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
Exploring the merits of moving into the west
Broadcaster Mary Kennedy has an abiding image of those early mornings when she’d set out from Dublin at the crack of dawn to begin work on another day’s filming down the country with Nationwide.
“I always liked to go in the morning rather than stay there the night before – so I’d be on the road early. And from the moment I’d hit Newland’s Cross, all I’d see was a line of traffic of people trying to make it from home to their workplace in Dublin,” she says.
These were people whose day began before dawn to get their bleary-eyed kids ready to drop at a childminder along the way, so they could be on time for work – and then race home to hopefully see those same kids before they went to sleep.
But if the pandemic had a positive, it was the realisation that work was something you did, not a place you went to. As a result, many people finally grasped the nettle, moving out of the city and sometimes even taking their work with them.
Which is why Mary – busier than ever since her supposed retirement from RTÉ – is presenting a new television series called Moving West, focusing on those individuals and families who have, as the title, suggests, relocated to the West.
One of the programmes comes from Galway, where Mary met with Stewart Forrest, who relocated with his family from South Africa to Oughterard, and Carol Ho, a Hong Kong native who has also settled in Galway.
The TG4 series also stops off in Sligo, Mayo, Kerry, Clare, Roscommon and Leitrim.
Read the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download our digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie
Community’s tribute to one of their own – saving final cut of turf after his passing
A local community responded in force to the death of one of their own – a man who had given so much of his life for the good of the parish – by paying one last practical tribute to him last week.
They lifted and footed his turf.
John Geraghty – or Gero as he was known – lived for Gaelic football and he’d filled every role imaginable with the St Brendan’s GAA Club since he came to live in Newbridge in 1983.
He’d cut the turf before he died last Tuesday week, but there it lay, until his old GAA friends organised a bunch of guys – made up of the football team, friends and neighbours – to meet in the bog last Wednesday evening to lift and foot/clamp John’s turf.
“Upwards of 50 fellas from the community showed up,” said St Brendan’s chairman Gerry Kilcommins.
Which was just as well, because, as Gerry acknowledged, John – himself a two-time chairman of the club in the past – had a lot of turf cut!
“It took up an area around three-quarters of the size of a standard football pitch,” he said.
Not that this proved a problem, given the enthusiasm with which they rolled up their sleeves for their old friend.
They started at 7.30pm and had it done at 7.55pm – that’s just 25 minutes from start to finish.
Read the full, heartwarming story – and the St Brendan’s GAA Club appreciation for John Geraghty – in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download our digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie
Liver donor dad would do it all again in a heartbeat
It is nearly two years since Paddy Browne gave his daughter Sadhbh part of his liver to save her life. And just ahead of Father’s Day, he reflects on how he would do it all over again in a heartbeat, without a single moment’s hesitation.
After an initial testing time in the first six weeks when they beat a path to the intensive care unit after the operation in St King’s Hospital in London, Sadhbh has never looked back.
“She’s thrived and thrived and thrived. She skips out to school every day. She loves the normal fun and devilment in the yard. She’s now six and started football with Mountbellew Moylough GAA, she loves baking, she’s a voracious reader – she’ll read the whole time out loud while we drive up to Crumlin [Children’s Hospital].”
But it could have all been so different.
Sadhbh from Mountbellew was diagnosed with Biliary Atresia shortly after she was born. She quickly underwent major surgery to drain bile from her liver. It worked well until she reached three years old when an infection caused severe liver damage and she was placed on the liver transplant list.
She was on a long list of medication to manage the consequences of advanced liver disease. While she lived a full life, she would tire very easily.
Paddy was undergoing the rigorous process to be accepted as a living donor when one of the tests ruled him unsuitable. His brother Michael stepped forward and was deemed a good match.
Then, further tests revealed that Paddy was in fact eligible for the operation and the previous result disregarded as a false positive.
Read the full, uplifting story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download our digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie
Organ Donor Cards can be obtained by phoning the Irish Kidney Association on 01 6205306 or Free text the word DONOR to 50050. You can also visit the website www.ika.ie/get-a-donor-card or download a free ‘digital organ donor card’ APP to your phone.