In the early 1800s, with Ireland’s pre-famine population near its peak, there were upwards of 7,000 various water-powered mills across the country. Many of these, including Brennan’s Mill here at Drum, were producing flour and rolling or cracking other grains (oats, barley and wheat) for animal food, while more were serving the textile industry or used as sawmills.
Whatever their purpose they were ingeniously built by men using hand tools to fashion materials that were readily at hand. While these early vernacular industries were labour intensive they were as clean and sustainable as could be. Although some iron or steel was used in the construction of many, others relied solely on timber and stone.
Little remains of Brennan’s mill today, apart from four walls. Perhaps the millstones grace someone’s garden. The mill race is still there, although land drainage has reduced the flow to a trickle – there is certainly far less than would be required to power a mill of even minimal proportions.
Water shortage through dry weather was a feature of many Irish mills. ‘Mills be scarce there, and in summer they want water,’ said the 1923 book Advertisements for Ireland. The writer goes on to advocate the establishment of millponds and windmills to make up for periods of low rainfall. These developments rarely took place.
Folk memory tells us that the adjacent road was known as Mill Lane or Mill Road.
It must have greatly pained mill owners to see large quantities of Irish grain being exported through the 1840s while the country was in the grip of the Great Famine.
Some of the Brennan family worked as stone masons, but whether these were responsible for the unusual inscription to one of the gate pillars that lead to the mill is unknown.
The writing, as far as we can make out, reads ‘Cock Robin gone to the bog’.