Milford & Clogrennan
Milford is a most pleasant stop on the River Barrow which was once the centre of a thriving milling industry. The area is closely associated with the Alexanders, a Northern Ireland family of Scottish extraction, who bought property here in 1780. The Alexanders were one of the very few entrepreneurial gentry families to settle in Co. Carlow. They built three large grain mills in the 1790s, and by 1830 the output, valued at £195,000 annually reached 50 sacks of flour and 30,000 sacks of oatmeal. Exports to Manchester and Liverpool were shipped by barge to Waterford and Dublin. In 1862, a huge fire overcame the mills it is said that the flames could be seen in Carlow Town. At this stage, the mills had the most powerful millwheels in the British Isles and these were included in the machinery destroyed, which was valued at £20,000.
Electricity was generated from here in 1891, providing Carlow with the distinction of being the first inland town in Ireland and Britain to receive electric power. During the course of the early 1890s the English based company Messrs Gordon & Co. entered into negotiations with Carlow Town Commission about the possibility of supplying electricity to Carlow from Milford. Milford Mill still generates electricity as in 1990 it was re-commissioned to feed into the national grid.
The local Carlow paper, The Nationalist and Leinster Times of July 18th 1891 states, “the company’s engineer fixed on Milford … as the source of the power necessary to generate electric light. Here there is splendid water power and a range of buildings of vast extent and capacity… Messrs Gordon leased these buildings and at once set about adopting them to the requirements of the new venture. They laid wires from Milford to Carlow along the canal route”.
The Alexanders were also a military family, with John Alexander, most famously, capturing Cetshwayo kaMpande, the last King of the independent Zulu state, in South Africa in 1879. The Carlow man was commanding the native Abobomba scout troop that tracked the King to his place of hiding. Three ceremonial spears were taken from Cetshwayo after his capture with one given to Queen Victoria, one to Garnet Wolseley – another Carlow man – with Lieutenant Alexander holding on to the third. In the 1990s the Zulu Inkatha Party sought the return of the prized spear, apparently without success.
Walt Disney’s ancestors had emigrated from Gowran, County Kilkenny in Ireland. His father Elias Disney had moved to the United States after his parents failed at farming in Canada. Elias Disney was the son of Kepple Disney who emigrated as a child with his parents from Ireland in 1834. Not too far from Milford is Clonmelsh graveyard where three of Walt’s ancestors are buried in the cemetery. Also buried in the cemetery is the family of Pierce Butler, one of the men who signed the American Constitution in Philadelphia,1788.
Clogrennan is located upstream of Milford just below Carlow Town. Clogrennan weir is a naturally occurring weir, the only one the Barrow Navigation, all of the other weirs were built by the navigation company to raise the water level so boats could avoid obstructions in the river.
Clogrennan Castle which lies on the west bank of the River Barrow was built in the fifteenth century in order to defend a pass between the River Barrow and the extensive woodlands along the sides of the Killeshin Hills. It is believed to be in ruins since the eighteenth century and in the nineteenth century the derelict castle became a gateway to Clogrennan House, seat of the Rochfort family. The ruins bear little resemblance to the original castle and seem to incorporate stone from a nearby ancient church.
Clogrennan was formerly an estate owned by the Dukes of Ormonde of Kilkenny Castle. From the mid-seventeenth century the Rochfort’s, a distinguished family owned a 3,000 acre estate based around Clogrennan. Robert Rochfort was Speaker in the Irish House of Commons in 1695 and in 1707 he was appointed Chief Baron of the Exchequer. According to some sources Carlow hosted the first formal game of cricket ever to be played in Ireland with Horace William Rochfort having founded Carlow’s first cricket club in 1831. In 1873 he was also responsible for founding Carlow Polo Club.
Built in the early 19th century the now ruined home of the Rochfort family was described in 1825 as a “house of modern erection and is a plain building, respectable in character, and extremely commodious, but scarcely worthy of its situation on a demesne of such distinguished beauty”. All the materials for the building came from the area – limestone, granite, timber, marble and shale for roof. It was the building of the house that led to the financial ruin of the Rochfort’s. The house was noted for its large ballroom and hosting regular parties. The last ball was held in January 1922 just before the house was sold. It has been roofless since 1945.
Clogrennan has been an important centre for the quarrying of limestone for centuries. There are a number of limestone quarries located in this area of County Carlow and many buildings and monuments both in Carlow and further afield are made of limestone cut from these quarries. Lime is also used as an important fertiliser for the farming sector. Located close to here is Clogrennan Lime, a specialist chemical lime producer supplying products for use in agriculture and construction as well as the pharmaceutical and environmental sectors.