Virtual Visit: Tacumshane Windmill, Co. Wexford WX053-006

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Take a virtual visit to Tacumshane Windmill, Co Wexford.

In the south-east corner of Ireland nearest to France, the coastwise currents deposit silt across the mouths of inlets, forming sandy beaches and sea lakes. The currents are strong because the seawater, twice daily with the tides, rushes in and out of the Irish Sea between Rosslare and Fishguard. On the south-facing coast, one such lake is Tacumshin Lough, really a part of the sea trapped behind the burrow and shingle bars.

The sandy soils conceal some of the youngest and oldest of Ireland’s bedrocks, from Precambrian ‘Gneiss’ to buried Triassic conglomerates (only 250,000,000 years young, but in their time known to have been buried more than 2,500 metres below the surface of the earth!).

These gentle soils make the land of the ‘sunny-south east’ good for growing cereal crops. The long hours of sunshine and level lands favoured barley, oats and wheat. The flat land also allowed the wind to blow, and at Tacumshane in a townland called Fence, a man named Nicholas Moran harnessed the wind to grind the corn. Its top could be rotated by a boom at the back to catch the wind as it changed direction. The sails would have been covered in cloth or canvas like those of a ship. It is reputed to have been built in 1846, just before ‘Black ‘47’. Do you know what event in Irish history this refers to? Agriculture was continuing, despite the failure of the potato crop.

This windmill was thatched with the stems of the barley, oats or wheat. Wheat is long, and it can last for fifteen years, but the ground needs to be dry to grow it. Harry Crozier in County Fermanagh said that oat straw makes the brightest, loveliest roof.[1] Since they never last forever, the re-thatching can reflect the changes in the crops that were grown, as the market price dictated or suggested to the farmer what next to grow. It was in use until 1936.

You can see the flatness of the crop field and of the surrounding landscape in this photograph, and also a tree. The size of the tree tells you how long it’s been since the windmill’s sails turned in earnest: no miller would let such a big obstacle grow so close and prevent him working on the days the wind blew from that direction!

Windmills were quite common in Ireland for the same reason as wind turbines are now – free energy, just blowing about. Inside the windmill are quern stones for grinding the hard, dry grain into flour. There’s quite a bit of machinery to control the unending blowing of the wind and turn it into a manageable circular motion; cranks and gears transformed this energy from horizontal to vertical allowingit to feed rotational energy to four pairs of stones. The inside of the mill is not spacious, the stairs are really steep ladders, and you have to watch your head for beams, and your hands in case some axle moved when the wind blows. The inside space is given over entirely to machinery and chutes with just enough room for a person to clamber around to take care of everything.

Because of the combination of vernacular and industrial interest in this building, it was taken into care as a National Monument in the 1950s. The last miller would have seen his craft turned into history in the space of just a few years, an indicator of the rapidity of change in the twentieth century.

[1] Henry Glassie, 2006, The Stars of Ballymenone, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, p. 190-1