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History of Leitir Corn Mill

Leitir Corn Mill is situated on southern bank of the Glenaddragh River, in the townland of Leitir, in the parish of Kilcar, Co Donegal. It was built on the site of an older mill which dates back to the late 1700’s when John Murray, of Broughton and Cally, in the Southwest of Scotland, was the landlord of the estate. The Murray landlords owned large swathes of the land in South West Donegal, comprising the baronies of Banagh and Boylagh, dating back to the plantation of Ulster. The oldest record found of the old mill is an estate map dated 1813/14, which was commissioned by the administrators acting for the estate of the then landlord Alexander Murray of Broughton and Cally. Alexander Murray inherited the Scottish and Donegal estates from his father John, who died in 1799. Alexander Murray remained the owner of the mill until his death in 1845.

When Alexander Murray died childless in 1845, his estates were inherited by Horatio Granville Stewart, (b.1834, d.1904). Horatio was the great-grandnephew of Alexander Murray's mother, Lady Catherine Stewart and grandson of a Sir William Stewart, 6th Earl of Galloway. He was not a direct descendent of the Murrays of Broughton.

His name was legally changed to Horatio Granville Murray Stewart of Broughton by Royal Licence in 1846. H.G.Murray Stewart remained the mill’s owner until 1879. The building of the new kiln and the remodelling of the old mill was completed during his tenure.

There is no trace of House Books relating to the mill.  The first “Ordnance Survey” of 1835, shows a simple rectangular building with a separate kiln.

Valuation Office field books show the original mill was valued on the 24th of January 1838 by Tomas Cox. The corn-mill and land, was valued at £4 -6s -0p. John Mc Closkey who hailed from Fiafannon, Killybegs, was named as the occupier. John Mc Closkey was the renter of the mill until his death in 1850. In 1842 John Mc Closkey is recorded as paying a rent of £7-0s-0p, per annum for the mill. This rental sum remained unchanged for over 20 years.

John Mc Closkey’s brother Francis then succeeded him as the renter of the mill. Francis Mc Closkey vacated the mill 1860/61. The mill then fell under the stewardship of George Venebles Wilson, who was the landlord’s estate agent at this time.

The new mill was built or more than likely it was substantially re-modelled and modernised on the site of the older mill between the years 1862 and 64. The Murray Stewart estate papers reveal that the building of the kiln began in October 1862. The mill itself was also substantially remodeled during this period and new machinery installed. The addition of the new kiln gave the mill its traditional “L” shaped outline.

The mill catered for the corn growers of the parishes of Kilcar, Glencolumbkille and Killybegs. There was a cohort of farmers from parts of Ardara, who ground their corn ground at the mill also. The builders of the new mill were the local builders and stone masons, James and John Campbell. The overseer of the building of the mill was James Mc Munn from Killybegs. George Venebles Wilson played a crucial role in coordinating the building work and overseeing the procurement and installation of the new machinery.

The mill’s grey granite shelling stone (called “the shilling stone” in this mill), was quarried at Lettercran, Pettigo, Co Donegal. The cast iron plate on the Bhurr stone, (called “The meal stone”), reads: Kay and Hilton, Fleet Street, Liverpool, 1863. Both stones measure 137cm. (4ft.6ins, in diameter). The machinery for the mill was cast in the “Stephenson Foundry”, Strabane, Co Tyrone. The high breastshot mill wheel measures 533cm diam x 158cm wide (17ft 6in x 5ft2in). The wheel carries 48 buckets. 

The Griffith Valuation notes that in 1864 the rateable annual valuation of the buildings had increased from £4-10 shillings, to £10-15 shillings. This substantial increase would indicate that the building was complete at that date.  The mill land was valued at £1-5 shillings, bringing the total value to £12.  The Griffith Valuation also records, “a new slated house built for the miller, 1866”. The new house added £1-10 shillings to the value of the holding. This increase brought the total valuation to £13-10 shillings, per annum.

