The Ballycopeland Windmill is a windmill located just outside Millisle on the B172 road, south of Donaghadee in the Ards peninsula in County Down.
The windmill is a tall, white building that stands out clearly in the green, flat terrain surrounding it. It dates from the later half of the 18th century.
It was fully operational until 1915, run by the McGilton family. In 1915 it ceased operations and fell into decay. In 1935 it was bought by the government. It was extensively renovated and began working again in 1978. It is currently run by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. Windmills were once common with over one hundred at one point in County Down alone. However, most are in ruins. Ballycopeland is thought to be the only operating windmill in Ireland today.
A Tower Mill
The Ballycopeland windmill is what we call a tower mill. While earlier and simpler windmills were known from the early Middle Ages, tower mills first began to be used around the 13th century.
A tower mill consists of a brick or stone tower with a roof or cap that can turn the sails into the wind for better performance. The advantage of the tower mill was, of course, that the sails could turn into the wind while the main structure itself was static. This arrangement allowed for better productivity and efficiency.
How does a windmill work
So how do windmills work? It depends what it is used for. But the general concept has remained unchanged for many centuries, even if the function and design have changed.
The concept is quite simple. The wind turns the sails in older windmills, or the blades in modern ones. This transfers the energy of the wind onto the sails which can then be channeled to different purposes.
In the Middle Ages the main task of mills was to grind wheat, corn and other grains. As the sails turned the energy would be transferred through a series of gears onto grinding stones turning them to grind the grains. This is the way the Ballycopeland windmill works.
At other times windmills were used to draw water from wells or rivers/brooks. Such windmills are scattered throughout Europe with large numbers in places like Holland, or the island of Crete. Their large numbers testify to their usefulness before the process of industralisation which introduced mechanical mills took off in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Modern windmills are much more compact than medieval ones and use blades instead of sails.
Through the turning blades the energy is channeled onto a generator at the back of the blades that generates electricity. With fossil fuels polluting the environment and questions being raised as to their future availability the windmill, first appearing in the early Middle Ages, appears set to continue to shape our landscapes.
The photos of windmills will give you an idea how the look and shape has evolved depending on the time and function of each construction.
Back to the Ballycopeland Windmill
Now that you know a little of how does a windmill work and how useful they have been to European and world civilization you may doubly ensure you visit Ballycopeland, this unique monument in Northern Ireland, and see a mill first hand.
The mill is open only in July and August and entry is free. At other times you can admire it from outside. Inside the mill is maintained as much as possible to look as it would have been in its heyday. There is a video explaining its function and processes. If you are lucky, you may even get the chance to grind some grains.
As a bonus, the miller’s house is also open for visiting. There is a visitor centre with audio visual presentations. All in all, a visit at the right time is well worth it.
How to Get There
Getting there is easy. Head to Newtonards, a town well visible in all Northern Ireland maps, located less than 10 miles east of Belfast. Then take the B172 and head eastwards and you will see the windmill just before you reach Millisle.
The Ballycopeland Windmill
Tel: (028) 9054 6552
Photo Credits: M & P Photography
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