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Kilmainham Mill Part 1: Saving The Mill

Kilmainham mill, Part 1: Saving the mill – In the first part of two, Shane Adlum interviews Maurice Coen about the history of the ‘save Kilmainham Mill’ Campaign (inc new shots from inside the mill)

Part 2 viewable here

In recent years Kilmainham mill has become run down and is in desperate need of renovation. Failed developments, an American consortium takeover and falling into the hands of NAMA have been its downfall. The building has been left idle with countless stories of what will come of it; sadly it had become little more than a rumour mill. Local residents have been campaigning to save the mill from developers and want to see the building preserved. Well the good news is in; Dublin City Council have purchased the mill and it will be saved. I recently spoke to Maurice Coen, local resident and member of the heritage society, about the past, present and future of Kilmainham mill.

Originally built as a flour mill, it was later converted into a textile mill and that is how Mr Coen remembers it. During the 1970’s and 80’s they had anything up to 300 visitors a week arriving by the coach load to buy silks and tweeds, “they had some of finest silks and tweeds this side of New York”. They also produced fabrics for airlines and for Dublin bus, some of which is still in use. It had been operational right up until 2000, but since then it has been vacant.


Once news broke that Charona Ltd had applied for planning permission to build 48 apartments on the site of the mill, residents got together and lodged an objection to the Dublin City Council. “We had never had anyone looking in at the back of us before, we have nobody looking in at the front of us either and we didn’t want things to change”. The initial objection was ignored so they turned to An Bord Pleanála, they sat down and looked at the plans and decided it should be reduced to 41 apartments. Residents still felt this wasn’t good enough and that they had lost the battle, but the war was far from over. The Celtic Tiger crashed and the money dried up, leaving the site in the hands of receivers and NAMA. An American consortium managed to get their hands on it at one point but once the DCC changed the zoning on the site to cultural only, they were unwilling to spend the money required and handed it back. Then Dublin City Council purchased the Mill for a rumoured €1.2 million, but if they had acted quicker it could have been purchased for less than €200,000 from NAMA so in the long run it ended up costing them quite a bit more.


For many years, the heritage group had campaigned to save the mill, and they had the backing from members of the DCC like Brendan Kenny who took personal interest in the project. Maurice tells me how “industrial history is vanishing before our eyes” and that it is the only place left in the city that has this type of machinery that could actually be fixed up and displayed in a quality museum like presentation.


When asked about previous attempts at saving the mill he describes them as “very frustrating”. A lot of that frustration came from the fact nobody seemed to know if the mill had been sold on to a receiver or if it was passed on to NAMA. “Nothing any searches that we had tried to carry out, freedom of information, through TDs asking questions in the Dáil. Everything returned blank so we could never positively say that such and such has it in their hands, there was zero trail on it, I’m sure like an awful lot of other properties they’ve gone untraceable until somebody put a key in the door”.

In 2016, another group formed from Kilmainham, named “the save the Kilmainham Mill” group.  They extensively lobbied local politicians and two lord mayors at the time.  Movement began to slowly build and eventually, the DCC decided to buy it. These public awareness campaigns distributed leaflets, setting up stalls outside shops and Kilmainham Gaol and a presentation at City hall to the DCC all played a big part in raising awareness. Some people didn’t even know the mill existed and these campaigns aimed to let everyone know it was there and needed saving. Maurice emphasises the importance of the help the campaigns got from TD’s and local councillors, “without their help we don’t think we would have got to where we are today”.


It is very clearly an important building both historically and culturally to the community and especially those who’ve grown up in the area. “We’re a very old, old community here and we have had the mill in place there a long number of years”.

You can see what it means to Maurice as, with a cheeky smile, he tells the story of swimming in the massive tank at the back of the mill when he was younger. “I used to, during the summer as a kid go out, take off the lid drop into it and swim up and down and just rely on the holes in the perforated galvanised iron for a bit of light” He also takes great joy in talking about the wildlife, the birds singing and the peace and tranquillity that comes from the grounds. “At this stage it’s a great sigh of relief that it’s not to become another development of housing”.


Stay tuned for next weeks conclusion about the future of the mill!


All photos by Stephen Davis

2 Responses

  1. Frank nolan says:

    I work there in kilmainham mills for 18 years and there wasn’t 3000 visitors a week more 300 hundred

  2. Admin says:

    I believe that was a typo Frank, the article has been edited accordingly

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