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Published March 7th 2019
Skerries Mills, a living museum located in Skerries, Dublin County, just a 30-minute train or car ride from Dublin city centre, recreates life in 15th century Ireland whilst meeting modern day needs. See how they've harnessed wind and water power for centuries to process grains to flour, becoming the centre of town life.
What makes this property well and truly unique? It's the only property in Ireland with three National Monuments – the four-sail windmill, the five-sail windmill, and the water wheel / watermill. The bakery, which in my humble opinion also deserves National Treasure status under the watchful eye of Chef Ivo, houses both sweets and savouries to match any appetite.
In addition to the mills, grain-planted fields, an associated mill pond (complete with mallard and swan), mill races and wetland make this an ideal property for a good walkabout.
The manager, Ray Hunt, explains the social enterprise that makes this property ideal for running training programs for Irish youth, especially in catering, whilst providing space for artists and writers to gather and share ideas. The artists' wares can be found for sale in the gift shop and hanging on the Café walls.
The Tour: Skerries Mills has had the same two resident tour guides for more than 20 years. Both are descendants of early workers. Gavin is descended on both sides – his 3rd grandfather (great great-) worked at the malting house and married one of miller Murphy's daughters. Paddy's ancestors kept the fires running, especially dangerous with thatched roofs that caught fire all too easily.
Whilst estimated to last 50 minutes, additional questions can lengthen the tour. Several of the rooms are too small for large groups, easily split between these two storytellers. They can have two tours an hour, one leaving the guest centre every 30 minutes.
Gavin took me through the mill building, showing me the equipment and pulleys that finally took over the back-breaking work of carrying 20 stone bags (about 280 pounds) up narrow ladders to be dropped into the grinding stones. The process of sifting, grinding, sifting and packaging all occurs in each of the three mils. With proper care, a millstone may last the life of a miller.
The Farm: In prior years, they grew only one crop per year, keeping the mill active about 7 months between the growing season and the weather. Now, with the addition of a winter oats crop, the mill can be active more frequently, with this harvest anticipated in June.
Harvest festivals, celebrated with the assistance of the Fingal Vintage Society, with everyone kitted out in their best braces and flat hats, include sections of farmland with the sequence of harvesting equipment. It's an ideal time to visit.
One field is worked by a man with a scythe. Slow and tedious, but gets the job done. The second field, a reaper-binder machine, one of the original mechanical ways to replace the scythe. A third field contains a combine harvester pulled by a tractor. The fourth field has a self-propelled combine-harvester from the 1960s. They tried bringing in a more modern machine but it didn't go over well with the locals. "Too modern," they said.
The four-sail windmill, or small windmill, circa 1460, the oldest in Ireland with a thatched roof, requires canvas sails be dropped from the end of each section. It has one stone.
From this location, atop the hill, you'll have views of three islands, Colt, St. Patrick's and Shenick, and the Rockabil lighthouse. On clear days, you'll see the Mourne Mountains. Don't fear if the weather isn't too clear, the views remain breathtaking, especially if you luck into a sunbeam.
The five-sail windmill, or GREAT Windmill, circa 1780, with copper roof, has wooden shutter sails that can be opened and closed from below. It has two sets of stones and can have twice the output of the four-sail.
There's no river nearby, so the industrious souls created the mill pond and their own river to flow to the building, with the wheel always within the miller's view from his office. On the tour, they've re-created the miller's office, a town hub. The waterwheel powers the building's sieves, shakers, and millstone.
The Gift Store:
Fine award-winning crafts, high-quality Irish made giftware and goods, including delectable Irish Vanilla Fudge, make excellent souvenirs and gifts for people back home. You simply can't go wrong with the quantity and quality of choices. You may want to save your gift money for this locale.
A cosy and warm space with additional treats in the display case, sodas in the cooler, and water to the side, the 16 tables in the main dining room, and 5 tables with sofa seating behind the fireplace are filled much of the day. Whether a men's group, a family, a mother with her small children, girlfriends, grandmother with tween granddaughter, or a solo diner, there's something for every appetite. The homey atmosphere makes you want to keep the space as clean as your home when it's ready for company. Or curl up with a good book on one of the sofas and stay a spell.
You could create your own high tea here with the offerings provided. Savouries like Cajun chicken salad, with their own Cajun dressing, would make a New Orleaner feel right at home. Their scones, with an unsweetened cream on request, has just the right lightness to make your tastebuds dance. The ability to have both sweet and savoury at such a high level of execution makes this the best place to stop for your mid-day meal.
To make a full day of it, if you're able to pull yourself away from the Café, walk down to the pond and say hello to the mallards and swan, past to the Church of Ireland and the Holmpatrick Cemetery, and over to the water's edge for a better look at the islands in the Irish Sea. There are plenty of benches along the South Strand path to sit and admire the view.
If on foot, you may want to leave from the South Strand to return to the train station, about a mile's walk. If you have the energy, walk further up around the horn to find St Patrick's Footprint and walk along St Patrick's Way.
A day in Skerries fills the brain and belly and restores the spirit. It's a glorious day.
From Connolly Station, Dublin, take the train to Skerries.
At the Skerries station, take a left out the door and follow the road down to the windmills (you'll see the 4-sail mill first) and signs to the pedestrian entrance. Don't worry if you forget, if you turn right, you'll still get there, it'll just take longer - you can see the 4-sail windmill from anywhere in the town.