Anyone who has been to the west of Ireland can attest to the power of the wind off the Atlantic. These days, many see it as a green energy solution. But wind power is not new to Ireland. People have been harvesting the force of the fierce Irish wind for centuries, long before rural Ireland had electricity. While the world associates old-fashioned windmills with the Netherlands, that isn’t the only country to use them. Ireland too had windmills. And while you might not see them on many Irish gifts, some still stand today attracting visitors.
Before modern engines, windmills were a practical technology that allowed large-scale production of flour and other staples. Their large wooden blades (aka sails) were rotated by the wind and in turn pushed other parts into motion to do jobs that would have previously taken many hands many hours to do. The earliest evidence of windmills in Ireland dates back to 1284.
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The Irish for windmill is ‘muileann gaoithe’. We know of at least 113 windmills in Ireland – 47 of them in County Down and the remaining 66 scattered throughout the island. Wexford comes in second place with 15. (And that does not include the famous Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin!) Some of these are in ruins, while others are gone completely but records document their previous existence. But you can still visit a windmill in Ireland.
Top Windmills to Visit in Ireland
Ruins are a quintessential Irish sight, but ruined windmills have generally lost their main attraction – the sails. These windmills in Ireland still have their sails and allow visitors to see how this graceful technology enabled a huge leap forward for society.
Skerries Mills, County Dublin
Featuring two windmills and one water mill, this delightfully restored spot is just north of Dublin city. Visitors can enjoy a guided tour and try stone grinding meal themselves to fully appreciate how life-changing wind and water powered mills were. There’s also a bakery and cafe
Blennerville Windmill, County Kerry
You can walk to this Irish windmill from Tralee town along a scenic canal path. It’s Ireland’s largest working windmill, and visitors can take a tour to see how flour is made. The visitor center also includes an exhibit on emigration and a collection of vintage artefacts of Irish life as well as a model railway.
Tacumshane Windmill, County Wexford
Built in 1846, this unusual windmill was in use until 1908 and gained national monument status in 1952. It’s the only survivor among the 13 corn mills built in the area. The design features a rare revolving thatched straw cap. It’s a low key spot to visit with no official tour.
This windswept island is now seeing growing interest in using nature’s power to create electricity. Perhaps as we focus more on the ways wind can be harnessed, we’ll pay more attention to how our ancestors used it. And maybe someday we will see even more Irish gifts with a windmill motif!