07 May 2011

An afternoon at the windmills in Skerries

The five-sail tower windmill in Skerriesdates back to the 16th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The early summer seems to have been suspended. By the time I finished up at work yesterday after lunch, it was still warm, but the blue skies had given way to clouds, and by the time I got to Portrane the mist and clouds off the coast made it impossible to see from The Quay over to Lambay Island.

Two of us drove back through Donabate and out through Lusk and Rush on the other side of the Rogerstown Estuary and then north to Skerries.

The waves were a little choppy, considering the calm weather we’ve had for the past two weeks or so, and although the mist and clouds were a little further out it felt as though there was a chill in the air.

We first stopped to visit the Skerries Mills. I had been there during Lent for a talk during the parish Lenten studies series, but never before had looked around the mills.

Skerries has a unique collection of working mills – a water mill, powered by a pitch-back waterwheel, a five-sail tower windmill and a four-sail thatched windmill – a rare survival from 17th, 18th and 19th century industrial history. This mill complex, with its millpond, mill races and wetlands, is the focal point of a town park and has won many environmental, construction and heritage awards.

Looking across to the towers and spires of Holmpatrick from Skerries Mills (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The earliest records of a mill in this area date from the 16th century. At the Dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s, a watermill belonging to the Priory of Holmpatrick was valued at 40 shillings, and a second mill is mentioned in property transactions later that century.

The mills continued to operate as part of a well-known local bakery owned by the Ennis and Jenkinson families until 1986, when fire destroyed the bakery and shut the business. Dublin County Council bought the mills in 1989, and after careful work by Fingal County Council, the Skerries Development and Community Association and FÁS, Skerries Mills opened to the public in 1999.

The wetlands at Kybe Pond, close to Holmpatrick Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

After looking around the crafts and books on sale, and an exhibition of photographs and paintings, we bought the latest edition of the Skerries News. We then strolled from the mills – looking across at the towers and spires of Holmpatrick and past the former hockey pitches of the Holy Faith Covent – back down to Kybe Pond, at the entrance to the mills. These wetlands at Kybe Pond are home to swans, ducks, herons and a variety of birdlife is fed from natural underground springs. This tranquil and charming area was created in the 1990s as part of mills restoration project.

Back in Skerries, we shared a plate of vegetarian antipasto, houmous and bread in the Olive, which serves the best double espresso in Fingal.

A stretch of 2.5 km of sand at the South Beach in Skerries ... and no-one in sight (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

And – despite the mist and clouds – it was impossible to resist going for a walk on the South Beach. The tide was out, there were banks of seaweed all along the shoreline, and, although it was Friday evening and the beginning of the weekend, we had 2.5 km of sandy beach all to ourselves.

We strolled on up to Red Island, around the Martello Tower, down to the RNLI station, and back down by the Harbour Road and North Beach.

At the Monument, it was sad to see yet another coffee shop has closed down and shut shop. One of the great attractions of Skerries is the variety of cafés and restaurants in the town, but the consequences of recent cavalier political attitudes to our economy are beginning to bite, and to bite deeply. Small businesses are labour intensive and good for the economy.

For the sake of Skerries and for the sake of Ireland let’s hope we recover soon from this recession.

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