By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR
The Irish are a wind-loving lot – and why not when they are so often buffeted by the gales that swirl around the greenest island in the Atlantic? While some here complain that wind turbines block their vistas, the Irish have long embraced the concept of harnessing the wind’s energy and all its resulting benefits and you can see turbines atop many hills in the country.
At last count, there were 31 on-shore wind energy projects operating in the Republic with the Airtricity Wind Farm, at Kingsmountain, Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo, producing the most energy – enough to power more than 15,000 homes, they claim.
But wind turbines are modern technology; before they came on the scene, windmill blades (or sails) captured the gusts and transmitted that energy down to the millstones to grind grain. So making use of the prevailing breeze is nothing new for Ireland.
Historians say the first windmills were built in Iran around 600 A.D. and that Ireland once boasted about 500 of them, primarily on the Eastern seaboard where water often ran short in the summer. The first record of an Irish windmill was noted in 1281, in Kilscanlon, Co. Wexford.
Windmills were somewhat more rare in the Midlands, although at one time there were eight in operation within a few miles of Roscommon Town.
There are a number of windmills in Ireland today, including several in Skerries, Co. Dublin; in Blennerville in Tralee, Co. Kerry; in Elphin in Co. Roscommon, and in Ballycopeland in Co. Down. Primarily, they are tourist attractions as better and faster methods for grinding grain have been discovered over the years.
Tralee, Co. Kerry, has long been a tourist mecca, thanks, in part, to the Blennerville Windmill that was built in 1800 by Sir Roland Blennerhasset. Visitors can take a guided tour of the beautifully restored five-story windmill and hear about the various stages of grain milling, and later stop by the excellent restaurant and craft shop on site.
Blennerville was the main port of emigration from Co. Kerry during Famine years and the visitor center at the windmill also has an extensive exhibit that includes models of the so-called “coffin ships.” The windmill is open April through October from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily and is well worth a visit.
In addition to the windmill, there is now a 4.5-million Euro Tralee Bay Wetlands visitor park nearby that features many spots – including a viewing tower – from which you can quietly watch wildlife in the protected Tralee Bay Nature Reserve. The Park - in the planning stages for more than a decade - is said to be a leading example of “soft tourism,” with multilingual wildlife boat rides through the habitats, light water sports, and walking and cycling trails. The park is expected to draw some 70,000 visitors a year.
Up the road in Co. Roscommon, is the Elphin Windmill that was restored and opened to the public in 1996, thanks to the efforts of a committee of dedicated and focused local residents.
Elphin is an interesting place and a hotbed of Irish history. The poet and playwright Oliver Goldsmith was born in Smithhill, Elphin, in 1728, and Percy French, a songwriter, poet and artist, was born in Clooneyquinn, Elphin, in 1854. And, they say that the famous 12th Century Cross of Cong was most probably made in Elphin, which was a noted center for fine metalwork from the time of St. Patrick, who founded an ecclesiastical site there in 433 A.D.
The Elphin Windmill is on a small road about half a mile northwest of the town and those planning to rebuild the windmill had only a derelict tower and a notation on an 1837 Ordnance Survey map to go by. The map said “ruins of windmill,” which indicated that the structure had been derelict for a very long time. Planners suspect that the original windmill was probably built in the mid-1700s by the local landowner, Edward Synge, who was Bishop of Elphin from 1740 to his death in 1762. He farmed extensively and, historians think, built the windmill primarily to grind oats for porridge and oatcakes as well as animal feed.
Most windmills were eventually abandoned in favor of more reliable watermills and by the 1830s, most had ceased operation.
If you’re near Elphin in your Irish travels, be sure to stop by the windmill and adjacent visitor center and see the work done by this group of committed residents to restore and share their history.
Spooky time is here again and that’s great news for all resident ghosts and goblins.
• Dromoland Castle, just around the corner from Shannon Airport, is offering a Halloween value package from Oct. 30 to Nov. 2 that includes Scary Movie Nights for Little Wizards and Witches, pumpkin carving, castle ghosts, Haunting Horse and Cart Trips, a bonfire, Halloween games, and traditional dining fare. Children under 12, sharing with their parents (maximum two adults and two children), are included in the package at no additional cost. Also included is a full Irish breakfast daily and children’s high tea. Contact Dromoland for more information. Dromoland is in Newmarket-on-Fergus, Co. Clare, 1-800-346-7007, on the web at dromoland.ie or contact Preferred Hotels and Resorts at 1-800-323-7500 (preferredhotels.com.)
• In Co. Roscommon, enjoy the Samhain Celtic Fire Festival from Oct. 26-31. Details at rathcrogan.ie
• There will be A Haunting in the People’s Park Limerick on Oct. 29, created by Gothicise in collaboration with Limerick City Council. The concept follows the spectral theme of A Haunting; in this case, the haunting quality will come from the past of the Park itself. For more details: culturefox.ie/festival/a-haunting/
• Ballina, Co. Mayo, will host its third Samhain Abhainn festival from Oct. 27-31 to mark Halloween and the end of summer. The festival offers something for all from the very young to the not so young and includes art workshops, traditional activities, horrible history walking tours, an historical journey with the Jackie Clarke Museum, treasure hunts, murder mystery, and spooky strolls through Belleek Woods. The festival celebrates the unique Irish historical context of Halloween that was originally a pagan festival that started back in 100 A.D. when the Celts marked the season of Halloween or Samhain, an Irish word meaning the “end of Summer.” See northmayo.ie/festivals.html for more details.
• The always fun Westport House in Westport, Co. Mayo, offers a Halloween Fest from Oct. 27 to Nov. 4 with a Fireworks Extravaganza on Oct. 28. See westporthouse.ie for more.
• The 2012 Achill Sheep Show will take place on Oct. 14. For more information, visit achillsheepshow.com. And, if you’re on Achill Island, be sure to take in the events in the Storytelling Festival with drama workshops and other activities from Oct. 27 to Nov. 4. Contact achilltourism.com or visitachill.com for details.
• When you are in Mayo, be sure to stop by the Mayo Peace Park in Castlebar that was designed to commemorate the men and women from Mayo who served and died on foreign battlefields in the major world wars and on UN peacekeeping missions during the last century. The park is opposite the Harlequin Hotel on Lannagh Road. For more, see mayomemorialpeacepark.org
Enjoy your trip to Ireland whenever you go and be sure to look online for more happenings and for deals on airfare and land travel. We’re getting into the shoulder season when fares and other prices are generally cheaper.