13th March 2018 – Memories of a Tour Guide in Skerries Mills

by Brendan Morrissey

(Skerries Historical Society Meeting – March 2018)

Memories of a Skerries Mills Tour Guide
The vicious weather that saw March stomp in ‘like a lion’ abated long enough for a good crowd to venture out to Keane’s Bus Bar this Tuesday where Brendan Morrissey entertained the Skerries Historical Society audience with his ‘Memories of a Skerries Mills Tour Guide’.

Brendan’s presentation covered not only his own reminiscences but a detailed history of the development of milling in this area. Did you know that you can see a 3000 year old saddle quern on the Mills tour? You can even have a go at grinding flour with a replica. But it’s backbreaking work if you’re trying to grind enough grain to bake a decent sized loaf of bread. Luckily humans are resourceful creatures and came up with a whole series of refinements from the rotary quern (still hard work but easier than a saddle quern) to the watermill to the windmill.

Skerries Mills boasts a water mill and two windmills – all of which are much more efficient that the simple querns. The watermill has three sets of millstones and each stone is about five feet (that’s just over 1.5m for the modern audience!) and weighs at least 500 kilos. There’s just no comparison with the prehistoric milling equipment.

There’s more to millstones than their enormous size though – they have to be dressed. This is not a case of sending them to a fashion show.

Highly skilled craftsmen carve grooves into the milling surfaces in a carefully planned pattern which channels the ground flour out from between the stones. These craftsmen also clean and balance the stones to keep the mill operating efficiently. The best quality stones, known here as Cullin stones, are made from a hardwearing quartz that comes from Cologne in Germany.

Apart from the millstones, you have to have some means of driving the mechanism that turns them. The waterwheel came first with mention of it being made in a survey of Holmpatrick in 1605. The one working in Skerries today is not quite that old with the wheel itself having been rebuilt almost completely during the Mills restoration project and the internal machinery being about 200 years old. The Small Windmill is about 500 years old while the Great Windmill is a mere youth at 230 years old. Between them they must have processed a huge amount of grain for Skerries people over the centuries.

Brendan’s memories are not just about the history of the Mills but also about its visitors. From teenagers who were more interested in each other than milling history, to primary school children who were completely spellbound by the groaning and growling of the machinery and hints of hauntings in the maze of passages and dark rooms that make up the mill. He treasures the letters and drawings he received from local children thanking him for their day out.

Report by Oona Roycroft