DROMAHAIR’S FORMER MILLING INDUSTRY by Garreth Byrne
About the year 1820 the village of Dromahair came into being. Before that the population of a few hundred was concentrated around the higher ground of Drumlease. The Yorkshire-based landlord George Lane-Fox Senior arranged the laying out of the Main Street and Back Line. All dwellings, mostly with thatched roofs, were numbered so that the land agent, Joshua Kell, could tick off tenants after they paid their scheduled rent. A restored framed map and lists of tenants is now on display in Dromahair Library. Original map here
A flour mill was built beside the River Bonet.* At first a building stood near the Boathouse Quay, but it was abandoned as unsuitable and a tall seven-story structure was built where the Office of Public Works OPW now stands. A weir across the river behind Villier’s castle (today known as the Lodge) directed water into a millstream down to the new mill.
Here an aqueduct with an open sluice gate enabled water to rush forcefully down to ground level where the big circular wooden wheel rotated to make the grindstone turn. It made flour from wheat and oats churned out animal feed from imported Indian corn or maize. It was known as Fox’s Mills.
*Heritage Link: Milling had been previously established on the Bonet
Transport – Three Steam Boats
At the beginning bags of milled flower were transported to Sligo in small boats across Lough Gill. An alternative method was by horse-drawn carts via Ballintogher. A Sligo merchant named William Kernaghan decided to set up a steamship service that later became the Lough Gill Steam Navigation Company. In 1839 the Maid of the Mill 60-ton schooner commenced service. A small paddle steamer called the Lady of the Lake, built on Clydeside, replaced it in 1843. The land agent Joshua Kell and the absentee landlord Lane Fox became company shareholders with Kernaghan. Flour was shipped to Glasgow from Sligo port and maize imported by the same method. The Great Famine devastated the rural population and bankrupted landlords and town merchants, among them William Kernaghan. Alexander Sim of Collooney Mills (also called Sim’s Mills) bought Kernaghan’s interest in Fox’s Mills and appointed Scottish-born Andrew Hosie (d.1888) as mill manager in Dromahair.
In 1873 the Lady of the Lake was replaced by a 71-ton paddle steamer called the Maid of Breiffne, which transported flour, people, farm eggs, poultry and seasonal vegetables into Sligo at least two days a week. Sadly in 1885 the Maid of Breifni sank at the mouth of the Bonet. It was raised and towed to near the boathouse but sank there. Its rusting remains can sometimes be seen today.
Hosie’s Mills thrived. After the death of Andrew Hosie in 1888 at Mill Cottage (now a private residence), his nephew Edward Hosie handed over management of the business to Scottish-born John Hosie Senior, also a nephew of Andrew. He soon bought Alexander Sims’s interest in the mill and became the sole owner of the business. John Hosie lived from 1844 until his death at Castle Dargan in 1919. The Hosie family lived for some time in Dromahair but then moved to Castle Dargan.
A New Mill by the Railway 1908
John Hosie realized that coal-fuelled mills with steel rollers were effective new technology. He also wanted to use the SL&NCR rail line connecting Sligo with Collooney, Ballintogher, Dromahair, Manorhamilton, Glenfarne and Blacklion to Enniskillen andbeyond, which had commenced operating in 1887*. Hosie Senior and his son James Alexander Hosie (d.1949) supervised the construction between 1906 and 1910 of a warehouse and then a mill beside it at Dromahair railway station 1.5 km outside the village.
A photo dated c.1908 shows dignified working men, some of them from farm families in the area, posing in front of the incomplete modern mill. They and many others commenced years of gainful employment in the mill and in warehouses owned by the Hosies in Manorhamilton and Glenfarne. Nearby an elegant mill manager’s residence was erected. James Alexander Hosie lived here with his family and managed day-to-day business. In later years he moved to Castle Dargan and was an active farmer.
John C. Hosie of Castle Dargan
After Hosie Senior died in 1919 his son John C. Hosie, known as Hosie Junior, managed the business generally from Castle Dargan. He operated a pragmatic barter system during the war years 1939-1945, accepting from cash-strapped farmers fresh eggs, poultry and vegetables in exchange for milled flour and animal feed. He milled grain supplied by farmers and accepted a percentage of bags as payment-in-kind. The Hosies were regarded as good employers. The Scottish connection facilitated export-import. North Leitrim people benefited a lot between 1910 and the early 1950s when milling operations ceased due to centralisation of the Irish milling industry in Dublin and elsewhere. The railway line was closed in October 1957, but milling had halted a few years before that date. John C. Hosie died in 1997 and Castle Dargan was bought by Dermot Fallon of Ballinacarrow, Co. Sligo. Today Castle Dargan Hotel, with a fine golf course, is a popular venue for visitors from the North-West and farther afield. Andrew Hosie, his wife and their son who died in early childhood are buried in the old cemetery in Sligo. The Castle Dargan Hosies rest in a family plot at Ballysumaghan near Sooey, Co. Sligo. Names and dates are inscribed:
“ In Loving Memory of John Hosie of Castle Dargan, died 19th December 1919 aged 76 years. His wife Margaret Mary died 23rd March 1932 aged 76 years. James A. Hosie died 7th February 1949 aged 62 years. Their son John C. Hosie died 27th November 1997 aged 78 years. His wife Kathleen (nee Irvine) died 17th November 2008 aged 87 years. “
Note: All the photos relating to the mill and the Hosie family were kindly supplied from a family album belonging to Gráinne (Hosie) Cosgrove , who is a direct descendant of the distinguished Castle Dargan family.
When Steamers plied Lough Gill, Sligo Champion 12th January 1990, by John C. McTernan, Sligo county librarian
Milling in Dromahair – a short overview, by Garreth Byrne, Leitrim Guardian 2020
Castle Dargan Families, by Garreth Byrne, The Corran Herald 2020-2021 (Ballymote Heritage Group)
* It is hoped to post a separate article on the colourful history of the Lough Gill Steam Navigation Company.