Cloona Mills, Westport in Co. Mayo

Cloona Mills were once a hive of industry in this remote part of west Mayo. So notable was the impact that they created throughout Connaught that a ballad was written and sung about them throughout the province. It contained the following words:

For they manufacture both linen and wheat,
Fit for the Queen to wear and to eat,
All dressed in the Cloon grand buildings.

What was once the scene of industry is now but a fading memory of Ireland’s history. The waterfalls are now silent, the remains of the buildings are clad in ivy and crows nest in the gables. Two of the buildings date back to the early 18th century. In the first half of the 18th century linen was manufactured here. At that time linen comprised one-third of Irish exports. The mills thrived here until the Industrial Revolution when Scotch and English machine-spun yarns began to take over from the traditional Irish hand-spun.

Towards the end of the century ‘Fosters Corn Laws’ were passed and much attention focussed on the promotion of tillage. Corn mills sprung up all over the country including the one at Cloona. The English corn trade decreased and the Irish corn industry continued to thrive until the repeal of the English Corn laws in 1846. Large cornfields opened up in the New World (Canada and U.S.A) around this time and prices dropped sharply. The operation of corn mills throughout Ireland was no longer economically viable and many of them closed around the time of the Famine.

In the mid 1860’s a Yorkshire man came on the disused mill at Cloona and established a woollen industry. He rented the old mill from the owners, the McDonnells, and set up a thriving business in tweeds, shawls and serges.

Around the same time vast quantities of maize was grown in Argentina and became available cheaply. Another Yorkshire man recognised the possibilities this presented and came to Cloona and built a second corn mill using the same millrace. By the time he had built the mill however he had used up all his capital and had no finance to install machinery. The McDonnells took over the mill and it proved so successful that they built a second mill in which they intended to install a turbine. By the time they had reached roof level however a prohibitive tax was imposed on grain causing both mills to cease production.

The woollen business continued here until 1927 when the introduction of modern machinery and new synthetic materials rendered the woollen industry economically unviable. The woollen mills were restored by the present owners in the 1960s and turned into a health centre. The corn mills stand derelict and are a relic of the depopulation, social and economic deprivation, famines and evictions experienced in this part of Mayo in the second half of the 19th century and into the early twentieth century.

By Brian Hoban

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