There are a number of small islands clustered together in the river Suir near the town of Clonmel, which include Grubbs island, Stretches island, Suir island and Little island. These islands were used in the 18th and 19th centuries as the location for grand houses and large businesses. Though the islands are now mainly residential or vacant land, evidence for their industrious past can still be seen.
For example there are a number of weirs (low dams built to raise the level of the river upstream) surrounding the islands. The weirs were used by the islands mills to create a steady supply of fast flowing water (millrace) to turn their giant water-wheels. Though these waterwheels no longer stand, the ones that were once used at the Suir Island Mills were as large as 8.5m in diameter and 2.4m wide.
The remains of some of the mill buildings can also be seen, for instance beside the Old Bridge carpark are the remains of number of mill storehouses and warehouses built between 1800 and 1840. Also across from the carpark incorporated into the new stone wall is an old millstone from Grubbs mill.
The Quaker families of Tipperary established a lot of the industry on these islands. Families such as the Sparrows, Grubbs, Phelans and Malcomsons all had mills on the islands. These mills produced different types of food products over the years including corn, oatmeal, flour, rapeseed and starch. According to the Schools Folklore Collection, when the price of wheat fell after the Free Trade Act came in, farmers stopped growing wheat as it made no profit. Without the large quantities of wheat the mills had to close down and they have been idle ever since.
Though for years the main products produced on the islands were flour and corn, some other businesses flourished on the islands as well. There was once a tannery (used to treat hide and skins to make leather) in the ruined building between the river and the Jehovahs Witness Centre. Hughes Mills on Little island was later converted into a cotton factory, then a boot factory and then a creamery and condensed milk factory. Today Hughes mills now stands as an apartment block overlooking the river Suir.
There were also grand houses located on the islands. The Historic 25 inch map for Clonmel shows a large lodge on Stretches island, along with a spring garden and summer house. Little island had its own grand house, summer house and gardens owned by the Morton family. Suir island had a lodge, and grand houses such as the Cedars and Suir Island house, built between 1740-1780 which still stands but is in ruins. Very little of these grand houses survive today, though the mature trees that have taken over the eastern part of Suir island hint at its past.
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