Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)
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The mills complex at Milford was built in 1790. They were also used for other purposes. The largest building (now completely gone) on the west bank of the Barrow ended its days as a tannery. It employed ninety people before it was destroyed by fire in July, 1965.
This was not the only fire in the complex because we read in the Carlow Post of November 11, 1862 — “... fire destroyed the flour mills at Milford, extensive malt houses adjoining were saved. Machinery valued c.£20,000, the water wheel valued at £1,000 was saved.-The mills were only recently reconstructed and refitted by Wm. Fairbairn of Manchester.”
The building, partly in ruin still standing was also used to generate electricity in 1891 and has been re-commissioned to feed power into the National grid since 1990. (See Carloviana Edition No. 39).
Mr and Mrs. Hall’s “Ireland,” published in 1840, describes the Milford Mills complex “as one of the most extensive and celebrated in Ireland.” “It is situated about four miles from Carlow, on the Barrow, in the centre of a lovely valley, through which the river runs — surrounded by hills, and with the magnificent mountains, Leinster, Blackstairs and Brandon in the background.”1
Another 19th century traveller was also lavish in his praise for Milford. His observations were published in The Carlow Sentinel of October 8, 1836. It was a quotation from “Letters to the North from a traveller in the South,” who signed himself ‘ J.K.’. The article was originally published in the Ulster Times. J.K’s. comment on Milford reads as follows:-
- “... To drive along the Barrow to Milford, the residence of John Alexander, Esq., is extremely beautiful, following the course of the river, and passing through a rich plantation.
- No place in the county afforded us more gratification than the grounds and estate of Mr. Alexander, not only for their intrinsic beauty, but for the fact that they are altogether the creation of their intelligent and enterprising proprietor.
- The spot which they now cover was an exposed and uninteresting district without a single tree when Mr. Alexander came to reside there. It is now covered as far as the eye can reach with luxuriant and well grown timber, above the foliage of which rises the beautiful mansion and unrivalled mills of their owner.
- I have told you that the flour mills at Slane were the most beautiful, as well as the largest I had seen in Ireland. I had not then seen Milford; the Slane mills, superb as they are, cannot compare with Milford, in point either of situation or architecture, and are not more than one third the extent.2
- They consist of three immense buildings, one for malting barley, the others for grinding wheat and corn; and it is impossible to calculate the good which such a vast establishment must do to the adjacent country, by thus affording encouragement and a market for the three most important descriptions of agriculture ...“
1. See Carloviana No. 26 for a full reprint of their comments.
2. The Griffiths Valuation of 1845 shows that the Milford Mills, which are situated in the townland of Ballygowan was one of the most valuable properties, if not the most valuable in Ireland.
Images of the Barrow River at Milford taken by W. Muldowney c1967, 1978 & 2006.
- Milford c.1978
- Milford c.1967
- Milford c.2006
- The weir at Milford c.2008
- Image by Thomas Farrell
Compiled by William Ellis
Published in the 1993/1994 edition of CARLOVIANA No 41
Milford is a beautiful place on the river Barrow about five miles south of Carlow town. The mills complex at Milford was built in 1790. A 19th century traveller was lavish in his praise for Milford. His observations were published in The Carlow Sentinel of October 8th 1836. "To drive along the Barrow to Milford the residence of John Alexander Esq. is extremely beautiful following the course of the river. No place in the country afforded us more gratification than the grounds and estate of Mr. Alexander ".
The mills on the banks of the Barrow consisted of three immense buildings, one for malting barley, the others for grinding wheat and corn. We read in The Carlow Post of November 11th 1862 that fire destroyed the flour mills at Milford but extensive malt houses adjoining were saved. On June 24th 1891 the large water wheel was set in motion once again, not to grind corn but to drive a dynamo to generate electricity. The current was carried by cables on poles along the bank of the river to service Carlow town.
Leather Merchant Kennedy O’Brien
The tannery was established in the main building in 1940’s by Kennedy O’Brien leather merchant who had offices at North Frederick St. Dublin. He was friendly with Michael Wall of Clogrennane Limeworks who told him about the vacant buildings at Milford. Tom, son of Kennedy O’Brien came to Carlow to manage the tannery. He was a very fine rugby player with Bective Rangers and Leinster. Towards the end of his career he played with Carlow rugby club.
The tannery obtained sheepskins from all over Ireland. Oliver’s of Haymarket, Carlow town were a large supplier. Top class light leather was produced and supplied to shoe factories throughout the country. They also exported leather including chamois to the UK and USA At its peak production over 100 people were employed so it had a large impact on the area surrounding Milford. The tannery operated successfully through the 1950’s and used the railway station nearby (now closed) to transport goods.
The plentiful supply of water and lime locally was a great asset to the location for a tannery. Unfortunately the tannery was destroyed by fire in July 1965 one hundred and three years after the previous disaster mentioned above. The hub of industry no longer disturbs the peace and Milford is now a place of tranquility frequented by fishermen and artists. The weir and bridge are one of the most popular subjects for local artists.
[excerpts: Article submitted by Dan Carbery.]
Source: Carlow County Museum
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