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A Survey of Monuments of Archaeological and Historical Interest in the Barony of Bunratty Lower, Co. Clare by William Gerrard Ryan

Part 5: Sites of later historical interest (post 1580 AD)
Chapter 47: Oil Mills at Ballintlea, Sixmilebridge


Location Nat. Grid Ref. R481643; ½” Sheet 17.

Townland : Ballintlea North
Parish (R.C.) : Cratloe
Civil Parish : Kilfintinan
6” O.S. Sheet number : 52, Co. Clare
Reference : 23.6 cm South; 27.2 cm West
1” O.S. Sheet number : 133 (Sixmilebridge)

Photo 1: Buildings associated with the Oil Mills at Ballintlea
Photo 1: Buildings associated with the Oil Mills at Ballintlea

The following information is largely based on an article written in 1978 by H. Roche-Kelly, owner of the lands where the Oil Mills occur. The full reference is given at the end of the site description.

In 1664 the first Oil Mills were established at Ballintlea, one mile south of Sixmilebridge, on the Ratty river (or Owenogarney) at the highest point to which the ordinary tide flows. This meant barges could transport goods to and from the Oil Mills and such water movement considerably reduced transport costs. This site was also favoured by the fact that the occurrence of some rapids here increased the rate of flow of the river thereby producing greater water force for turning the mill wheels associated with the Oil Mills.

Though reference is made to the existence of Oil Mills at Ballintlea by both Young and Dineley in the late seventeenth century we have no description of the site or its workings.

In 1695 the English Parliament decided that the people of the Limerick area were idle and unenterprising. Thus the only way to bring prosperity to the area was to encourage Dutch settlement in the region. Various incentives were offered and one of the men who decided to come was George Pease. In 1696 he obtained a lease of the Oil Mills at Ballintlea, rebuilt them in the Dutch style and probably also built a soap factory to use the by-products of the mill. (Photograph 1 shows the remains of these 1696 Mills as they survive today, 1979). These mills continued in existence for over 90 years and based on the size and extent of the ruins they must have been quite considerable.

The Oil Mills at Ballintlea ceased production in the 1780’s, probably after the defeat of Grattan’s commercial proposals in 1785 which gave Britain renewed control over Irish trade.

Roche-Kelly, in his 1978 article, deals in some detail with the actual operation of the Oil Mills – how power was produced and the method used for crushing the rape-seed. He states (page 19):
“ The mills at Ballintlea were driven by an undershot waterwheel. This drove the mill stones which were twin vertical stones. One of these stones still remains standing (see Photograph 2). On Dutch mills one of the stones is set nearer the centre than the other; this enabled the grain to be crushed twice. Rakes were attached to the turning shafts to push the grain under each stone in turn. The rakes were jointed in such a way that while the grain was being crushed one half of the rake slanted inwards and kept the grain pushed under the stones and once sufficiently bruised the other half of the rake slanted outwards (and) was used to push the bruised grain off the stone into troughs left to receive it. These troughs had holes in the bottom through which the oil dripped. This oil from the first bruising was considered the best quality oil from the mill…”

Apart from the interesting grinding stones there are other features of this late seventeenth – eighteenth century site still clearly visible. Reference has already been made to the surviving houses and buildings associated with the oil mills. A close study of Photograph 1 will show that the main building had slated walls.

Also while the oil was being extracted from the seed traces of the actual seed and other impurities would have become mixed in with the oil. Thus it became necessary to construct settling tanks at Ballintlea. These allowed any impurities remaining to sink to the bottom of the tank before the pure oil was skimmed off. One of these tanks has survived at Ballintlea. It is almost 4 metres long, 1 ¼ metres wide and 3 metres deep.

As water transport was the main source of goods movement at Ballintlea it became necessary to build a stone-faced quay above any possible flood level of the river. Such a quay must have been, at times, a centre of great activity. In 1736, for example, 400 Bristol barrels of rape-seed was delivered to the Oil-Mills. In modern weights this equals some 35 tons of seed!

The quay, as it survives now, is quite overgrown though most of its stone facing still survives.

Because of the growing interest in industrial archaeology it is hoped that work may be done on sites such as Ballintlea Oil Mills.

The site as it survives to date (1979) is in a fair condition. However possible agricultural activity along with damage caused by vegetation, may cause a deal of destruction to this unusual, but very interesting, site.


1978, page 19
J.C.H.A.S., Volume XLIII, 1958, pages 52 - 53
(A note only on the Ballintlea Mills).

(References to the existence of the Oil Mills and Quay at Ballintlea are given in two other parts of this Section – i.e. Mount Ievers and Rossmanagher Bridge).

Photo 2: Grinding Stones at Ballintlea Oil Mills, Sixmilebridge
Photo 2: Grinding Stones at Ballintlea Oil Mills, Sixmilebridge

Photo 3: Shot from vegetation covered Quay towards the Ratty River
Photo 3: Shot from vegetation covered Quay towards the Ratty River