1997:189 - MULLYCOVET MILL, BELCOO, Fermanagh

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Fermanagh Site name: MULLYCOVET MILL, BELCOO

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: SMR 11:85

Author: Colm J. Donnelly, c/o Belcoo and District Development Group Ltd, Belcoo Enterprise Centre, Railway Road, Belcoo, Co. Fermanagh BT93 5FG.

Site type: Cornmill and grain-drying kiln

ITM: E 612049m, N 839304m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 54.302353, -7.814883

Mullycovet Mill is located on the northern shore of Lower Lough Macnean, 4km east of Belcoo, along a narrow lane off the main A4 Enniskillen to Sligo road. This small rural industrial complex comprises a cornmill, a grain-drying kiln, a mill-dam, the miller’s house, shop and farmyard, and 6.3ha of farmland. A preliminary survey carried out in 1989 by Dr Fred Hamond identified the mill as having ‘cog-and-rung’ or ‘trundle’ gearing which drove one set of millstones and was powered by a vertical waterwheel. While the exact date of its construction remains unknown, the mill and its dam are depicted on an estate map commissioned by the earl of Erne in 1810. There is circumstantial evidence, however, to argue that the mill may have been constructed in the 18th century; the mill’s gearing is technically unsophisticated and of all-timber construction (similar to the mills of medieval times), and it is described as being ‘old and rudely constructed’ in the First Valuation Book of the 1830s. The complex ceased operating in 1929 and has since fallen into ruin, with the mill’s corrugated iron roof collapsing during the 1970s. An excavation was undertaken in April 1997 on behalf of the Belcoo and District Development Group Ltd, in advance of their restoration of the complex as a rural tourism and educational resource for the area.

The excavation was part-funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Assistance was given by the DoE(NI) Environment and Heritage Service, who supplied all equipment requirements, while a three-person crew was provided by ArchCor: Archaeological and Heritage Services. The investigation involved the removal of all surviving items of the mill’s timber gearing machinery to safe storage for use as templates for the construction of full-scale working replicas, which will be returned to the restored building. In addition, all post-abandonment debris was excavated by hand from the mill and the kiln to reveal the original floor levels and to assist in determining the architectural anatomy of both buildings.

The mill
The mill is a two-storey building, 6.5m externally from north to south by 7.75m from east to west. The entrance is at ground-floor level in the west gable, while a second entrance is located at first-floor level in the north wall. A third doorway, in the south wall at ground-floor level, is now blocked by drystone rubble, but it originally provided access to an adjoining shelling house which was demolished during the 1950s. Following the collapse during the 1970s of the roof, and the timber floors at first and mezzanine levels, the mill was left open to the elements, and a wind-deposited layer of loam accumulated to a depth of approximately 0.09-0.15m on the floor. This layer was removed to reveal the original floor surface of beaten clay with a central area of cobbling. This was set over a foundation raft of large stones, which was most clearly visible along the internal north side of the building. The stone staircase set along the internal face of the north wall (and originally leading up to a mezzanine level) was placed directly on top of this foundation raft. A half-section of a worn millstone was revealed at the threshold of the blocked ground-floor doorway in the south wall leading into the shelling house. The millstone had evidently been reused as a doorstep. Finds directly associated with the original floor surface were few in number and consisted of a small rectangular metal plate located on the central cobbled area, and two fragments of clay tobacco pipe stems which were found impressed into the surface of the beaten clay.

The removal of thick undergrowth on the south side of the mill revealed that the foundation courses of the shelling house survived in situ. It measured 3m internally from north to south by 2.5m from east to west, with walls some 0.45-0.55m thick. An L-shaped trench (2m east-west by 1m north-south) was opened within the shelling house to investigate the nature of its floor. A layer of post-abandonment soil was removed to reveal a beaten clay floor with cobbles randomly set into its surface.

