On the road from Blarney to Donoughmore, in the Parish of Cloghroe, Co. Cork, there is a place called “Burnt Mills”. It is so called because about a hundred years ago it was the scene of a great fire. There were two mills there – the upper mills and the lower mills. The upper mill was a paper mill and belonged to a man named Mr. Ryan. The lower mill was a flour mill. Both mills were burned about 90 years ago. The Ryan’s rebuilt the paper mill and carried on the business. Some time after the Ryan’s died, the mill was let idle and it fell down. St Ann’s Hill Hydro, built the other mill as a tenement house. And that is why it is called the “Burnt Mills”.

The above story is from the Dúchas website, explaining rather eloquently how the Burnt Mills came about it’s name. The Burnt Mills, situated along the banks of the river Shournagh, halfway between the remains of St Anne’s Hydro and Fox’s Bridge, lies in ruins today, with Mother Nature running riot, overgrown trees and weeds completely covering the building.

There was, in fact, two mills situated on the Shournagh river, one a paper mill which eventually became better known as the Burnt Mill and a flour mill, further along the river at Gurth. The paper mill had been started in the mid-1800’s and in 1870 was leased to a John Mathias Ryan from Dr. Richard Barter, the previous lessee of the paper mills being a Mr. Fisher. * 1. Cork Holly Bough 1983

These paper mills under John M. Ryan were hugely successful in the later years of the 19th century, so much so that the stationery paper bags and wrapping paper produced here were awarded a “Honorable Mention” at the famous Cork International Exhibition of 1883. * 2. Cork Holly Bough 1983

John M. Ryan died in 1902 and his son William F. Ryan oversaw the paper mill up until it closed down in 1910. There is very little remaining of this particular building, mainly having been lost to time and nature.

The Burnt Mills, in contrast, has very little surviving to inform about the origins of the mill other than the fact that the mills were owned by a man named Gayer and the mill produced flour and meal. At some stage Dr. Richard Barter took over the mill, and according to the extract from An Dúchas above, utilised the building as housing for staff.

Much later in 1904 the mills were leased to a local family by Dr. Barter and they seemed to simply live in it as a family home.

In May 1891 there was a spur developed off the main line of the Cork & Muskerry Light Railway; this new line which was created headed westwards along the Shournagh river towards Donoughmore. A new station, simply referred to as a “halt”, was created a little beyond the original flour mills and was known as Burnt Mill station, it first opened in May 1893.

This station was so small that passengers had to request that the train driver stop to let them embark.

The Burnt Mills Station from OSI

The National Library have a stunning photograph of the Burnt Mills as part of their Lawerence collection (image above); this photograph, taken some time between 1880 and 1900, shows a substantial handsome three storey building, with a two storey extension having added to the original mill building at a later date.

There looks to be curtains in some of the windows, flower boxes on the front and a very cute little boy saluting the photographer while a mustached man, smartly dressed in a suit and cap, is walking the open bridge, crossing from the roadside to the mill . Ivy covers one half of the old mill and the Shournagh river is swiftly flowing through the weir.

Burnt Mills, The Lawrence Photographic Project 1990/1991

The National Library also contains a photograph, taken from the same spot, one hundred years later in 1990 by Sean O’Neill. The main difference that can be seen is the amount of growth in the steep incline behind the mill, Kilnamucky woods.

The weir itself hasn’t changed very much and the Burnt mills are clearly visible. The original mill house looks to be deteriorating but the extension is neatly kept with white washed walls and pristine front door.

Unfortunately a photograph taken in 2007 shows the extent to which the deterioration has accelerated and the building is now in complete ruins and very difficult to see when passing on the road.

Burnt Mills Ruins - Flickr

While searching for information on the Burnt Mills I came across a watercolor painting by an artist called Lady Kate Dobbin, titled “The Mill on the Shournagh” (1942). I am afraid to say that I know nothing about art but I quite like this quaint, idyllic painting of the mill settled in amongst the greenery of nature.

Kate Dobbin, nee Wise, was born in Bristol in 1868. She moved to Cork in 1888 where she met and married Cork’s High Sheriff and merchant, Alfred Graham Dobbin. She studied in the Crawford Municipal School of Art for a number of years in the 1890’s.

Unfortunately her painting of “The Mill on the Shournagh” is not in public ownership and all that is available is a photograph of the painting from an auction a number of years ago. Some of her other work mainly scenes of Cork, have also been sold via auction.

Her husband, Sir Alfred Graham Dobbin, was a tobacco manufacturer and High Sherriff of Cork, who also owned the Cork’s Imperial Hotel, where the couple lived after their own home, Hollymount House on the old Lee Road, was burnt down in the 1920s.

The Shournagh Mills by Lady Kate Dobbins