"The valley tucked away from main roads envelopes the village dominated by it's great mill……Stretching along the river was a meadow, which the first Earl of Shannon had designated as a bleaching green in 1780 and it is still known as the Bleach. Behind it an austere golden coloured Georgian House rose out of the trees. Snowdrops covered the grass in front and the stems of daffodils were forming buds in the mild January sun"
Peter Somerville-Large. "The Coast of West Cork"
(Victor Gollanze 1972)

To improve the conditions for bleaching the coarse linen and yarn woven and spun around the countryside, a Public Bleaching Green was formed near the present site of Shannon Vale mill, in 1780, under the auspices of Richard, Earl of Shannon, who acquired about 25 acres of land with a house, two miles north of Clonakilty. (Townland of Grillagh) The field to the right of the entrance road to the mill is still known as "The Bleach".

The property passed through different hands and in 1788, Robert Pratt, built a flour-mill, on account of the plentiful supply of water from the Argideen river. In addition to this, a later proprietor, James Sadleir (1799) carried on an extensive cotton business. James, who lived in Shannon Vale House, imported machinery from Manchester and built cottages for his labourers. James married Joanne Forster and their son George Forster Sadleir (a British army officer) was the first European to cross the Arabian Desert, from east to west in 1819. (George became Sheriff of Cork in 1837.)
Pigott's Directory of 1824, lists the Corn Merchants and Millers of Clonakilty: John Sadlier Forster_Shannon Vale, George & James Hayes_Castleview, Henry Hegarty_Lisselane, Jasper E. Lucas_North Ring.
James Sadleir died in 1825 - the business had been run by his sons John & James for a time. John's daughter, Sarah married Henry Baldwin Beamish of Dunmore House, Clonakilty.

James and Thomas Allen purchased the mill in 1823 and in 1826 built a new mill and sank a new tailrace, trebling the water power. At that time flour was exported from Ireland and about 8,000 sacks were sent from Shannon Vale out of Ring Pier, Clonakilty. At least one ship with a cargo of flour from Clonakilty, didn't complete her journry. The Speedwell, sank near Ballycotton, in January 1830 - no lives were lost.

On 23rd March 1836 a sailing vessel,Lord Berehaven, with a cargo of 324 bags of wheat from Bantry for James & Thos.Allen Shannon Vale, went aground on the sandbank on Inchydoney Island. Her captain Charles Murphy disregarded the advice of the local pilot, Cornelius Hart and steered for the Island side of the channel into Ring pier Clonakilty.
The cargo was severly damaged by salt water and was sold for 9 shillings a bag, having cost 25 shillings. The loss was recouped from the insurers,Lloyds of London. The owner of the Lord Berehaven,Patrick O'Sullivan of Rossmacowen, an infamous landlord who leased his estate from Lord Bantry, also claimed £200 damages to his vessel as well as £20 to re float her.
The same Patrick O'Sullivan is buried on Bere Island and it is said that he was so hated that nobody could be found to dig a grave for him on the mainland.

Things didn't always run smoothly at the mill either and records show that on Sunday night, 20th December, 1846, during the height of The Great Famine, the mill suffered extensive damage by fire. The following notice appeared in the Cork Examiner, on Monday, 21st December, 1846:
"Destruction of Shannon Vale Mills - a report is current in town that these mills the property of Messrs. Allen were destroyed by fire last night. If true this unfortunate event is at the present crisis and in the present melancholy position of the poor of that district, a national calamity. The benevolent owners of this concern were actively engaged in doing everything to alleviate the distress of those around them and were, when the fire took place, about to bring round a cargo of barley for the supply of the wants of the poor in that district. We have no particulars of the occurrence but we give the statement as we have had it. It is said 8,000 barrels of wheat were consumed"

The Census of Population (1851) for the townland of Grillagh gives some idea of the effects of the Famine in the area.
In 1841 the population recorded was 195 and 33 houses. In 1851 these figures were; population 66 and 12 houses.

In 1848 the Allens sold the mill to Dr. Horace Newman Townshend Meade and in 1852 it passed to Thomas Bennett, who remodelled it and changed from the old mill stones to a gradual reduction system by rolls.

In 1890 the railway line connecting the mill to the Clonakilty main line was laid down. The line was gravity worked in the direction of the mill and the laden wagons were horse drawn to the main line. (The only other horse drawn system known in Ireland was at Clark's Linen Mill, Upperlands, Co. Derry.)
The old water wheel was replaced by two water turbines in 1933.

