The Mills of South Dublin County
Traced across the physical landscape of South Dublin is the evidence for the thriving milling industry of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Water was the main power source for these mills. The fast-flowing river Dodder and its tributaries provided the energy for the mills at Tallaght, Templeogue, Rathfarnham and Whitechurch. The river Camac, running swiftly through the Slade valley from the Dublin mountains powered the mills at Saggart and Clondalkin. The steep gradient of these rivers and streams was harnessed to drive the milling industry that emerged between the Dublin foothills and the south of the city. To the west the river Liffey, whose source is close to that of the Dodder, takes a more meandering path from County Wicklow through the plains of County Kildare and it provided the water source for the many mills in the Lucan and Palmerstown areas. Wind power was also employed for milling as the remains of the dramatic Windmill Hill site near Rathcoole shows.
However water power was the generally preferred source for milling as it was more reliable than wind and could also be stored by the use of millponds. Water sources could also be regulated by means of weirs, sluices and millraces (water channels). Most mills were not built directly on the river banks but were built instead beside these specially diverted millraces adjoining the river or stream. Mills were usually located near natural waterfalls or rapids as this meant that millraces could be short. When a river had a gentle gradient it often had a long headrace (the water channel leading into the mill) for example the Palmerstown Mills were driven by a mill race taken from the Liffey nearly two miles upriver, probably in order to acquire an adequate head. In dry summers water could be stored in millponds overnight to store up a supply for the following day.
There were many categories of mills in South Dublin during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, corn mills, flour mills, oil and gunpowder mills but the most enduring were paper mills. South Dublin became an important centre for paper-making, rags were required for the paper milling process and there was access to a ready supply in the nearby city. A certain amount of co-operation was required between mill owners especially if they shared the same headrace or were diverting the water supply. In 1719 the citizens of Dublin were so concerned for their water supply (which also supplied Dublin Castle) that an act was passed for Cleaning and Repairing the Water-Course leading from the River Dodeer to the city of Dublin and to prevent the Diverting and Corrupting the Water therein.
The milling heritage of South Dublin survives today in many local place names Windmill hill, Mill Lane, Swiftbrook, Millbrook Lawns, Bolbrook and the Mill Shopping Centre, among others, as a reminder of how the architectural landscape of the area has changed.
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