A fallen slate was the spur that led Maria Finnerty and her husband Seán Kennedy to restore an abandoned corn mill that was once at the heart of its community before finally closing its doors nearly 40 years ago.
Ten years after that slate fell from the roof, the beautiful building in Leitrim outside Loughrea is home to a museum where visitors can learn about how rural communities fed themselves and their animals in an era before industrialised food production.
The mill’s old waterwheel is in full working order, powered by a river that runs alongside it, and its internal mechanisms have also been restored. A series of visible wheels and cogs drive the machinery that once ground grain, especially oats. Finnertys’ Mill was renowned for its porridge, which had a smokey flavour because of the way they dried grain.
Finnertys’ Mill was vital to its locality for well over 100 years, but changing farming practices in the later decades of the 20th century led to a decline in business. So, when Maria’s father died as a young man in 1978, her mother closed it to concentrate on raising their four daughters and running the family farm.
Effectively, Mrs Finnerty sealed up the building and left everything as it was, explains Maria, who was eight when her dad died and who now runs the farm.
So, in 2006, when that slate fell and Maria and Seán decided to embark on a restoration project, they were in the rare position of having an historic building where the original machinery, some dating from Victorian times, was still in place.
“I didn’t want to look back and say we didn’t do anything. The slate falling was the trigger,” says Maria about their decision. Seán nods in agreement. “We didn’t want it to go to rack and ruin on our shift.”
The job was a baptism of fire for the couple, who have three daughters, Emily, Miriam and Lillian, now aged 16, 14 and 11.
“We didn’t realise what we had and what we were getting ourselves into,” adds Maria with a laugh.
But they stuck at it, helped greatly by their Dutch neighbours Marko and Marika Leen, two superb craftspeople. Marika is a thatcher and Marko a master carpenter, but both can turn their hands to anything, and they did as they helped restore the mill to its former glory.
Maria and Seán didn’t really know Marko and Marika before they came on board, but the four are now firm friends, united by a passion for this historic building.
The mill is national monument and protected structure, Maria explains as we stand outside and she points to a stone to the left of the main door. This was etched by hand in a traditional technique known as sparrow-pecking and may have come from an older, local castle. They aren’t sure of its origins, but it’s of significant historic value. The mill’s external walls have been repaired, mostly by Marika, who used a mix of lime and mortar in accordance with proper preservation methods.
Unlike cement, the lime-mortar mix allows the building to breathe and to move, says Marko, who explains that when the corn crushers are at full speed, the mill does move.
We walk along the side of the building to view the impressive waterwheel, 13 ½ feet high, and the river that powers it, via a weir.
The weir and its gates have been restored, allowing water to enter the channel where the millwheel stands. These gates can be opened or closed to control how much water enters the channel. The more that enters, the faster the wheel turns, which allowed for maximum power during full production, says Maria.
For more about the restored mill at Leitrim, Loughrea see this week’s Tribune here
Community fights back on hospital ‘downgrade by stealth’
Raw emotion, sadness and some anger filled the air at Clifden Town Hall on Sky Road last Sunday afternoon as a shaken community gave honest, personal accounts of the impact the closure by stealth of Clifden District Hospital would have on the people of North Connemara.
The public meeting was hastily organised after fears emerged on Friday that the HSE may transfer respite services from Clifden to Merlin Park Hospital, 50-plus miles away in Galway City.
Families were told their loved ones in Clifden Hospital may have to move home, or go to Merlin Park the following Monday, due to ‘issues with staffing’.
An axe has hung over Clifden Hospital for some years, but this latest move stirred the community to fight back to retain services locally.
Galway County Councillor Eileen Mannion (FG), who organised the public meeting with Senator Sean Kyne, said 625 people signed the attendance sheets and an estimated 650 people attended.
“The community effort spreading the word was unbelievable; the turnout was unbelievable,” she said.
“It wasn’t just anger; it was raw emotion in the room. Sadness. Family members spoke about the calls they got on Friday. The feeling that their elderly person was being rejected; that they weren’t being respected.
“One man stood up, three years waiting for respite care for a family member, and then to be told after a few days in there that she’d have to be taken home or to Merlin Park.
“We’re 50 miles from Galway. If there’s no traffic you might get to the outskirts in an hour but with the traffic in Galway, you could be another hour to get to Merlin Park. Not everyone has transport either and they’ve to rely on buses.
“A young woman stood up at the meeting and said her dad was dying in Galway. And she had to go to Saint Vincent de Paul to get money to pay for a B&B so that the family would be close to him when the end came. People gave their personal stories, and it was just heart-breaking.”
(Photo by Carmel Lyden: Teresa Conneely from Roundstone addresses people at the public meeting in Clifden Town Hall).
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read extensive coverage of the Clifden Hospital story, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.
Pilgrim took to his feet to realise dream!
Clifden man Breandan O Scanaill, who is on a pilgrimage from his home town of Clifden to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, received a Mayoral welcome and a memorial crest when he arrived at the Asturian town of Navia last week.
Breandan, whose walk from his home outside Clifden to the reputed burial place of St James in Santiago, began in April, was walking through Navia in Spain when a local man came over to chat to him.
“He asked me about my journey and was interested in the fact that an Irish man had turned up in the town,” says Breandan, who had been admiring the Chapel of San Roque at the time.
The local man outlined the history of the building and the town to Breandan and they began chatting more generally about history and architecture – topics dear to the pilgrim’s heart.
Breandán’s new friend introduced himself as the Mayor of Navia, lgnacio Garcia Palacios, who invited the visitor from Clifden to visit the Town Hall.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of this story, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.
Local Property Tax rate to stay unchanged despite Council chief’s plea
Councillors have agreed to keep the Local Property Tax (LPT) rate unchanged – despite pleas from management that Galway County Council is predicted to spend at least €22 million more than it brings in for the next two years.
County Chief Executive Jim Cullen had recommended an increase of 15% on the LPT rate for 2023 and 2024 – amounting to €2.1m extra in the coffers annually – which would bolster its case when it came to pleading for a greater share of funding from central government.
In an estimation of income and expenditure for the Council, taking into account “unavoidable” expenditure and income changes set to hit, the Council would run a deficit of €9.04m in 2023 and 13.2m in 2024 – well over €22m unless there was a change in finances.
“I am hopeful of an uplift in baseline [funding] levels . . . we cannot continue to ignore the fact that other councils have raised LPT and their citizens enjoy a better standard of services that in Galway,” he stressed.
He told a meeting this week that €9m would be needed to maintain services next year at the same level as 2022. This was due to significant cost increases given that inflation is reaching 9.6% currently. Pensions, gratuities and payroll increases from the national pay agreement, increments and additional staff were all adding to bigger outgoings.
Without that extra funding, it will be necessary to reduce spending by that amount with a negative impact on service and staffing levels, he said.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the story, including the councillors’ discussions, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.