It towers over Thomas Street, but how well do you know one of The Liberties’ best known landmarks? We take a look at the history of St Patrick’s Tower.
St Patrick’s Tower is an 18th century smock windmill originally part of a distillery which established to the north of St James’s Gate. At the time, the area surrounding the Liberties was a focal point for the city’s milling-related industries right through the medieval and post-medieval periods, as harvest came into the city of Dublin and was processed and sold on to the city’s inhabitants.
St Patrick’s Tower was originally built as a ‘smock’ windmill around 1757. Smock windmills are so-called because their sloping, horizontally weather-boarded tower resembled a farmer’s smock. This type of mill was often octagonal or hexagonal with a fixed body and had a rotating cap which held the roof, the sails, the windshaft and the brake wheel. The original late 18th century windmill was presumably used to grind malted barley for the Thomas Street distillery, however Thomas Street also held Dublin’s grain market and corn mills are documented on Watling Street and James’ Street.
The windmill appears to have been extensively rebuilt in the beginning of the 19th century, likely around 1810. Its also likely that not long after, it began to be converted for steam engine use, with the result that by the 1820s the sails of the windmill were largely defunct and were probably removed shortly thereafter.
In 1862 George and Henry Roe inherited their father’s whiskey distilling company and for some years enjoyed great prosperity. At its height, the Thomas Street Distillery milled 1 ,500 barrels of barley a day, boasting a mile of conveyor belts, and another of elevator screws, five steam engines, seven 30ft by 7ft boilers and four factory chimneys.
In 1889 Roe amalgamated with William Jameson of Marrowbone Lane and the Dublin Whiskey Distillery of James Road, with the new firm trading under the name of Dublin Whisky Distillers (DWD). In 1890 the complex covered seventeen acres and extended from Thomas Street crossing two streets to Usher’s Quay. At its height, the distillery had an output of two million gallons per year, the highest in Britain or Ireland.
As most of their profits came from exports, they began to face competition from Scottish whiskies and in the 1920s, prohibition closed the US market, devastating Dublin’s whiskey industry. Roe Distillery eventually ceased trading at the end of the 1920s.
When Guinness & Co. purchased St Patrick’s Tower in 1948, the former windmill was in a poor state of repair and a programme of repair was undertaken by the company in the 1950s, costing £5,000.
Today, the tower stands over the site of Digital Hub, which was established in 2003. While the tower lies empty and unused for now, there are plans afoot that will hopefully see it become accessible and used again in time.
Taken from work by Antoine Giacometti, Archaeology Plan Heritage Solutions for The Digital Hub