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Standing Stone Ring Fort Castle Weir Inniscarra Bridge
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Oriel House Gunpowder Mills Lime Kiln Military Barracks St Mary and
St John's Church

watch tower


grinding stone

view of the mills


charge house

Gunpowder Mills

Visiting the Mills: The site lies in Ballincollig Regional Park and can be accessed from the western end at the Inniscarra Bridge where there is ample parking. Alternatively visitors can begin at the eastern end of the park near the GAA pitches where the bulk of the old buildings stand. A walking map of the site can be downloaded here

New use for Gunpowder Mills visitors centre The centre has been leased to a new body, the Cork Screen Commission, established jointly by Cork City and Cork County Councils and managed by Cork Film Centre. It will act as the first point of contact for companies working or intending to work on location in Cork.

In December 2008, David Kelly Partnership, Consulting Engineers, of Youghal, completed a conservation report on the gunpowder mills for the heritage unit of Co Cork. Every building on the site was surveyed and conservation recommendations were made for each one. The report is vast in scope so we are only able here to offer a summary of the introduction and conclusions together with descriptions of the ten structures most suitable for adaptation.

New plaque Cork County Council has placed a new plaque on the white watch tower at the western end of the regional park to explain the function of the building.

History of the Gunpowder Mills

The Royal Gunpowder Mills, (1794-1903) situated on the south bank of the River Lee is an industrial archaeological site of enormous national and international importance and ranks as the largest industrial archaeological site in Ireland.

Cork County Council developed the site, which stretches for 2.5 km along the south bank of the Lee, into Ballincollig Regional Park in the 1990s and a visitors' centre for the gunpowder mills opened in 1993. The white round tower at the entrance to the park was once a watch house for the gunpowder mills where workers were searched upon entering the complex. The ruins of over sixty buildings associated with gunpowder manufacture are still scattered throughout the 130 acres of the present complex making it the most extensive in the whole of Europe.

One of its most important features is the main canal which runs the length of the complex and which originally acted as a means of transport within the factory as well as providing the power to drive the waterwheels of the mills and a turbine which drove the sawmill.

The key process of gunpowder manufacture was the grinding together (incorporation) of saltpetre, sulphur and charcoal under millstones set on edge. This process was called milling which is why the whole factory came to be called Powder Mills. These mills were once the second biggest gunpowder works in the whole of Britain and Ireland. (Waltham Abbey in Essex being the largest, which went on to develop chemical synthesis based explosives). The Ballincollig gunpowder mills retains the integrity of its nineteenth century design.

There were eventually 24 grinding mills in all, each pair divided by a free standing blast wall to prevent a chain reaction should an explosion occur in one mill. A reconstructed mill with working machinery now stands in the former visitors' centre with eleven blast walls and four charge houses where the dampened mixed ingredients known as the green charge, were stored before incorporation.

Further processes of powder compression, powder size separation, drying, glazing, and packaging were carried out in separate buildings in the complex.

The visitors centre closed in 2002 but it is still possible to enjoy a walk along the designated paths and see the ruins of the old buildings associated with the gunpowder mills. These include a charcoal mill, sawmill, a huge circular coal store and two magazines at the eastern end, a boiler house in the middle for drying the powder and the weir and Inniscarra Bridge at the western end.

BHA supports initiatives to help interpret the site to locals and visitors alike. The association helped design the map signs at each end of the park which were erected in 2009. They also hope to see fingerpost signs along the trails and more signage on key buildings.

More photographs of the mills can be seen on the Gallery page. Aerial photography is by Kevin Dwyer.

Rule Book: A copy of a gunpowder rule book from Ballincollig of 1901 has recently come to light. It shows the stringent rules which all workers had to follow and gives a wonderful insight into the workings of the mills when they were owned by Curtis's and Harvey. Click here to read the rules.