In my opinion St Patrick’s Windmill Tower is one of the most iconic features on the Dublin city skyline, passing it twice a day on my way to and from work has certainly brought it to the forefront of of my mind. St Patrick’s Windmill Tower was built in 1805 by Roes’ Distillery for the purpose of grinding corn as part of the distillation process. Roe’s distillery was originally founded in 1757 and became a colossal whiskey producer over the next hundred years. When the windmill was built it was the largest of its kind in Europe and was in use until 1860 when the distillery converted to steam power. By 1887 the distillery was the largest in Europe, producing two million gallons of whiskey each year. Due to their wealth the Roe’s were able to finance the restoration of nearby Christchurch Cathedral in the 1880’s by providing £250,000 in funding, the equivalent of roughly 20million euro today.
One would assume that as the distillery was situated across the road from the Guinness brewery there would have been a mutual professional admiration however this was not the case, Guinness’ looked at their drink as ‘the nurse of the nation’ and viewed whiskey as ‘the curse of the nation’!
Much like the inter-dependent world economy of today international decisions at the time affected the distillery badly, prohibition in the United States in the early part of the 20th century wiped out a large section of the Roe’s market and around the same time Scottish distilleries began to become more competitive and reached out to grab their share of the worldwide market. Both of these challenges were compounded by a period of economic and social upheaval in Ireland. By 1926 Roe & Co Distillers had ceased production of whiskey, and sold off their remaining stock before finally being dissolved in the mid 1940s, in 1949 Guinness’ took over the site.
The name St Patrick’s Windmill Tower’ derives from a weather-vane that caps its green dome cut out in the shape of St Patrick. Though the site is closed to the general public I was kindly granted permission to access the inside of the tower by staff at The Digital Hub. The Digital Hub has operated on the site since 2002 and provides units and support to meet the demands of the digital industry. The base of the tower is used for storage and the first floor is empty, its when one reaches the second floor and gazes upwards that the sheer enormity of the tower becomes visible. There are a couple of machines that would have been used in the grinding process still standing and they help serve as a reminder of the Tower’s once magnificent life as a center of industry.
My thanks again to the Digital Hub for allowing me to finally find out what lies behind the walls of this beautiful structure. Also thanks to Alan Cousins for getting in contact to send me on a photo of his father Tony completing the refitting of the dome in 1958, Tony recalls that when they were refitting the dome the names of the original coppersmith’s from 1805 are written above the trap door ( sealed and covered now), he remembers 3 of the names Mitchell, Murray and Quinn, and they recorded their names and date beside them.
GPS: 53.34408, -6.28406