The 1864/65 grinding season was supposedly the first grinding season of the new mill. The miller for this season came from Mountcharles, Co. Donegal. The 1865/66 season saw the arrival of John J. Mc Mullan (b. circa1842 - d.1919), or Johnny Mullan as he was named locally. Johnny came from Bruckless, where his father Barney was the miller in the “Oily” mill. Johnny was also a carpenter and wheelwright. His arrival was the beginning of the Mc Mullan family’s connection with Leitir Corn Mill which remained until its closure.

It was not until 1868 that the new mill was first rented. Neil Mc Loone was a prominent Killybegs businessman who began renting the mill at a rent of £15. per annum. In 1879 John and James R. Musgrave purchased the estate from H.G. Murray Stewart. The Musgraves were wealthy Belfast family, who were heavily involved the industrial commerce of Belfast.

Shortly after the Musgrave’s purchased the estate, Neil Mc Loone’s tenure as renter seems to have ended. The 1880 Griffiths Valuation lists John and James R. Musgrave as both owner and lessor of Leitir mill. In 1886, Johnny Mc Mullan, who was the miller there since 1865, began leasing the mill from John and James R. Musgrave, at a rent of £26-10s-0d, per annum.

Henry and Edgar Musgrave (“Drumglass House”, Belfast) became the owners of the mill after the deaths of John, who died in 1895, and Sir James, who died in 1904. On February 1st. 1913, Johnny’s son Peter purchased the mill for the sum of £350, from Henry and Edgar Musgrave. When Peter bought the mill it was his intention that his father and his youngest brother, James Josie, ((b. 1888 – d. 1919), operate the mill. Peter, who in partnership with his two other brothers, Barney and Dan, ran a very successful contracting and carpentry business. However in 1919, his father and James Josie died. Peter was now obliged to assume the role of miller. He was well versed and comfortable with the milling craft. His father had always insisted that the brothers learn the milling trade. “A miller by circumstances rather than choice”, was how Peter’s sister, Bridget, described his new occupation.

As the milling business was a seasonal one, he was able to continue with the contracting and carpentry business although he was forced to down seize it somewhat. The deaths of his brothers, Barney in 1921 and Daniel in 1922, forced Peter to dramatically curtail the contracting business. He did keep his woodwork workshop running for a long number of years afterwards. Farmers also brought their own turf to contribute to the drying of their corn. Three or four bags was the common contribution toward the drying. Farmers who did not bring turf were charged extra per hundredweight of meal, and the mills own supply was used. 

For most of its working life the mill flourished although there were years when poor weather conditions decreed poor or mediocre corn harvests. These years would have proved difficult for both farmer and miller. Queues of horse and donkey drawn carts, winding down the mill lane awaiting their turn to gain entry to the mill was not an uncommon sight when the mill was in peak production. It was not until the end of the Second World War that the mill’s business began to fall into serious decline. The decline more or less coincided with the ending of The Compulsory Tillage Order in 1946. By the late nineteen forties, the mill business was in a terminal decline. The mill’s halcyon days were at an end. By the time Peter died in November 1953 aged 75 years, the mill business had almost vanished.   

Columba Mac a’Bháird, who married Peter’s niece, Joan Garvey, learned the milling trade under Peter’s watchful eye. He, and long-time kiln man and neighbour, Barney O’Donnell, and Sean Garvey, reopened the mill to bring the 1953/54 milling season to conclusion.

The paucity of corn, trickling to the mill was amply illustrated in a note book he kept. This note book reveals that from March to May, just 188, bags of corn were ground.  On the 3th of May 1954, the mill ceased production. Leitir Corn Mill was now at rest. The closure of the mill brought to an end 89 years of Mc Mullan millers at Leitir Corn Mill.

The mill property has been donated to the parish of Kilcar, on a long term lease. The mill and millers house is at present undergoing renovation under the auspice of The Kilcar Heritage Committee. This ambitious restoration project consists of the restoration of the mill and drying kiln, mill dam, mill wheel and mill race. The renovation of the miller’s house will include refreshment facilities. A new visitor’s car and bus park will also be added. The landscaping of the mill lands will include a new river-side scenic walk.