The 1787 Explosion at Corkagh Gunpowder Mills

The gunpowder mills on Corkagh Estate, active during the 18th and 19th centuries, were regarded as a nationally important centre for the production of gunpowder and provided employment for many local people. The reasonably intact remains of four gunpowder mills are to be found in Kilmatead, along with two mill ponds. Some of the other buildings in the Kilmatead complex were possibly also mills as it was estimated that there were about nine powder mills in the area altogether. The remains of another gunpowder mill and mill pond are to be found at the southern edge of the park boundary bordering Kilmatead. Gunpowder milling in the Clondalkin area seems to have been carried on from 1716 until the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815.

Photo of Kilmateed Mill and Pond taken by Patrick Healy in 1988

Photo of Kilmatead Mill and Pond taken by Patrick Healy in 1988

In 1733 the production of gunpowder ceased temporarily in Clondalkin as a result of an explosion. This was a relatively common occurrence with the manufacturing of gunpowder. It was a hazardous process which required a site to be sufficiently large and isolated from populated areas. However, another explosion in 1787 was so big that it was felt as far away as the city and caused damage to buildings around Clondalkin. The mill building itself was completely destroyed, it’s debris scattered around the surrounding fields. The explosion also had some other, more unusual, effects as reported in the Freeman’s Journal on Tuesday 24th April 1787:

The late explosion of the mills at Clondalkin has been productive of many incidents, the natural result of a great concussion: – A quantity of fish were taken up dead in the adjoining river and Grand Canal, so far as the effects of the explosion could operate. A fox was unkennelled in the Hill of Belgard, and ran with such velocity as to lose the power of fight, whereby he was taken with great care by the boatmen at the Canal and is now chained in the stores. The glasses, china, windows, etc. of the Monasterevan boat on the Canal were broke to pieces; but what is more surprising, a large cat was found at the threshold of Ballyfermot Castle, still alive, but with its hair singed off, which was killed by one of the servants to put an end to its misery and this is a fresh proof, that thrown at this prodigious difference from the mills, it is not easy to rid a cat of existence. But what will surprise somewhat more, Mrs. Margaret Donovan, a respectable dairywoman at the East end of Clondalkin, at hearing the explosions, not only got rid of an old rheumatism with which she was afflicted, but an aching tooth dropped out; and her eldest son, an otherwise acute lad of seventeen, was restored to the full use of the tympanum of his ears, and the articulation of his tongue, and immediately cried out, “Oh mother! Is that the Napper Tandy?” And of this Mrs. Donovan has made oath before Justice Jones, who declared that it had a contrary effect upon him, for he had lost his speech on the occasion. Many other marvelous effects are said to have happened, which shall be conveyed to the public as soon as they are received. The wind being at N.N.W. when the above incident happened, all the damage that was done was between Clondalkin and the city; Mr. Calbeck’s country-house, which lay contiguous, being to windward, received little or no injury whatever.

1816 Map of Clonalkin showing the Powder Mills

1816 Map of Clondalkin showing the Powder Mills

The gunpowder milling operations in the Clondalkin area were operated by several people over the years, including Nicholas Grueber from 1716 to 1733 and the Arabin family in the 1790s.


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