The Little Mill is situated between Shop Street and Chapel Lane in Tuam, Co. Galway. The River Nanny, a tributary of the River Clare, flows through the mill and this river used to turn the mill wheel. For the purpose of this project we have selected the Little Mill and the Miller’s house as our favourite building. The area surrounding this mill is by far the most historical part of Tuam and was called King Rory O’ Connor Park since it was here that King Rory had his castle while he ruled Ireland from Tuam for thirty years in the latter half of the twelfth century. The area we are concerned with in our project is located on the western side of the four-arched limestone bridge. The river can be viewed from the bridge and there are grassed banks on both sides running for a distance of eighty feet. These banks are overgrown and untidy and lead up to the 300 year old corn mill and miller’s house. A road leads from the mill into the bridge, which now appears to be used, by a local shop for parking vans. The mill wheel itself is quite decayed and needs to be restored urgently. The ironwork and milling machines inside the mill building have remained largely untouched since the building was closed down
The Little Mill
The history of Milling on the site of the Little Mill in Shop Street in Tuam dates from the early 18th century. On Morriss’s map of Tuam dated 1720 there is a mill marked on this site. The original millers were a family called Corcoran who came from Cloonmore, outside Dunmore. The Corcoran family continued as the millers up to the early years of the 20th century. In 1898, one of the Corcoran family married one of the Farrell family and this led to the Farrell family taking over the Corcoran mill in 1909 and making it in to the four storey building it is today.
The Farrell family owned the other mill across the road [now Garvey’s], which helped with most types of grain so it was decided that the smaller mill would make oatmeal only. Therefore the larger mill became known as the “Big Mill” and our favourite building became known as the “Little Mill”.
The most up to date piece of machinery that was installed in the mill [a Walworth kiln for drying the grain] was installed in 1945 when electricity came to this area. It is interesting to note that although electricity came to this area in 1945, some houses in the rural countryside did not have electricity until the 1960’s and at least one house in the town did not receive electricity until 1992.
After the Great War, tillage went into decline and the old watermills in the countryside began to close, but with the onset of the Second World War compulsory tillage was introduced and this gave the old watermills a new lease of life. After the Second World War came modernisation with electrical machinery where the dependency on waterpower was no longer required.
Some mills in places like Tuam and other larger towns installed electrical machinery in addition to retaining the waterwheel. With the drainage of the Corrib system, the water flow down the millrace became a trickle and the water pressure for milling was reduced by about 55% in this immediate area. Millers along the river also lost their water rights. The millers were compensated of course and the miller at the little mill received an electric motor, ten years free electricity and of course a few pounds for himself. The little mill continued to produce oatmeal until 1964 when it finally closed down.
Like many old buildings of its kind, it was just left to fall into decay in its own good time .The mill pond had become a stream running between two weed infested banks. The town prospered without the mill and naturally the traffic problem increased. In this area cars were parked on both sides of the street and were causing problems with the traffic flow. Looking for new places to park cars was a problem for the townspeople.
In 1970, our local authority the Town Commissioners, proposed that the mill and its environs be demolished to make way for a new car park. However, 1970 was also a conservation year in Europe and a conversation competition was held in this country sponsored by the Department of Lands and Shell Ireland.
Seven local students in the C.B.S [Now St. Patrick’s] under their teacher Dr. John A. Claffey thought up the project to preserve the mill and its environs and site the car park in a different location. The project received wide acclaim and won first prize nationally. The students and their teacher were given a continental tour of preserved location in Europe in 1971. However by 1972 the students began to wonder if their project was going to be just another paper project or were people going to do something about it.
In March 1972, a public meeting was called which was well attended. As a result of this meeting, a committee was formed. They started raising money, purchased the “Little Mill” from the Farrell family, did some roof repairs as part of the roof had fallen in and was eventually opened as a museum of Industrial Archaeology by President Erskine Childers in May 1974.
Between 1974 and 1976 the mill was open to visitors during the summer season on a voluntary basis by the late John Manning and Eoin McManus. By the end of 1976 however, interest in the project had waned and the mill remained closed for the following three years.
At the beginning of 1980 the trustees of the mill museum decided that they would look around town to see if they could get a sufficient number of people to take an interest in the project as it had become derelict again.
Following a special meeting in March 1980 a new committee was formed. Work on cleaning up the area started with the help of boys and girls from the local youth club. Help was forthcoming from many people. The grounds were improved and laid out as we see them today with topsoil provided by Paddy Raftery and the Irish Sugar Company.
The mill and the miller’s house reopened on the 19th of May 1980 by Cardinal Thomas O’ Fiach with an exhibition on “The Five Generations Of Milling”, a history of the Farrell family and their involvement in milling over 200 years ago.
The mill machinery was put back into working order and was worked once again by waterpower. With each succeeding year some minor improvements had been carried out at the mill, always within the constraints of available finance. In the early 1970’s the secretary of the Department of Lands offered a gift of Mountain Ash trees to this project such was his interest in this project.
In 1981, more tree planting was carried out and some of the trees, which were donated by Fahy’s Nurseries, still survive to the present time. In 1982 the wildlife project started. This was to re-introduce wildlife to this part of the Nanny river. In 1983 the mill museum housed the tourist information office on a seasonal basis.
The most recent work carried out has been the installation of a fire/smoke alarm system and a complete rewiring of the mill itself. It is hoped that over the next few years the mill building will be re-roofed.
Finally it may be of interest to note that when the mill museum society purchased the property from the Farrell family in the early 1970’s, it was discovered that the last miller, Edward [Ned] Farrell was not the owner. The property was in the name of his sister Molly.