Thursday, August 8, 1996

Ardreigh Mills

Last week's Newspaper recorded the closure of a local factory in Athy. Sherwood Medical which had been in operation in the town for 22 years announced its impending closure some months ago with the loss of 45 jobs. This is a great loss to the area where last month over 1,200 potential workers were already unemployed. Athy has witnessed several factory and business closures over the years and the departure of Sherwood Medical adds one more to the list which includes such well remembered factory closures as the Wallboard Factory and the I.V.I. Foundry. Just over 70 years another business closure saw the end of Hannon's Mills which had operated at Ardreigh and at the Barrow Bridge in Athy.

There are few today who remember the Ardreigh Mill where the famous Lilywhite flour was produced. Even fewer still will recall the men who worked in the Mill in the years before its closure in 1925. The fine four storey building which straddled the Mill Race at Ardreigh is no more and the drawbridge which led directly into the heart of the building now gives access to Lords Island only.

When the Mill closed it had a devastating effect on the economy of the town. This was understandable given the scarcity of Industrial employment in Athy where the only work was to be found in Minch Nortons or the local brick yards. But the brick yards for so long, valuable providers of employment for local men and women were even then well passed their prime and were destined to close down soon afterwards. If the loss of Hannon's Mill had serious reprecussions for many families in Athy, its closure was felt even more keenly in the Ardreigh area from where so many of the Mill workers were drawn.

Towards the end of World War 1, the head Miller at Hannon's Mill was John Healy who lived in the Mill cottage which is still standing at Ardreigh. His daughter Mrs. Mary Carr was the subject of an Eye on the Past some years ago in which she recalled her young days spent in the Mill cottage and also for a short while in the Gate Lodge attached to Ardreigh House. The Assistant Miller was Tom Nolan who lived in the middle house of three houses on the left hand side of the road between Ardreigh Cemetery and Gray's Lane as the lane to Spring Lodge was then called. His son John also worked in the Mill.

The Mill workers included Patrick Mitchell who lived in a thatched house on the left side of Gray's Lane just before the point where the Railway line crosses what is locally called "The Gullet". Patrick was in charge of the Mill Stores and his son Jack is now living in the Coneyboro. William Brown whose sister was married to Patrick Mitchell was in charge of flour packing. He was a son of Pat Brown who was coachman to the Hannon's and father and son lived in a house now long demolished which stood on the left side of Grey's lane on what was Hannon's farm. Another Mill worker was Dan Dargan, son of Jim Dargan, land steward for the Hannon's who lived in the last of the three houses on the main Carlow Road next to Grey's lane. Paddy Kealy lived in the Lane with his father Dan Kealy in the house now owned by Jimmy Byrne and both father and son were Hannon Mill workers. Two brothers Leo and Martin Nolan who also worked there lived in a thatched house in Grays lane just beyond Loughman's house. Martin was later to work with Athy Gas works after the closure of Hannons Mill and before he emigrated to America. The Nolan house is now demolished.

Jack Howard another mill worker lived in Grays lane in what was recently Reddys. His daughter Kitty married a Kearney and I recall their sons attending the Christian Brothers schools before the entire family emigrated to England in the mid 1950's. A co-worker of Jack Howards was Bill Jenkins who lived in Meeting Lane, Athy and whose daughter Kathleen Sunderland is now living in Church Road. They were but a few "Townies" on the mill staff and apart from Bill Jenkins there was Jack Hayes of Convent Lane, "Gurcock" Murphy and Luke Kelly both from Athy. Other workers not from Ardreigh included Jack Dalton of Foxhill who was the engine man. The mill wheel was water controlled but when the river was toO low tO power the big wheel, engine power was brought into operation under the guidance of Jack Dalton. Another Foxhill man on the staff was Larry Cullen who was employed as a Carpenter.

Flour delivery in the South Kildare area was by horse and dray and a number of men were involved in this work. Pat Keeffe lived in Ardreigh as did Mick Gleeson whose house was in what was locally referred to as the back road but which we know as Bray Road. Peter Behan of Rathstewart was another dray man employed in the Ardreigh Mills. There were also a number of lorries employed in transporting flour and collecting grain and these were in the charge of the Davis brothers and the Knowles brothers about whom regretfully I know nothing.

Reading the names of the men who worked in Hannons Flour Mills it is clear that the local Ardreigh area benefited most in terms of jobs. All the greater then was the areas loss when Hannons closed down in 1925. The reason for the closure cannot now be positively identified given the passage of time. Maybe it was a combination of many factors such as the deaths of the Mill owners sons Ian and Leslie killed while fighting in France during World War 1. Maybe it was the sudden death of the Mill owner John A. Hannon in Ardreigh House on 3rd April, 1923 which heralded the end of the Flour Mill. He was found shot in his bedroom, and the subsequent Inquest finding was one of accidental death. Locals still talk of unexplained movements heard by a servant in the house that morning which raised the possibility of a third parties involvement in his death.

The opening of a modern mill in Limerick just when the Ardreigh Mill was under severe financial strain possibly offers the most plausible explanation for the subsequent demise of what was a long standing Industry in Athy. Whatever the reason, Ardreigh Mills closed in 1925 leaving a trail of desolation in its wake equalled only by that experienced when Athys famous brick yards were closed. The names of the men who worked in the Mill over 70 years ago are all but forgotten. Indeed, time has erased not only their names from memory but has seen the demolition of the Mill and the very houses in which some of the Mill workers lived with their families.

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