Manor Mills Maynooth

Maynooth or Maigh Nuad (the plain of Nuada) is named after a mythological figure in Irish history. The medieval village was developed in the eighteenth century as an estate village by the FitzGeralds who became earls of Kildare and dukes of Leinster. The first FitzGerald, Maurice, was an Anglo-Norman knight who was granted the district surrounding Maynooth in 1176. The stone keep of Maynooth Castle, possibly dating from the late twelfth century, may have been erected on a previous defensive site. This was an ideal location for a fortified castle as it was bounded on the north by the Lyreen stream, a contributory of the Rye Water and on the south and east by a small tributary.

In 1328 the site was described as containing a ‘stone castle, hall with kitchen, thatch covered hall, bake-house, vault in a newly built garden, grange [barn or farm], cow byre, stable, turret, ditch, garden gate, haggard gate, dovecot [and] mills’. This is the first recorded listing of the existence of mills on the site which is now occupied by Manor Mills Shopping Centre. A bridge over the Lyreen connected the castle complex with the mills area. An old tradition asserts that the back wall of the manorial mill was the front wall of the castle mill. The castle was captured in a siege in 1535. Lord Deputies lived there afterwards and the earl of Kildare returned in the 1550s. Having being renovated and enlarged by Richard Boyle, 1st earl of Cork, father-in-law to George the 16th earl of Kildare, the castle was damaged again in the wars of the 1640s. It appears that the earl left soon afterwards and the castle fell into ruins. The family did not return to Maynooth again for c.100 years.

By the mid-seventeenth century there were two mills on the site (one in disrepair) and over the years buildings were developed on each side of the mill race which was drawn from the Lyreen. These included kilns, offices, stores and stables. Sluices were also added. By the mid-nineteenth century however, time had taken its toll and only one flour mill was in use. The property was still in the hands of the duke of Leinster whose family on their return to Maynooth had set up residence in Carton House at the eastern end of the town.

Some time later a Mr Edward Kavanagh took over the running of Manor Mills. His family was already well-known in the milling and corn trade in Dublin. The man who founded his mill beside the ivy-covered castle ruin saw it firmly established. An interesting link with the early days is the old mill wheel. Built c.1850 by Thomas Smith millwright of Celbridge, it was installed in the mill race, and continued to power the grinding mill until well into the twentieth century.

During the milling season it was a common sight throughout Ireland to see lines of donkeys and carts loaded with sacks of grain making their way to and queuing patiently outside the local mill. In this way it was also a social event, giving the men time to chat and exchange gossip and in some cases even time to visit the local hostelry. Over time, tractors with trailers and then trucks replaced the old carts. When the property changed hands the mill wheel remained on the site.

While the diameter of a mill wheel was important; it was the volume of flow of the water which provided the mill with its working power. While some wheels were powered by water from above, others were powered by water from below. The most powerful wheels (the ones with the highest horse power) were the ones with the greatest breadth of bucket, combined with diameter and fall of water.

How do you work out the horse power of a working mill wheel? During the mid-nineteenth century when government surveyors visited every mill owner in the country – all 2,600 of them – they were given instructions. ‘When a bucket-wheel has been properly constructed, the cubical content of water discharged per minute multiplied by .001325 and by the fall, will give the effective horse power’. In addition a mill’s grinding capacity also depended on the number and size of the millstones with which it operated. And all this before the invention of the calculator!

Over time, the old mill wheel and grinding stones together with the donkeys and carts outlived their usefulness and were discarded in favour of more modern methods. And over time, what had once been FitzGerald’s Manor Mills in the thirteenth century gave way to Kavanagh’s Manor Mills in the nineteenth century which in turn gave way Manor Mills Shopping Centre in the twenty-first century.

Mill-race in valley – But no one told the river
The mill was closed.

Haiku – Stuart Lane (1932-2007)

Rita Marie Edwards
Maynooth Local History Group