Corrib Connect


 Drainage Schemes, Lime Kilns and Whiskey

Mills and Drainage Schemes

The natural drainage channels from Lough Corrib to Galway Bay included the River Corrib, the Gaol River or Cathedral River and the Western River or Convent River. By the mid 19th century there were approximately 30 mills in operation in Galway. When Alfred Barnard visited Persse’s Distillery in 1886, he reamarked that the water discharge from the Corrib could have turned all the mills in Manchester.

The Institution of Engineers of Ireland (IEI) have produced an article which provides an overview of the following:

For a link to this article, click here.

Sadly, none of the 30 installations are currently used for commercial purposes and the only wheel turning is that in the bridge mills. However, a former mayor of Galway, Frank Fahey, hopes to have a hydroelectric plant constructed in the vicinity of the Parkavera lock (August 2016).

Elmwood Mill, Cong

The Elmwood Mill was build by Thomas Elwood of Strandhill (near Cong) in 1839 and was used for flour milling. In 1971 the family’s  properties at Cong and Strandhill were sold due to bankruptch. This example of a pre-famine mill is still standing today and could be restored to working conditions.

Lime Kilns

A lime kiln is used to produce quicklime through the calcination of limestone (calcium carbonate). The chemical equation for this reaction is:  CaCO3 + heat → CaO + CO2. On reacting the quicklime with water, one obtains slaked lime (calcium hydroxide)

Lime kilns were common in Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries and Ballincollig Heritage have an excellent account of the history and operation of lime kilns and there is no point in repeating it here. The site also gives a list of the uses of limestone. However from the point of view of the Corrib area, the main use of quicklime was in soil improvement. The modern advertising slogan for agricultural ime use is “Give life to the land”. However this is balanced by the old saying of “Lime enriches the father but impoverishes the son” recognising the the benefits of lime are transient and the requirement for further additions to maintain fertility.

There are many lime kilns along the shores of the corrib from Galway to Maam. They are more plentiful around the upper lake, a non-limestone area but strangely, there are none along the Oughterard shore. Their distribution can be conveniently viewed using the OSI 25” historic map with the kiln overlay ticked.

Fisheries Field Lime Kiln, on the Grounds of NUI, Galway.

In 2007, Galway Civic Trust (Dúchas na Gaillimhe) restored the Fisheries Field Lime Kiln. It is a much more elaborate structure than the lime kilns seen along the shores of the Corrib. This lime kiln was used to burn down limestone to a powdery substance which had several different uses and was used for whitewashing houses, for disinfecting dwellings including the local gaol, nearby fever hospital and workhouse. Click here to view a picture and information of the restored lime kiln.

H.S. Persse Nun’s Island Distillery – Galway (1815 - 1913)

By the mid 1830’s there were four distilleries operating in the city: Burke’s Quarter Barrel Distillery was at the end of Quay Street, where Jury’s Hotel is today; Burton Persse had two, one in Newtownsmith and one in Newcastle (Distillery Road ); and the Nun’s Island Distillery was owned by a John Lynch and produced 100,000 gallons per annum. Unfortunately Mr Lynch got into financial difficulties and closed down the business. Burton Persse purchased the Nun’s Island Distillery from the Encumbered Estates Court in 1940 but converted it to a woollen mill. However, when Persse’s lease on his Newcastle Distillery lapsed, and the woollen trade declined, he closed down the Newtownsmith operation and  converted Nun’s Island back to a distillery, probably around 1846. The distillery was located on a fork in the river Corrib, hence the name Nun’s Island which still exists today. The Nun’s Island distillery was in today’s parlance a ‘high-tech’ opearation and had, as with all distilleries of this time, its own maltings and corn stores and operated a triple distillation process. There were 5 warehouses on site. It employed about 100 people directly with many more employed in supplying the distillery.

The whiskey produced was labelled as Persse’s Galway Whilkey and the output was about 10,000 gallons at 20 over proof per week. The business thrived for about 60 years.

For a more detailed account visit The Ireland Whiskey Trail and an August 2009 article in the Galway Advertiser.