The waterwheel pit is located on the external east wall of the mill. While the timber waterwheel had largely collapsed owing to exposure to the elements, the axle and two sets of arms were still in place. Removal of undergrowth and a thick coating of limestone concretion revealed the original constitution of the apron, which was of unmortared limestone blocks. Excavation in the vicinity of the waterwheel pit revealed that the waterwheel axle’s stone bearing and cap were still in situ. In addition, the silt and mud which had accumulated at the bottom of the pit following its abandonment had preserved the lower quarter of the waterwheel. This enabled Dr Hamond to identify that the waterwheel had a width of 0.66m, a dimension which differs from that recorded in the 1835 Ordnance Survey Memoirs (0.38m) and in the 1830s Valuation Book (0.38m), suggesting that the waterwheel described during the 1830s had been superseded by a new, wider waterwheel.

The kiln
Located a short distance to the north-west of the mill, the kiln is built into a limestone outcrop on the west side of the lane. The east gable faces onto the lane and the building measures 5m externally from north to south by 7.3m externally from east to west, with walls 0.55-0.65m thick. By aligning the building in this way the kiln made use of the natural topography to provide a ground-floor area which contained the hearth and kiln heart. This is accessed through a small entrance in the east gable at ground-floor level, 0.98m high and 0.58m wide, which leads into a passage running from north to south and set directly in front of the hearth. The passage is roofed with three semicircular sections of worn millstones, which lean against the east-facing sidewall of the kiln’s east gable at a 20? angle. This eastern passage provided a chamber for the person tending the fire during grain-drying, and a layer of dry, peaty soil, some 0.25m in depth, was found to cover its floor. Complete turf sods and a section of clay pipe stem were found within this layer, underneath which there was a lens of yellowish mortar covering the passageway’s bedrock surface. The hearth aperture is set in the west sidewall of the passage and has an arched surround of red bricks; the aperture is 0.62m wide and 0.71m high to the top of the arched brick apex. The floor of the hearth consisted of red bricks set in fire-reddened clay.

The eastern passage is 0.85m wide and varies from 0.94m to 1.96m in height. It has a length of 3m to the point in the north-east corner where it connects with a northern passage. This second passage is 0.68m wide, 4.85m long and varies from 0.99m to 1.25m in height. It runs upwards along the inside face of the northern wall and terminates at an entrance (0.6m wide and 1.25m high) in the east-facing wall of a room located at first-floor level at the west end of the kiln. The roof consists of five rectangular slabs of limestone, which lean against the north-facing side-wall at an angle of 20?. The surface of the channel was covered in post-abandonment collapsed masonry and dark brown humic loam, some 0.24m deep, which in turn was found to cover a layer of dry, peaty soil approximately 0.17m thick and spread over its entire floor. Removal of this layer revealed the passage floor, which was cut into the limestone bedrock.

Since the north wall of the kiln had mostly collapsed at its western end, a 1m by 1.6m trench was opened outside the building to verify that this was the location of the doorway leading into the building’s upper room. Excavation to a depth of 0.16m revealed a cobbled surface and a doorstep. The room was filled with fallen stone and post-abandonment deposits some 0.75m in depth. The removal of this material revealed the original floor surface to be the limestone bedrock on which this western end of the kiln had been constructed. The cracked and fissured surface of the bedrock was covered by a thin layer of black peaty soil, less than 0.05m deep.

A second doorway in the east wall of the upper room provided access to the grain-drying floor, also at first-floor level and set directly over the kiln heart below. The metal framework of wrought iron which once carried the drying floor was heavily corroded but still in place. The kiln heart, however, had become filled with fallen masonry and loam to an overall depth of 1.25-1.45m. Following excavation the floor of the kiln heart was found to consist of a reddened gritty soil. The date when the kiln lost its roof is not known, but oral testimony relates that it was still in active use during the 1920s. It is possible that the building was decommissioned after it closed for business since no metal or ceramic kiln floor plates were uncovered during the removal of the debris that had collected in the kiln heart.