1991:054 - 'Ballylee Mill' Ballylee, Galway

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Galway Site name: 'Ballylee Mill' Ballylee

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR 123:018 Licence number:

Author: Dominic Delaney, 38 Lower Newcastle, Galway.

Site type: Mill

ITM: E 548062m, N 706333m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.105040, -8.775640

Ballylee Mill is located about 200m downstream from the late medieval tower-house of Thoor Ballylee. A reconstruction project is being undertaken there by Ireland West Tourism in conjunction with a FAS youth training programme and an archaeologist was employed at the site to excavate the mill race in advance of reconstruction. It was hoped that the archaeological work would establish the antiquity of the mill.

The excavation uncovered evidence of two phases of construction. The first can be equated with the ‘Tuck and Corn Mill’ which is named on the 1st edition of the Ordnance Survey 6-inch map for Co. Galway (1841, Sheet No. 123). During this phase there appear to have been two mill races in operation at the site. The south race has survived, virtually intact, as it was used as an overspill channel during the second phase. The floor of this race is composed of large limestone and sandstone slabs, some of which have been deeply scored by the ini1i wheel. The grooves indicate that the wheel had been running off-centre for some time. The revetting wall faces overlie the race floor. The first 2-3 courses, which are composed of large rectangular limestone blocks, represent the original wall facing. The upper courses have been rebuilt using smaller roughly-cut limestone masonry. This mill race drove the tuck mill, the foundations of which were excavated from the embankment to the south. The foundation consisted of two courses of unworked limestone masonry and overlay a compacted stone fill. A small area of flagstone flooring probably the base for the shaft axle stone, was located within this structure. From the character of the existing remains, the tuck mill does not appear to have been a very substantial structure. This building was not in use during the second phase.

The north race dates mainly from the second phase of construction. The existing race has been formed by widening and adjusting the pitch of an earlier race. These alterations were necessary to accommodate the wider ‘low-breast’ mill wheel which was in use during the second phase. Part of the original race floor survives but, for the most part, it has been replaced by a makeshift floor, containing fragments of two mill stones from the original mill. During both phases this mill race drove the main mill building, which stands on the north side of the race. The existing building has been extended from an earlier structure. The present south gable (length 6.6m) has been formed by lengthening the gable of an earlier mill (length 5m). The gable retains two original features, the ope, through which the wheel axle passed and a culvert opening, which drained the pit wheel area. The extent of the original mill building could only be determined by an archaeological excavation of the existing mill-building. One of the original sluice gate stones was located in a re-used position in the extended gable wall. Its position probably indicates the location of the original sluice gates. The presence of several large limestone lintels at the head of the mill races suggests there was also some form of clapper bridge here linking the tuck mill on the embankment.

The finds from the excavation are all of post-medieval date. The pottery types represented include earthenwares (blackware and pearlware), delphwares and porcelains, which range in date from the 18th to the 20th century. A number of small stone fittings from the tuck mill machinery were also located. I would suggest that the original tuck and corn mill dates from the early-mid 18th-century period. This mill was still in operation in 1841, when the 1st edition of the Ordnance Survey 6-inch map was published. It seems likely, however, that the original structure was abandoned some time prior to the second phase of construction. This is suggested by the fact that much of the stonework from the original mill buildings does not remain on site. The existing structural remains are those of a late 19th-century reconstruction of the earlier mill.

In conclusion it should be noted that the site was only partially excavated. Consequently, any conclusions drawn at this stage must be treated tentatively pending the possibility that further excavation work may be undertaken at the site. I would suggest removing the second phase flooring of the north race to determine if the original race floor survives. An archaeological excavation of the existing mill building would also be essential in order to clarify the history and antiquity of the mill.