In full winter flow, the River Bonet below Creevelea Abbey reveals its formidable power as it descends towards Lough Gill, with it’s white water rapids over the underlying limestone providing exciting sport for kayak clubs. As the water level drops, the remains of a hydro electric turbine can be seen .
Water power 7th century
In Ireland, the history of harnessing the power of water is believed to date back as far as the 1st century CE , with one early european example of a horizontal mill (635) being found in Offaly . Locally at the falls at Ballisodare there was a monastery of St.Fechin of Sligo. He is recorded as taking pity on the monks laboriously hand grinding corn at Fore , Westmeath and building a water powered mill.
” … Giraldus Cambrensis in 1187 writes :” There is a mill at Fore, which St. Fechin made most miraculously with his own hands in the side of a certain rock ;” and in regard to the water supply we read in the Life of Saint Mochua …….. that ” Mochua came to Fore, a town of Meath, in which Fechin had erected a mill at the foot of a mountain, without having any water near ; and as nothing was now wanting but the water, the mill being finished in other respects, the two saints set out for Lough Lene, which was two miles away. Arrived at the lake, Mochua makes a hole with the point of a staff in the bank that lay next to the mill ; Fechin and the priests that accompanied him did the same ; and, on the moment, the water passing in a wonderful manner under ground through the mountain, dashed out not far from the mill, and, falling on the wheel with great force, set the mill a-going.”….”
Research has revealed an early monastic tide mill in County Antrim. Other research investigates monastic hydro technology, questioning the assumption that Norman influence and later Cistercian orders were the first to introduce water powered milling.
Dromahair Abbey Mill
In Dromahair the river can be seen to have been diverted in two places. Traces of an early mill race fed from the Bonet may be seen in the wooded walk from the village towards Creevelea Abbey , passing now near the gable end of the ruin below the Abbey , designated as a ‘Wash Mill’ in older maps which also show a weir leading to the mill race. Wash Mills are described as places where hides or clay materials are washed, which is interesting as a scriptorium is outlined in the plan of Creevelea Abbey – calf hides would have been used in books . Whether water power was harnessed here in the time of the Franciscans is not clear but it is well established that monastic orders were pioneers in building water power systems at an even earlier period.
This photograph in the National Library, is dated 1858, the earliest known for Dromahair. It shows the ‘wash mill’ ( see 1837 map) below Creevelea Abbey as marked on earlier map . Interesting details are the whitewashed gable with low level opening for mill wheel shaft , an arch can be seen in the near gable of the building on the right and also the narrow slit openings, indicating old architectural detail. Not far to the left, ,out of image there is still a restored cottage and a well, used until the 1980’s .
Professional opinion suggests this building complex may even predate Creevelea Abbey , a number of simple ‘roman’ arches in the structure would support this .
The later diversion on the opposite bank leads to the Mill, now the workshops of the Board of Works. The formidable ancestors of Yeats, the Pollexfens and Middletons were once proprieters having ships as well as mills in Ballisodare and Westport.
Twentieth century electric turbine.
Although the newly formed Irish government initiated the first state owned Electricity Supply Board in 1927, and its 85 mw Hydro electric Ardnacrusha plant on the River Shannon was commissioned in 1929, many small towns were not connected for many years. Leitrim had electricity before the establishment of ESB in 1927. The ESB’s annual reports record 9 local electricity suppliers in Leitrim county, as seen here
The Jeiter family initiated the hydro electric system on the River Bonet in 1933. They were also owners of the Abbey Hotel. The village benefited greatly from their enterprise, even building later an open air swimming pool which was said to have been heated , the enclosure of which can be seen today. Also at low water one component is visible, perhaps the flow regulator attached to the shaft and on the banks of the river can be seen the remains of the propellor part of the generator.
Paul Jeiter began to supply electricity in Dromahair in 1933, initially serving 26 homes and businesses . In the ESB 1950 annual accounts, it is reported that Paul Jeiter had 50 customers with a village population then of 275 inhabitants. By 1960 he had 60 customers , when his business was acquired by ESB.
Joseph Jeiter advertised in the 1935 Irish Travel Gazette, ‘Electric light and Electric fires in each bedroom’ of his Abbey Hotel.
With the advent of the national electricity company (the ESB), a time came when he was no longer accepting new customers, attested by a Dromahair resident who had enquired about being connected in time for the birth of her first child. Happily, the ESB connection was enabled just in time.