Three generations of the Bennett family carried on the milling business in Shannon Vale: Thomas Bennett, Joseph Bennett and Thomas-Joseph Bennett. The following brands of flour,were manufactured and sold.
Reform, Patent,Champion,Bakers Extra,Extra White,Bakers Firsts,Retail,Ghirka,One-way,as well as Indian Meal and Bran,Tailings and Oats,by the cwt.
TJ Bennett founded a hockey team in 1904 and it survived until 1933. They played at the Big Cross and also where the present rugby grounds are, at the Vale. The mill workers were paid a shilling extra per week to play and had plenty of competition from several West cork teams as well as big names like Harlequins,Mallow,Midleton, Catholic Institute etc. Ms. Ethel Bennett also formed a ladies team. Cricket was was also played in the early 1900's.

The business was sold to the Cork Milling Company in 1935. This company completely remodelled the mill and in 1937, erected a new Silo and installed a drying plant.
In 1955, a second drying plant was added, bringing the drying capacity to 1,000 barrells per day. At that time about 40,000 barrells of grain from the West Cork area was being processed annually, at the mill. "Three Star","Digesto" and "Sunburst" were the brand names of the flour produced by the Cork Milling Company. Owen Morrissey (miller for the company) stated in the late 1950's that
"Shannon Vale has a really modern, well equipped mill, employing about 30 people, most of them forming part of a long family tradition in working at the mill"

The mill was finally closed down in 1961, by the Rank organisation which controlled the Cork Milling Company and a number of the two dozen or so flour mills operating at that time.
Córa Iompair Éireann were also closing down the West Cork Railways at the time and an organisation known as West Cork Save-The Railwas Organisation were actively campaigning to reverse the decision. Click on this link to read a letter sent to the President, Eamon de Valera's office.

Every effort was made to persuade the owners and the Government, to keep the mill in operation, by T.D.'s , Clonakilty U.D.C. and several other organisations,but to no avail. Shannon Vale Mill was one the main sources of employment for the surrounding area.

On 26th March 1958, in Dáil Éireann, Michael Pat Murphy,Labour Party, T.D. for Cork South West, asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Sean Lemass, if the Rank organisation proposed to transfer it's milling quota of 29,759 barrels of wheat from Shannon Vale to it's Cork city operation, as fifteen permanent jobs were lost in Shannon Vale due to the closing of a substantial part of the business and it was feared that the company intended to close the mill.

After the mill closed, M.P. Murphy T.D. again questioned the then Minister for Industry and Commerce, Jack Lynch,
(13th /14th November 1963) on the legality of transferring the quota from Shannon Vale and closing the mill, with the loss of 25 permanent jobs.

The quota system was set up in 1933 to keep small mills going and each mill was required to mill not less than 90% of it's quota. The idea was that this quota could not be transferred to another mill thus jeopardising employment in a particular area. (There were exceptions to the rule, where mills were in close proximity and where employment would not be jeopardised by doing so)
However Ranks had an excess quota of 133,000 barrels in their other mills, which was four times the Shannon Vale quota. The Shannon Vale operation was deemed to be uneconomic and it's quota was absorbed by the others. So ended nearly two hundred years of industry where generations of the same families had worked.

The building today is a sad reflection of it's former glory, but not past restoration by any means. The use of the mill as a rearing unit for fowl has not done it any good and the modern rearing unit adjacent to it could be off-putting to any would be developer.

Visit Templebryan Stone Circle & Ecclesiastical Enclosure

Shannon Vale Hockey Team
Shannon Vale Hockey Team

1959 Advertisment for Shannon Vale flour
Click on the image above to view an enlarged version.

Bilko,Nuffy & Paddy taking a wagon to the train
Bill (Bilko) Phair, John (Nuffy) O'Brien & "Paddy", taking a wagon to the train.

Clonakilty Extension Railway Co.
Clonakilty Extension Railway Logo

List of Products from Shannon Vale Mill
Click on the image above to view an enlarged version of the Brand names of the Mill products

Bennett & Co. Shannon Vale
Bennett & Co. Shannon Vale

J.E. Spiller Bridge St. & Shannon Square, Clonakilty
J.E. Spiller & Co.Bridge St. & Shannon Square,Clonakilty

Mill & Silo taken from The Bleach
A view of the Mill and Silo taken from the Bleach

Gentry going for a jaunt?
Looks like an Old Model T well laden down

Docket fitted to wagons from the Mill for the train
Docket fitted to the wagons leaving the Mill,which were horse drawn from the Mill Shed to the train

C.B & S.C. Railway
Cork Bandon & South Coast Railway Logo

Clonakilty Extension Railway Co.
Another version of the Clonakilty Extension Railway Logo