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Leinster Leader 12/1/1985
Kilcullen Mill Comes Down
It was an emotional moment recently for Jim Collins, one of Kilcullen’s best known residents and businessmen, when he oversaw the destruction of a building with which his family has been connected for a century.
Jim, who started up “Saunaland”, a firm which manufactures sunbeds, in 1983, had been working from the old mill first operated by members of the Collins family in 1890. It was however, basically unsuitable and in a bad state of disrepair, and Jim recently received permission to construct a new factory on the site.
Despite that element of sentimentality inevitably attached to such an issue, Jim Collin’s sense of humour rarely deserts him and he was able to give a graphic and frequently light-hearted account of the history of the old mill, close to the town.
It was built in 1830 by a man called La Touche who apparently had little interest in milling as a trade, despite owning three mills in the locality. He was also the owner, at the time, of Harristown House and lands and, so the story goes, after a ball there one night he heard one of the local people refer to him as ‘La Touche the miller’ which didn’t go down too well with him and the upshot was that he burned down his three mills the following day.
A person called Murphy, however, who had operated one of the mills, was understandably annoyed at the sudden annihilation of his means of survival and, in the absence of an Employment Appeals Tribunal, went to see ‘La Touche the miller’ to ascertain what might be done. Apparently, his former employer wasn’t such a bad old stick because (in the story according to Jim Collins) Murphy subsequently found himself the proud owner of a new mill.
Murphy’s Mill, literally given to him by La Touche, was a three-story water mill with two water wheels and it continued to function as a mill right up to 1972. Mind you, as Jim Collins will hasten to add, things didn’t always run smoothly. The Collins family came to operate the Kilcullen mill in 1890, after losing a lease on the De Burgh mill in Naas. That was Jim’s great (or was it great great) uncle….. But at any rate the family continued to run the mill as a traditional water-powered operation until 1946.
Then the weir broke and Jim’s father embarked on legal battle with the ESB on the grounds that its new hydro-scheme at Poulaphouca was definitely interfering with business. The ESB, in its early days and fearfully imagining a trail of discontented mill-owners throughout the country beating a track to its door, took him all the way to the High Court. The result? A whole new electrically operated system at the mill.
The mill, incidentally, was unperturbed as it was, by that time, accustomed to having its old walls rattled by unusual events. Back in the ‘20s, when Jim’s father had been active in the Old IRA, it apparently housed some unusual items and activities. It also had the honour of being the means of maintaining, during the six years of World War Two, one of the few cinemas to keep showing ‘the pictures’. The indomitable Mr. Collins used the generator to light the cinema, showing the films off the water-wheel. Also during the War, Germans interned at the Curragh worked with Jim’s father at the mill, which was primarily used to grind meal and oats for local farmers.
In 1972, the mill ceased to fulfil its original purpose and was converted to a factory, originally occupied by a knitwear company, Shelmalier. Later, M.A.S. Precision (now based in Newbridge) began operations there until finally, with the wheel, as it were, turning full circle, Jim Collins moved back in to set up his new and very modern company, the only operation of its sort in Ireland.
Five people are now employed by Jim in the manufacture of the sunbeds – ever increasing in popularity in this rather damp climate of ours.
Jim hopes that the construction of the new, 3000 sq. ft. factory will result in the expansion of his business. “At present, we are manufacturing a fairly sophisticated piece of equipment in very bad conditions and we hope that, on completion of the new premises, we will be in a position to develop the operation and reduce the amount of sub-letting of work which we currently require”.
With construction commencing in January, Jim hopes that things can really get underway in March – the peak season for sunbed sales. While he admits that the destruction of the mill is a breach in a long historical link, he is also all too willing to state that he building was “essentially useless as it stood and of little or no architectural value”. So it all looks like a very good business move indeed. There’s just one thing Jim hasn’t thought about. What happens when people start calling him ‘Collins the sunsoaker’. Hopefully he won’t find it as objectionable as did La Touche the miller.

Jim Collins, a well known Kilcullen businessman, recalls the history of the Old Mill in Kilcullen for The Leinster Leader in January 1985.

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