McAuley remained in Glenann until his death in 1913, when Johnny McKeegan took over. He operated the corn mill till 1946, and during this time did most of the corn grinding in the Glens. It is tragic to see the destruction which has been wrought in these buildings since the mills stopped working. The roofs have been pulled off and the wall torn down, while the machinery, which in its day was very up to date, has been smashed. In a few more years there will be nothing left but a heap of stones.
Lubitavish Mill: Across the Glenann River but further down in the townland of Lubitavish was another flax mill. This building is still standing. Local people always refer to it as “Clecks mill” but no one seems to be sure why it was so called. However, certain mills were referred to as “click” mills because of the sound made by the mill wheel when turning. “Cleck” is possibly the Glens’ pronunciation of “click.”
In 1834 this mill was valued at 15/6, being ‘251/2 feet x 24 1/2 x 71/2 feet and had two stocks” 12 During most of the last century it was operated by the McAllister family. During the two World Wars it was let to the Careys who came from Loughgiel. There were now four stocks but scarcity of water was. always a. problem for this and in the last years a tractor was sometimes used to drive the machinery.
Milltown (Glenann) Mill: There was yet another mill on the Glenann River. This was a tuck mill, which operated in the Milltown until about 1867 in a building which is still standing on the opposite side of the road from the row of small houses. A tuck mill was connected with the wool industry, and there had always been a tradition of spinning and weaving in Glenaan. In a tuck mill cloth was thickened by immersing it in a container of water and fullers soap. A number of wooden heaters, driven by the mill wheel, struck the cloth under the water. The woollen cloth was also usually dyed in a tuck mill. This tuck mill was operated by Charles O’Neill. There is no evidence now of the laid or mill pond, both of which were marked on the first Ordnance Survey maps of 1833.
Killoughag Mill : In the townland of Killoughag there were two small mills driven by the water supply from one laid. The Ordnance Survey Memoirs state “there is a ruinous old corn mill in the townland of Killoughag”, while the Tithe Applotment of 1826 mentions a flax mill in the same area. While the line of the laid coming from the Ballyeamon River can still be seen, nothing remains of the mills themselves, except a millstone. The buildings were probably turned into farm office houses. It is unlikely these operated after 1830, but the area is still known as the Mill Hollow.
Old Cushendall Mill: Not far from here was the old Cushendall mill of which nothing remains either, the building having been removed by the Mooney family who now own the land. This mill was situated at the crossroads in the field on the Cushendall side of the Mill Brae. The Ordnance Survey Memoirs describe it as being “old and in very bad order.” It must have deteriorated quickly for in the sale of the Cushendall Estate by Dr. Richardson to Francis Turnlly (1813) it was described as a large new corn mill and kiln- a most valuable concern.13 It was held on an eighty year lease, dated 1802, by Widow Anne McDonnell at a yearly rental of £3-19-4. In 1834 it was described as being 451/2 x 21’ x 10’ and valued at £1-15-7, while the kiln was 41’ x 19’ x 121/2 and valued at £1-19-014 . Water was only available for nine months of the year and this is not surprising, since the source of it was only a well. The famous Glens poet James Stoddart Moore, “Dusty Rhodes”, is said to have been born in this mill.
New Mill, Cushendall: Francis Turnly’s new mill in the village, built about 1830, was the death knell to the old mill at the crossroads. Situated in what is still known as the Mill Yard, the new mill was 93’ x 26 1/2x 19 1/2 and valued at £12-11-1 in 1834 15 .The millers from 1859 onwards were George Millar, Thos. Thompson 1874, Robert Thompson 1877, Archibald McKillop 1878, and John McGregor 1889.
John McGregor died in 1900 and his widow carried on the business until 1913. During this time Johnny McKeegan, who later functioned in Glenann, worked the mill for her. A saw mill was also worked by the mill wheel from the time Archibald McKillop was tenant in 1878. The River Dall was the source of water for this mill. The remains of the carey can still be seen above St. Mary’s chapel.
This mill was finally operated by Anthony O’Connor. About 1920 he built a plant for making electricity which was driven by the same mill race. Cushendall became the first small town in Ireland to be lit by electricity.
Kilnadore Mill: On the other side of the Cushendall river in the townland of Kilnadore there was a flax spinning mill. It was situated in the field at the back of Lynn’s shop, still known as the Factory Field, but now the third fairway on the Golf Course. A careful inspection shows the outline of the building which is described in tile Ordnance Survey Memoirs as being “a new building,” 361/2 x 20’ x 13’ and valued at £4.16 The tenant at this time was James McIntyre and he was succeeded by Daniel Jameson. The Dobbs’ Survey refers to it as “a late erected mill for spinning flax not at present occupied, but well situated for the business, with a house for a small family and the property of Captain Lewry of the Antrim Militia”17 . It seems to have been built shortly after 1800 when the Irish Linen Board was making efforts to promote mechanical flax spinning. Premiums were offered to those who would erect new, or add to old mills, machinery for this purpose. One of those who took advantage of these grants was William Young of Kilnadore.
An interesting account of this Kilnadore mill is given by an anonymous writer in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology in 1860 19. He described the mill as he remembered it “half a century ago.” “In this house, then, yarn was spun by machinery driven by water.” Part of the flax was grown locally to supply the mill, but some was also brought from Belfast, “conveyed to that locality on a cart, or more probably a ‘wheel-car’, by one or other of the then miserable roads leading to Cushendall, a journey either way of not less than two days.” Furthermore, stating that oil for the machinery came from Dublin, the writer is not surprised that in these circumstances spinning only lasted a few years. The mill building was still standing in 1860, but Daniel Jameson had apparently turned it into a coal store by that date. Mr.Joe Lynn, when installing new petrol storage tanks lately, came across the culvert which carried the water supply to the mill. The source of the supply was reputed to be a spring in the Old Rectory yard.
Today alas! The mills of the Middle Glens are silent. They fitted into a pattern of life that was leisurely and unhurried and so would have little place in the hurly burly of this modern age. Nevertheless those relics that are still to be seen are monuments of an era that in its own way was impressive and useful.
1: “Life in the Glens of Antrim in the 1830’s” being a transcript of the O.S Memoirs for the Parishes of Layd and the Granges Layd and Inispollan, published by the Glens of Antrim Historical Society, p16.
2: Edmund McGildowny’s Out-letter books, P.R.O.N.I D 1375/1/10 31st May, 1817.
3: “ Ireland since the Famine” by F. S. Lyons
4: “Water-powered Corn and Flax Scutching Mills in Ulster” by W. A. McCutcheon.
5: Ballyterim Lease in the Antrim Estate Papers at P.R.O.N.I
6: P.R.O.N.I T 988 (2).
7: Revision of Valuations P.R.O.N.I
8: Revision of Valuations P.R.O.N.I
9: Revision of Valuations P.R.O.N.I
10: “Life in the Glens of Antrim”, page 22.
11: Revision of Valuations.
12: Revision of Valuations.
13: Indenture between Richardson and Turnly, P.R.O.N.I T 1750
14: Valuation Field Books
15: Valuation Field Books
16: Valuation Field Books
17: “ Statistical Account of Ardclinis and Layd” by the Rev. R. S. Dobbs, The Glynns, Vol II, p 49.
18: U.J.A. First Series Vol. IX, page 75.