Gilford Mill descendant's plea to planners
Roy Walker, from Limerick, visited Gilford Mill for the first time ever last weekend, as part of a nostalgic journey into his family roots - along with his cousin John Lee McMaster, from Texas, who is a regular visitor to the area.
Roy was so blown away by the potential of the magnificent landmark that he could not understand why planning approval for various flagship projects had been turned down time and time again over the past 28 years or so.
Roy's great-great-grandfather was John Walsh McMaster. Construction of the mill began in 1841, and by 1847 the McMaster family became sole proprietors of the industrial complex.
Roy's four-day stay was very special indeed as it resonated so much on an ancestral level.
Roy and John Lee were very kindly treated to a tour of the vacant building by new owner, Aaron Blackburn.
Dr Alec Lyons, who lives in Dunbarton House, the McMasters’ ancestral home, displayed incredible hospitality over the weekend, with Roy and John Lee being treated as special guests.
Local historian, Plunkett Campbell, kindly met the two gentlemen to impart some of his vast knowledge on Gilford Mill.
Roy's grandmother, Violet McMaster, lived in Dunbarton House, and the Limerick visitor was simply blown away when he discovered his grandmother's handwritten signature, etched on a window.
Roy, who runs an organic farm, admitted that nothing could have prepared him for the sheer magnificence of the historical building: “I knew my ancestors were the industrial type, but to see the mill and what that part of my family put into the community is quite simply amazing.
“When you look at how prosperous the mill made the local area, it really makes you think.
“Aaron Blackburn told me about his plans. It takes a brave man to take this project on.
“In order to preserve the potential of the building, we need to get behind this and push for it.
“On a side note, I also want to pay tribute to Dr Alec Lyons who did a fantastic job of preserving Dunbarton House.”
While in Gilford, Roy and Lee also visited St. Paul's Church – a former school for the mill workers' children – and they also visited their ancestors' burial plots.
Poignantly, Roy had brought with him a pocket watch which once belonged to his great-great-grandfather's brother – a treasured artefact which had left Gilford, along with other family possessions, in 1907.
The current £6m development plans, lodged by new owners, Karl Asset Management, include a garden centre, a restaurant, apartments and parking, a rooftop garden and a children’s activity area.
The site was acquired by Karl Asset Management in March 2016 who have surveyed all buildings and carried out urgent repairs.
A spokesperson for the ABC Council explained that the planning application is still being reviewed: “No decision has been made on the planning application. At present, the Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs (DAERA) is reviewing their requested additional information, supplied by the planning agent on April 27, 2023.
“Once the Department responds and is content, the application will be presented to the Planning and Regulatory Services Committee for decision.”
For more information on the proposed redevelopment, visit www.gravisplanning.com/uploads/files/casestudies/consultation-boards-20210119094647.pdf