Dublin City Council is planning a series of focus groups to work out what the old Kilmainham Mill should be used for in future, councillors were told on Monday morning.

The council finished “stabilisation works” on the 19th-century flour mill three months ago, said Donncha Ó Dúlaing, head of sport and recreation, at a meeting of the council’s arts and culture committee.

The next step is to look at how it should be repurposed long-term, he said. 

The council is also looking at a programme of “meanwhile uses” in the short-term, he said. “So there’ll be opportunities there for pop-up markets, for events, for maybe pop-up cafes, exhibitions et cetera.”

The council commissioned a conservation management plan – setting out the mill’s limitations and potential – which he expects to be done in the next few weeks, said Ó Dúlaing. 

Dublin City Council Culture Company has also started research into the social and industrial history of the building, which will feed into the council’s vision for the building, said Catherine Heaney of Lorne Consultancy, who is leading the development of a “master vision” for the mill.

Focus group workshops, including open house tours and community consultations, are due to start in October.

Sometime next year, the mill should start to host “meanwhile uses”, says a council report.

Next steps

Built around 1820, the flour mill overlooks the River Camac.

Over the course of the mid-to-late 19th century, it expanded, and a chimney and steam engine were installed, according to the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

After its ownership changed in 1903, the mill switched from grinding flour to corn processing and then cloth finishing.

Throughout the 20th century, it carried on the tradition of weaving. According to a council report, it was used to film scenes in In the Name of the Father and Michael Collins.

In 2000, the mill was closed down. It fell derelict and Dublin City Council bought it in December 2018.

Now that stabilisation and repair works, public consultations are the next big step, Ó Dúlaing said. 

“Now that we have access to the building for the first time, we will take a step back to assess the situation, assess the building, assess stakeholder ideas and feelings about the site,” he said.

The focus group workshops, which are set to start in October, will seek input from creatives, educators, statutory agencies, cultural institutions, and heritage experts, said Heaney, the consultant contracted to establish the council’s master vision.

There will also be a dedicated focus group for local communities, many of whom have advocated for the protection of the mill, she said. “And members of the local area committee will also be participating.”

The plan is for an internal council steering group to oversee a strategy for the mill’s development, and consider its industrial, architectural and social heritage, said Heaney. 

“We’re also mindful of the needs of the community, including broader businesses and cultural infrastructure in that broader Dublin 8 area,” he said.

The group, she said, also needs to consider how to bring in an income, “which will allow the mill to succeed and be self-sustaining”.

What if

As part of its programme of “meanwhile uses”, the council is working with the National College of Art and Design to organise events on the site, said Ó Dúlaing.

That could include exhibitions and other similar events that wouldn’t require any major infrastructure, Heaney said.

What it can be used for at the moment is limited, said Ó Dúlaing. “The courtyard is available, which you could probably have a pop-up market in. And there’s one or two ground-floor spaces that we’ve made available.

“But still, the majority of the complex is inaccessible unless you’re fully PPE’d,” he said, referring to the wearing of personal protective equipment.

Fianna Fáil Councillor Deirdre Heney, a member of the arts and culture committee, said on Tuesday afternoon that she would hope that the mill could be used for theatre, whether in the short-term or the long-term. 

“Not a 500-seater theatre,” she said. “I’m talking about small spaces that hold 30 or 40 people for poetry readings or small intimate theatre.”

And having a continuous market there for Dublin 8 would be ideal, she said. 

Green Party Councillor Michael Pidgeon says the big victory is in simply being able to save the mill itself. 

“You now want to make sure that the courtyard is being used generally, for lots of interesting stuff going on there, a couple of nice stalls, someone doing coffee,” he said.

Inside is still a construction site but it would be best down the line if it has all kinds of things going on inside, Pidgeon said. “Craft works, space to continue the legacy of the building, something about its industrial heritage.”

Those involved in a grassroots campaign, known as the Save Kilmainhaim Mills, had said before that they would like to see it back running as a water-powered mill.

Michael O’Flanagan, a member of the campaign and its former chair, says the lands around the mill have potential too. “They are not directly attached to the mill, but they are large enough you could have a small cinema.”

He points to the RTÉ documentary series, “Hands”, broadcast between 1978 and 1989, which was created by David Shaw-Smith.

“Hands” explored traditional Irish crafts and featured an episode on the mill’s weaver’s shed, O’Flanagan says. “And you’d be able to show that in one of the buildings.”

Michael Lanigan is a freelance journalist who covers arts and culture for Dublin Inquirer. His work also appears in Vice, Totally Dublin, TheJournal.ie and the Business Post. You can reach him at michael@dublininquirer.com.

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