Showing posts with label grinding wheels. Show all posts
Showing posts with label grinding wheels. Show all posts

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Historic Martry Mill on Meath’s Blackwater

Historic Martry Mill on Meath’s Blackwater
Where it all happens. The flour is bagged on bottom right.
It is a sunny summer morning on the banks of the River Blackwater in County Meath. All we hear is the water falling over the weir, the gentle rhythm of the mill wheel as it turns. The noise of the traffic on the nearby road does not penetrate here. “Here we are transported back in time, just as our forefathers would have heard it,” says James Tallon, the ancient mill’s owner-operator.

The paddles of the wheel  are not metal but wooden and are covered in a rich coating of moss. People ask James why he doesn't clear the moss. But the moss is a crucial element in the longevity of the paddles. If, for some reason, the mill is down and the paddles have no moss, they'll dry out quickly and deteriorate. But with a generous coating of moss to keep them moist, they’ll last for an amazing twenty five years. The wheel, by the way, is quite large, with a diameter of 4.42 metres (14.5 feet in old money!).
James, and an old wheel
A mill pick and three grains (l to r),
barley, wheat and oats

Martry Mill is one of the country’s very few water powered corn mills, still producing stone-ground wholemeal flour in the traditional way and its history goes back to 1641 (at least!) The Tallon’s long connection with the mill began in 1859 when Thomas Tallon (great-grandfather of the present owner) worked here. His son James Tallon bought it out in 1902 and it's been in the family ever since.
It looked like the end of the road though in 1978 when works for the Boyne Drainage Scheme (the Blackwater flows into the Boyne) changed the level of the river. But, with help from the Navan Chamber of Commerce and An Taisce, a scheme undertaken by the OPW preserved Martry as a working mill.

More recently, in conjunction with the Meath partnership (who provided Leader funding) and a group of German engineers and millwrights, more improvements were carried out, much to the delight of the people of the locality who hold in great affection - it is by far the oldest building in the immediate locality.

The mill produces genuine stoneground wholemeal flour and customers include SuperValu (across Meath), local bakers and delis and the well-known Chef Richard Corrigan who uses it in his London restaurants. A visit to the mill is a popular trip for school groups and a special room is set aside for tour groups.

Before (top) and after

Here you’ll see two large stone wheels, bought secondhand in 1938 from another local mill and there was a lot of trouble shifting them the few miles by horse and cart. Interestingly James told me the life of a wheel can be extended by the application of plaster of Paris, which is about the same weight as an equivalent piece of stone.
And then he related an important Christmas “ceremony” for mill owners. They would seek out and keep the four best turkey tail feathers to be used in balancing a pair of grinding wheels. Four people were needed, spread evenly around, and by using the delicate feather, they could find out where any imbalance occurred and that was corrected with a piece of lead. Even when spirit levels became common, quite a lot of the old hands double checked with the feathers!

Grain goes into the grind, slow and steady
 And then there were the fishy stories, one going back to the middle of the last century when some salmon were suffering from a “scabby” disease and the fisheries people were trying to clean up the river. Not all salmon had the disease though. One day, a warden told James’ father about a big healthy one in the weir and, with a wink, hinted that it would be a shame to waste him. So the father, with child James in tow, went down with the warden and during the very civilised handover, young James piped up: “Daddy, where will you put him? Isn't the fridge full of salmon!”

And then he had many stories about eels, no shortage of eel fisheries between Virginia in Cavan and Kells in Meath. And eels were much appreciated around here, not least for their flesh. The skin too had its uses and he showed some examples of mill belts repaired and reinforced with eel skin.

A belt, reinforced with eel skin inserts, and
 the heavy key that sent a Black and Tan to the ground.
 And then, after the cooking, the oil (the eel is an oily fish) was collected and bottled and, every winter, people came to the mill looking for oil for medical purposes. It was used to ease and or cure earache and other ailments such as sprains, arthritis and rheumatism.

During the War of Independence, the Black and Tans came calling, thinking that the store of grain was an ideal place to hide weapons and ammo. They made quite a mess poking around with their bayonets and so on but found nothing. But the Tallons were upset and let it be known. The military said they'll be back. 

And sure enough they returned and tried to grab James’ father as he walked home from the mill with the intention of giving him a hammering. But he gave one a slap across the face with the mill key - and it is a weighty one, I can tell you. The “soldier” went down and was quickly lifted into the vehicle by his sole companion and they vanished.

Fortunately, the Tallons and Martry are made of sterner stuff and survive today among their friends and customers, in a beautiful and historic place. Now, if we could only get those eels back!

The wheel and the Blackwater.
Originally, the wheel would have been up close to the mill.
See also:  Meath and Ireland's Ancient East

Older than the Pyramids: Newgrange and Knowth Ireland’s Ancient East Amazes

Martry Mill

County Meath
Phone: 086 8173205

No shortage of moss here!