Leinster Leader 16 September 1989
Naas plant shut after 200 years milling
ONE of Ireland’s oldest mills closed on Wednesday week last bringing an end to nearly 200 years of milling in Naas. Odlum’s Leinster Mill’s on the Grand Canal near Naas produced wholemeal and wheatenmeal which were household names in kitchens and bakeries throughout the land.
The closure had been announced in June by the Odlum Group and a redundancy package agreed within the eleven remaining employees. Ageing plant and the collapse of Johnstown Mooney and O’ Brien – one of the Naas mill’s big customers – in the bakeries war earlier this year hastened the Leinster Mills closure.
According to Odlum’s General Manager Mr. Robert Lyons the Leinster Mills plant was too small and too old for modern standards of milling production and quality.
For some years the Naas mill has been sending its meal in bulk to the company’s high-capacity mill in Portarlington for repackaging into the familiar kilo bags for the shops. Now all stages of production will be concentrated in Portalington.
The closure does not affect the Odlum’s plant at nearby Sallins where the thirty strong workforce are at full stretch producing Odlum’s famous porridge flakemeal, much of which is exported to the U.S. and sold under the McCann’s label.
There was a strong sense of nostalgia among the millers at Leinster Mills as they shut down their immaculately maintained gear for the last time. Foreman Brian Daly who joined Odium’s in 1953 recalled when there were up to fifty men working the plant;
“We had horses and drays collecting wheat from an area as wide as Baltinglass, Edenderry and Newbridge,” he remembered. There was a big expansion to the mill premises in 1945 when the 5,000 tonne grain store was built on the other side of the canal to cope with the compulsory tillage output of the Emergency years.
His colleague Tom McNamee who was rollerman at the mill looked after the eleven roller units which crushed the grain into flour; “I started here in 1855 – my first pay packet was £5 3s 6d for a five and a half day week.” Tom remembers unloading some of the fifty tonner barges used to ferry grain to the canalside mills – Odlums continued to use barges long after other shippers had switched to lorry.
The Odlum board has not yet decided on the fate of the redundant mill but it is likely to be offered for sale. Mr. Jim Morrin says the mill, whose picturesque setting has long been a delight for artists and canalside strollers, would lend itself to uses such as a crafts centre, art studio or a ‘mews’ type development.
The Leinster Mills were set up in 1790 by Oldstown landlord James Montgomery just a year after the opening of the Naas branch of the Grand canal. Montgomery negotiated a deal for the perpetual water rights to turn his millwheel. There is evidence of a mill in the area prior to this which also turned water wheels at Corban’s mill in Millbrook and Fryar’s mill in Oldtown.
According to research carried out by Naas history student Clare McNamara the mill passed to the Nolan family who were among the gentry of Naas in the early 1800s. They installed a stream plant the drive the mill rollers. Nolans clearly ran into cash problems because the mills were acquired by the Hibernian Bank in Naas (now Bank of Ireland). The Odlum link began in 1879 when two Portarlington millers William Odlum and William Pemberton leased the mills from the bank. Their partnership agreement was unorthodox; following the death of one partner, the other would inherit the business. Pemberton passed away in 1918 and the business came into sole ownership of William Odlum. For decades the Leinster Mills were managed by Mr. Claude Odlum who lived in the adjoining manager’s house until his death in 1982 aged 97.