The mills of old dot the North Longford countryside, and some of them are being restored. The most recent being the Smear corn mill of the Bleaklay family which hasn’t run since 1958.
It is believed the first mill in Ireland was near the Hill of Tara in an area called Lismullen. This is where there was a standoff between the Tara campaigners and the M3 road developers in recent years. The henge was only discovered during the works. Sadly, there is no trace of the physical mill today and many regard the absence of appreciation for the local heritage a shameful stance to have been taken by the powers that be.
This is a common occurrence, with mills often been leveled to the ground. In William Edgeworth’s “map of the county of Longford” (1814) we are told by The Longford Industrial Heritage survey, that watermills particularly had been destroyed for various reasons associated with ‘progress’.
The likes of Smear mill is typical in operating through a man-made reservoir. Scenic in its own right, the opening from this is sized to allow a measured amount of water out to power the mill. The water then runs down a gully. The amount of drop between the reservoir and the wheel is known as the head and the wattage of potential energy is calculated on the flow per second as a ratio to the drop. The greater the drop the less water per minute needed for a given wattage and vice versa.
The mill at Smear is called an overshoot mill which means the water flows over the top of the wheel. This turned a series of cogs attached to the internal machinery which done the workings of the mill. Huge stones then ground the grain. These stones were usually supplied by local farmers and often pre-dried by kilns. The grain was then bagged or stored in barrels. It may also have been poured into a trailer and brought elsewhere for further processing. It took the work out of grinding at home with the traditional quorn, though they were used in peasant houses for many years.
The mill in Smear was restored to operative order by Cecil Blakeley and his family. They were kind enough to show Lalin around and explained the history of the mill. Lalin was shown the way to the mill by local man Seamus Kiernan.
So, why did so many shoot up so quick and close down so soon?
Not too many were in business as long as Smear mill, which only closed down in 1958. When corn laws were in force under the United kingdom, a tariff on imports were enforced. Many mills sprung up across Ireland and many went bankrupt then when the corn laws were repealed.
The mill at Smear commenced its toil in 1813 and ended its work in 1958. After that it fell into disrepair.
However, thanks to the painstaking and determined efforts of the Bleaklay family, its restoration is an asset to the area and to all who visit it now and in the years to come.
It was in working order the day Lalin visited and was as impressive that day, no doubt, as it was on its first day way back in 1813. Built by now long gone Thomas McCoy and David Jobe and restored in 2012 by Cecil Bleaklay and family as a tribute to his late parents, Albert and Lilly, it is also dedicated poignantly “to all who worked here”