Restoration of windmill puts wind in sails of Elphin

 

The community in the historic village of Elphin, Co Roscommon, is enormously proud of the restoration job carried out on what it believes to be Ireland's oldest working windmill.

Elphin, which gave its name to the diocese, had little else going for it as a tourist attraction when its community enterprise committee came up with the idea of restoring the windmill, built in the 1720s, according to its chairman, Mr Cyril McDermott.

The mill, which had been used for grinding corn and flax up until the 1830s, had remained derelict ever since. Mr Tom O'Byrne, the current owner of the land on which it is situated, sold the mill to the committee for £1 in 1989.

Mr Fred Hammond, a Belfast industrial archaeologist with a penchant for windmills, examined the tower, became enthusiastic and made the necessary drawings. FAS rowed in with two full-time carpenters and a foreman as well as six trainees on a rotation basis and the rest is history.

"There was nothing but the tower left when we started," said Mr McDermott. The project was grant-aided by funds from the Millennium Committee to the tune of £43,000 and a further £19,000 from the Arigna LEADER project.

The total cost of the materials used came to £63,000. The Roscommon Partnership contributed £18,000 in 1997, which enabled the committee to build a traditional cottage alongside the mill.

A particular source of pride is that they were able to restore the interior, all made of wood - Douglas fir and oak from Ballyporeen - right down to the cogs on the breakwheel. The roof was thatched with organically grown rice straw, "because it is harder and more durable". The thatching, 18 inches thick, was done by Mr Brian Rodgers from Dunmore West, who followed the contours of the original roof exactly. Floodlighting was installed to complete the picture.

The project was opened by actor Gabriel Byrne home on holiday from the US, amid a fanfare of publicity. His mother, Eileen Gannon, was born locally.