North and south come together to make an old wheel turn again


As we await the outcome of Northern events, we should try not to lose sight of good things.

An example of this is the restoration project at the Mullycovet Cornmill in Belcoo, Co Fermanagh. It involves the Patrick Sheehan Sawmill of Ballyporeen, Co Tipperary, the same Ballyporeen which President Ronald Reagan visited some years ago. The Tipperary sawmill was called in because of its expertise with various types of wood.

First some history. Documentary evidence of the mill may still be found in a portfolio of estate maps commissioned by the Earl of Erne in 1810. It continued to be a working mill for many years and finally fell into disrepair in the 1970s. It became silted up, but the silt did its bit for preservation.

Enough of the mill was preserved to allow researchers the opportunity to re-create the old wooden mill on paper. It was then realised something of immense educational and tourism value was under all that mud.

It was listed by the Historic Buildings Branch of the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland. A limited company was formed to organise the restoration. Funding was obtained from the British lottery and local sources.

The Ballyporeen connection was established in July of this year when the Co Tipperary sawmills was awarded the contract. Queen's University Belfast identified precisely the woods used in the manufacture of the original mill, and the Munster sawmill set about finding matching woods.

That it has done, and now all the various pieces, including the waterwheel and gearwheels, as well as the 10ft-long wooden axle, have been transported from Tipperary to Belcoo.

As I write, a Co Tipperary team, under the expert guidance of wheelwright Roger O'Farrell, a Mitchelstown man, is working to replicate the mill to its former splendour. Everyone involved is excited about the job.