23 November 2020
In recent weeks I have visited two well-preserved remains of formr mills within easy reach of Askeaton in west Limerick: the former Nutgrove Flour Mill, which was also known to older generations as Mullagh Mills or Donovan’s Mills; and Altavilla Mill, which was built by the Bateman family in the late 18th century.
Creeves is the name given to the five crossroads, and means branches. It is on the main road between Rathkeale and Foynes. The roads also lead to Askeaton to the north, Newcastle West to the south, Rathkeale to the east, and two roads lead to Shanagolden in the west.
The Nutgrove Mill or Donovan’s Mill is just west of Creeves Crossroads, in the townland of Mullagh, off the road between Askeaton and Shanagolden.
The Donovan family, who gave their name to the mill they owned at Nutgrove, lived nearby at Millview House.
The mill was built close by the banks of a millstream and was operated by an overshot wheel.
The stream was diverted from the Ahacroonane River (Áth a’ Chrónáin). Frome there, the river flows north, under the main Limerick-Kerry road, and into the Roberstown Creek.
The men who worked in the mill in the early 19th century travelled long distances to work on foot, and they were paid a wage of three pence a day.
It is said a man in the Donovan family met his death in the mill due to a floor collapsing, although some local people suspected he had been killed deliberately.
Close to the mill, the former Nutgrove National School is typical in form and size to the many national schools built at this time in Ireland. These schools were often single-storey in design, with separate entrances for girls and boys, and in Nutgrove there are two entrances in the porch.
The former school is built in simple style with regular form, a pitched roof, end chimney-stacks and tall windows.
There are two inscribed plaques: the plaque at the front reads, ‘Nutgrove National School 1869’; a second plaque reads, ‘Erected 1870 Very Rev J Synan.’
The school closed in the 1960s or 1970s, and is now a private, family home.
A little further east, at the crossroads in Creeves, an attractive wall-mounted cast-iron post box has a motif with a crown and Queen Victoria’s monogram ‘VR’ and crown motif.
This post box dates from ca 1880, and it is mounted in a rendered wall with a brick surround.
Further east, Altavilla is off the main road between Askeaton and Rathkeale. Altavilla Mill, with its striking splayed form, was built ca 1790 by John Bateman and was a working mill until a century ago, when the mill wheel ground to a halt in 1928. The building is large in scale and forms an imposing feature on the River Deel.
The mill is associated with Altavilla House, once the seat of the Bateman family and later the home of the Griffin family.
This multiple-bay splayed U-plan former corn and tuck mill has an eight-bay, two-storey centre block, a six-bay, three-storey block to the west and a six-bay, two-storey block to the east. Some of the square-headed windows have timber lintels, and some of the square-headed door openings have timber battened doors.
Interesting features at the mill include an elliptical-headed carriage arch in the east block, and a round-headed carriage arch in the centre bay, and square-profile roughly dressed limestone piers with double-leaf cast-iron gates.
The four-arch, limestone humpback bridge over the River Deel at Altavilla was built in 1747. It is interesting because of the skill displayed in its design and the high-quality craftsmanship seen in its building. It has an attractive balanced arrangement of arches that which contribute to a well-proportioned overall appearance.
The pedestrian refuge on the south side of the bridge is known locally as the ‘lovers’ seat.’ The date stone reads: ‘This bridge was built by a presentment from the county George Greene and John Bateman Esq appointed overseers finished by Mr John Murphy in the year 1747.’
Nearby, the former creamery at Altavilla was built ca 1840 and still retains much of its original form, including the timber sash windows.
The three-bay, two-storey building is simply designed and evenly proportioned. It is strategically located on a road next to a river, bridge and former mill, with easy access for creamery carts.
The creamery was an important structure in the area, and also served as a meeting place and a social centre.
From a distance, Mannix’s Folly looks like the ruins of an old castle. It stands on a height on the west side of the Shanagolden to Rathkeale road, on the road from Kilbradren to Coolcappa, in the townland of Lisatotan.
Because there are so many castles in this part of west Limerick – from Shanid Castle and the Desmond Castle in Newcastle West to Castle Matrix near Rathkeale and Askeaton Castle – I had presumed for the past few years that this was yet another old, ruined castle.
But when I visited it yesterday afternoon (22 November 2020) as a guest of Patrick O’Regan and other members of Saint Kieran’s Heritage Association in Ardagh, I heard how, in fact, Mannix’s Folly is an uncompleted two-storey house that takes its name from the man who planned to build it about a century and a half ago.
Tom Aherne, who writes a weekly history feature in the Limerick Leader, recalled how local lore says Mannix was from Limerick City and was the chief engineer with the Great Southern Railways in 1870s when the Newcastle West to Limerick line was being laid.
Mannix (his first name is lost or fotten in the telling and retelling of the story) planned a new house that would be a noble redbrick house set on a hill, with a commanding view of the surrounding countryside. Like a watchtower, it was set on a vantage point to monitor the progress of life and the changing colours of the seasons. It would have a window on every wall of every floor, so he could look out and survey the trappings of his wealth no matter where he stood inside the house.
Tradition says Mannix used a combination of inducements and threat to compel stonemasons, carpenters and labourers to work every day, including Sundays, to build his house. Tom Aherne recalled some traditions that Mannix also planned a similar house on the opposite side of the road and to connect the two with a bridge over the road.
One version of the story says Mannix ran out of funds before he could complete building the house in the 1870s. Another says the house was roofed on three different occasions, but each successive roof was lifted by storms and blown off, ‘scattered to the four corners of his fields.’
Mannix died before his new house could be roofed for a fourth time, and the house was abandoned in an unfinished state. As it fell into ruin, the abandoned house soon became known as ‘Mannix’s Folly.’
Local people sometimes say the unroofed house stands as a warning to anyone who might think about forcing others to work on Sundays and the folly of dishonouring the Lord’s Day.